‘No matter what you do, don’t go home, go straight to the hospital.’ Next thing we were hearing, ‘It’s your baby or your wife.’: After 3 angel babies, mom survives Severe HELLP syndrome to birth miracle preemie

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Disclaimer: This story contains details of child loss, infertility, and miscarriage that may be upsetting to some.

“We’d been married for two years when Danny and I decided we were ready to start a family. After only nine months of dating, Danny had popped the question in an intimate, yet beautifully romantic candlelit setting, where I (without hesitation) said yes! We’d had a beautiful early October, fall wedding; our dream wedding. We danced the night away on a cliff overlooking the ocean at beautiful Point Vicente Lighthouse in Palos Verdes, CA, where our closest friends and family were witnesses to our I do’s. That same year, we bought our first home in El Camino Village, a little fixer up, but nevertheless perfect for us. It was close to both our families and had a great school down the street. Our priorities were in order, and our married life, although not perfect, was going great. I loved this man. And he loved me. Children felt like the next big, natural step in our relationship.

Couple take intimate photo while on a boat after getting engaged
Courtesy of Faby Ryan
Newlywed couple take beautiful photo together overlooking a cliff at the Point Vicente Lighthouse in California
Courtesy of Faby Ryan

‘Are we sure?’ we’d randomly ask each other. ‘Let’s do it!’ was always the final answer. Children. I had randomly envisioned the possibility of this, but now, it was actually happening. We were ready to become parents. ‘Let’s get practicing on this baby-thing,’  we’d say every night as we laughed ourselves to bed. We were young, I was 27 and Danny was 31. We were perfectly healthy, and eager to start a family. Life seemed to be in our favor. Everything seemed perfect.

A couple months later, we were out with some friends giving them a ride home when I randomly smelled a popsicle that made me completely nauseous. Yes, a darn popsicle! The smell was so intense, unlike anything I had ever experienced. ‘Who is eating candy back there?’ I asked with a disgusted look on my face. ‘Can you please throw it out?!’ I looked over at Danny as he was driving and gave him a look. ‘I think I’m gonna throw up!’ We quickly dropped our friends off at their house and headed home. ‘I think I’m pregnant,’ I said to Danny. ‘That was not normal, how could I possibly get sick over a popsicle?’ ‘Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,’ he replied. ‘I know my body, and that was not normal!’

That same night, we ran over to CVS to get a home pregnancy test. ‘Which one do we get?’ ‘This one says 6 days sooner, get the box with three, just to make sure!’ Once home, I ran into the bathroom and peed on the stick; I set the test carefully on the bathroom counter and sat on the toilet. Results in 3 minutes, said the box. The longest 3 minutes of my life! Danny was patiently waiting for me in the other room when I opened the bathroom door with tears in my eyes. ‘So, are we? Or are we not?’ I nodded and ran to him. I hugged him as hard as I could and cried on his chest. ‘We are pregnant!’

I made an appointment to my OBGYN to confirm I was actually pregnant, even though my body was screaming at me confirming that I was: my breasts were tender, I had missed my period, and this heightened sense of smell was insanely annoying. After a blood test, it was confirmed – we were 8 weeks pregnant! ‘I am going to schedule an ultrasound in a couple weeks,’ my doctor told us, and we walked out of his office in a dream. Two weeks later, we returned to my doctor’s office eager to finally be able to see and hear our baby’s heartbeat. Danny held my hand as the doctor put some gel on my belly and proceeded with the ultrasound wand. ‘Hmmm,’ he said as he frowned, ‘Let me try a vaginal ultrasound, sometimes it is hard for these to pick up on such tiny beings.’

He proceeded with the vaginal ultrasound. ‘Everything okay?’ we asked as he fished for a heartbeat. The doctor looked over at us with sadness in his eyes, ‘I’m so sorry, there is no heartbeat.’ Danny and I looked at each other, confused. ‘What do you mean there is no heartbeat?’ ‘I am so sorry, unfortunately, you have suffered a miscarriage.’ ‘But how? Did I do something wrong?’ ‘It can be very common in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to experience a miscarriage; it often occurs because the fetus isn’t developing normally. I will give you both a minute.’ I was in shock, tears flowed rapidly from my eyes. ‘How can this be happening? Why? Why us?!’ A few days later, I was in an operating room having a D&C. I cried the entire way there, and the entire way home. Danny didn’t know what to say or do to make me feel better. He tried so hard to take care of me and my fragile state, emotionally and physically. ‘Maybe in due time we can try again?’ There was hope in his voice. I wasn’t sure I wanted to try again. Everything hurt. ‘I don’t know if I want to put us through this again!’

It would take my body a few weeks to recover and heal, but my heart, that was another story. I couldn’t understand why this had happened to us, to me. After much grief and processing, though, Danny and I decided to try again. This time around we proceeded with caution. More fearful than excited, unlike the first time. But just like the first time, we got pregnant pretty quickly, my body just knew. ‘I think I’m pregnant again, I can feel it.’ I called my doctor with my suspicion and he asked me to come in. An in-office test would confirm yes, I was in fact pregnant again. We were excited, but incredibly fearful. My mind was spinning; what if it happens again? What if I lose this baby too? What if… my thoughts were interrupted by my doctor, ‘The risk of having a second miscarriage is low, but we will keep a good eye on you, it will all be okay.’

Young couple celebrate their love in intimate kiss during a photoshoot with a Santa Monica bus behind them
Courtesy of Faby Ryan

We were cautiously optimistic, and we decided we would keep our pregnancy to ourselves until it was safe. We tried not to make too many plans, but it was difficult to not think about our future baby. I bought all the ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ books for both Danny and I. I studied every gestational age and development milestones. Excitement was starting to creep in. And just when we thought things were going to be okay, I got these intense sharp pains in my pelvic area, and I started bleeding. I instantly knew. I was having a miscarriage. I was alone at home, Danny had been at work. I cried to myself in the bathroom until I had no more tears left. I called my doctor and he informed me I was naturally passing the fetus. The fetus? You mean my baby?

I called Danny and gave him the news. We were devastated. How is this happening to us again? Why couldn’t I keep a baby? I obviously could get pregnant, but why did I keep losing my babies? My doctor decided it was time to find out what was happening and performed some procedures, the most painful procedure I had ever endured. Turned out, my body didn’t produce enough progesterone to keep a pregnancy. The hormone progesterone is secreted during early pregnancy and prepares the uterus for pregnancy. It causes the luteal phase to start and transforms the endometrium (uterine lining) by thickening it to receive an embryo. My body never got to the thickening phase, therefore, once the embryo got to a certain gestation, my body would release it. Okay, so now we knew what was wrong with me, but could we fix it?

Third time’s the charm? Do we really want to put ourselves through this again? I didn’t. But I did. I wanted to start a family. I wanted what everyone else around me had so easily attained. People who hadn’t even wanted kids had kids. Danny and I, hesitantly, decided we would try one last time. I got on medication and was sure that if, when, I did indeed get pregnant again, it would be for real this time. Did we get pregnant? We did. Just like the previous two times. Did I suffer yet another miscarriage? I did. What was happening to my body? Was I doomed to never have children? This baby situation was taking a toll on myself. On my body. On my marriage. We couldn’t possibly do this again. Danny and I decided we would take a break from trying. It was too much. How much more could we handle?!

And just when we had given up, the universe had a different plan for us; without trying, we got pregnant. The day we went in for our first ultrasound, we found out we were pregnant with twins. TWINS! But how? Turns out, I got pregnant with a single egg, and a few days later, another egg dropped and got fertilized. This is called superfetation. The chances of this happening are extremely rare, but it happened to me, to us. I got pregnant while already pregnant. Fraternal twins? That day, we left my doctor’s office in shock. We need a bigger house! This was the universe’s way of rewarding us for all the pain we had endured. Two babies! We couldn’t keep this news to ourselves, as much as I wanted to. We excitedly told our families and closest friends. Twins! We were over the moon, but also scared. What if something happened? Could it possibly be too good to be true? My pregnancy was considered high risk, not only because I was carrying twins, but because of my previous history. I quickly got put on progesterone and had weekly appointments to see my doctor. All was looking good. What if it’s two girls? Or two boys? Or a girl and a boy? Danny and I had names picked out for any and all of these scenarios.

At our 14-week ultrasound appointment, as we were eager to possibly find out the sex of our babies, my doctor couldn’t find a second heartbeat. ‘I’m so sorry, I can’t find baby B’s heartbeat.’ ‘Please keep looking, you have to keep looking, maybe he is hiding!’ There was fear in my voice. ‘I am very sorry; I know you have been through so much already. This can happen sometimes in pregnancies with multiples, this is referred to as vanishing twin syndrome.’ Vanishing what? ‘You have experienced a type of miscarriage, usually due to chromosomal abnormality.’ What happens now? What happens to the baby? What happens to my other baby? What is happening to me?

The vanishing twin is usually reabsorbed into the placenta and into the surviving twin. ‘We will continue to monitor you more closely and get this baby to term. I will give you two a minute.’ When the doctor walked out of the office, I completely lost it. I was lying on a stupid exam table, naked, exposed, and now baby-less. Danny held me tight and tried to console me, but I was inconsolable. All I wanted to do was get out of there. ‘We still have a baby in there to take care of, my love,’ Dany kept saying, but how could I possibly think of this baby when I had just lost my other baby? I felt lost and confused. Grief took over me. I sat in silence the entire drive home. I cried myself to sleep for days. What is wrong with me? Why is my body betraying me? Needless to say, my pregnancy was at an incredibly high risk. After a few visits to the ER, my doctor decided it was probably best I stop work, and he put me on complete bed rest. I was seeing my OBGYN and a Perinatologist weekly just to make sure all was going okay with the baby I was carrying.

At about 20 weeks gestation, we found out the baby I was still carrying was having complications with blood oxygen to the heart. Also, she seemed a lot smaller for her gestational age. At our 22-week appointment, we discovered our baby had severe IUGR (Intrauterine growth restriction) and she had stopped growing. At this point, the Perinatologist got concerned and talked to us about premature birth. ‘Let’s hope we can make it past the 28-week mark, the chances of survival after 28 weeks are much higher.’ Wait, what?! The specialist advised us to take some time off, unwind, and de-stress for a few days. ‘This will be good for your mental health. I will see you in a week.’ We left the appointment in tears yet again. Was I destined to never be a mother? Was I going to be able to carry this baby to term? Danny decided to take the specialist’s advice and booked a quick trip to San Francisco for us. A four-day trip to unwind, de-stress, and spend some quality time together. This sounded nice. I couldn’t remember the last time we had taken a trip together. Our year had been filled with so much loss and grief. Our trip to San Francisco had been just what our hearts had needed. We spent a beautiful few days wondering the streets of San Francisco baby-mooning, as I called it. It was wonderful.

Courtesy of Faby Ryan

Upon returning from San Francisco, at our 27-week appointment with my OB, and after I peed in the cup and had my vitals taken, my doctor seemed a little more serious than normal. But I thought nothing of it. He asked how I was feeling and I replied with an, ‘Okay.’ Not worse than last time, but not better either. He does a quick exam and then tells Danny and I to go to Little co of Mary Hospital for some bloodwork. I was confused, why little company? That was not where we were delivering. ‘It is closer,’ he said, ‘But no matter what you do, don’t go home, just go straight to the hospital from here, okay?’ Like good little listeners, we followed Dr. Chen’s orders and headed to the hospital which was only minutes away. We get to the hospital and head on to the third floor, labor and delivery. This should be quick, we thought, and didn’t think much of it.

We get to reception and I tell the nurse in charge, ‘Hi, we are here for bloodwork, Dr. Chen said you would know.’ ‘We’ve been waiting for you,’ she said. ‘Do you know why you’re here?’ ‘Blood work, we are here for bloodwork.’ ‘Can you please start filling out these forms, you are being admitted,’ she says. ‘You must be mistaken,’ we tell her. ‘Can you double check again please, we are only here for simple bloodwork.’ ‘Dr. Chen will be here soon to explain,’ she replied. Danny and I looked at each other, confused. What was going on? What was happening? Is our baby okay? But he didn’t even do an ultrasound this morning? The nurse tells me a room is being prepared for me, to please take a seat while they get things together. ‘Can someone explain to us what is happening? When is the doctor getting here?’ I am starting to get irritated and upset. The nurse tries to keep me calm, ‘I know you must be scared, but please try and remain calm,’ she says as she gently helps me into bed. Once in bed, a flood of nurses, doctors, and specialists come in the room. They hook me up to all sorts of IV’s, a baby monitor, and also place a catheter in me. ‘You are not allowed to move out of this bed, not even to use the bathroom,’ they tell me.

Dr. Chen finally walks in the room. ‘You are very sick, Faby. You have what is called Severe Pre-eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome.’ Severe what? ‘Your blood pressure is extremely high and you are at very high risk for stroke. Your liver is already being damaged and if we can’t control this, your organs will start to shut down, you will start to bleed out from every pore in your body.’ ‘But I don’t feel sick,’ I said. ‘Which is worse,’ he adds. ‘In your case it is very silent, and if it wasn’t for our routine appointment this morning, I am not sure we would have caught this in time.’

HELLP syndrome is a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered to be a variant of preeclampsia. HELLP syndrome is a more severe form of preeclampsia, and can rapidly become life-threatening for both you and your baby.  ‘At this point the only way to save your life is by delivering your baby via emergency caesarian.’ I replied, ‘You can’t take her out yet! She is not ready! I am only 27 weeks. Can’t we wait?’ The room was spinning. I heard muffling voices in and out. ‘You may bleed out from every pore in your body.’ Danny squeezed my hand. ‘Your organs will start to shut down, your liver is already at risk. We need to take this baby out. It is the only way to save your life.’ This isn’t happening to us, not again, I think to myself as the doctor is speaking to us. We just came in for a routine appointment! Then I hear the doctor tell Danny, ‘It is your baby or your wife.’ ‘Save my wife, please save my wife, we can always try again for a baby, but I can’t lose my wife.’

3:16 p.m. A miracle was born. Emma Isabella Ryan. 500 grams (one pound, two ounces). 10 ¾ inches. The next few hours were critical. Hours after I was put out in the operating room, I woke up back in the same labor and delivery room I had been wheeled out of earlier. I was groggy. Confused. Still out of it. The medications I was under made me feel horrible and sick to my stomach. ‘How is our baby?’ I asked. ‘Is she okay? Can I see her? When can I see her?’ The next five days were painful. Literally and figuratively. I am not allowed to see my baby. I am not allowed to move. I am not allowed to eat. I am drugged. Depressed. Hormonal. An emotional mess. Five days later, I was finally allowed to go see my baby in Intensive Care, fighting for her life.

Preemie born at less than 3 pounds fights for her life in the NICU
Courtesy of Faby Ryan

Danny wheeled me into the NICU unit and there she was, a tiny little thing that didn’t look like a baby. She was wrapped up with blankets around her, like a barrier. Her eyes were covered with a tiny black mask and there was a huge light above, shining at her. I was in shock. I had never seen anything like this. Was this really my baby? I’ve seen newborn babies before; she didn’t look like a newborn baby. She was as small as the palm of my hand. Her little body was dark and see-through; I could see every vein and blood vessel. Her eyes were still fused shut. I was scared to touch her. I placed my hand on her and she moved her little arm. Her entire arm was the size of one of my fingers. She had tape, wires, and all sorts of machines attached to her. I wanted to say hello to her, but I was scared if I opened my mouth, I would fall apart. ‘Hi, Emma,’ I say to her, ‘I am your mommy. I’m sorry I hadn’t been able to come see you, but I am here. I love you so much, baby girl.’ The tears start to flow; I couldn’t help them.

Little baby girl fighting for her life in the NICU is swaddled in blankets and wires
Courtesy of Faby Ryan
Mom puts her hand on her newborn preemie daughter to show just how small she is
Courtesy of Faby Ryan

My baby would go on to spend 160 days in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The rollercoaster of life in the NICU, I could write an entire book about. Emma underwent blood transfusions, heart surgery, PICC lines, feeding tube placement surgery, multiple resuscitations, and more procedures than anyone should ever have to endure. When we finally were able to bring her home, we brought her home with oxygen, a feeding tube, apnea monitors, and countless of odds against her, but she was finally home. We had survived every obstacle against us and had brought the most amazing little human into this world. Emma was our miracle, in every sense of the word miracle; and against all odds, I became a mother. Danny and I became parents.

Mom holds her rainbow baby after suffering multiple miscarriages due to low levels of progesterone
Courtesy of Faby Ryan
Courtesy of Faby Ryan
New mom gets wheeled out of the hospital with her newborn baby attached to an oxygen tank
Courtesy of Faby Ryan

In 2015, when Emma had just turned three, I lost my husband in a tragic, sudden boating accident while we were on a family vacation. Our lives were forever changed. Emma and I have learned to pick up the pieces and are building a life where we honor her Daddy, and live a life he would be proud of. I have made it my life’s mission to share our story of survival and hopefully bring hope to someone else going through loss, grief, hardship. I am currently writing my first book, a memoir, where you will follow me along my journey of motherhood, preemie-hood, and widowhood. I know what it is like to feel alone and no one should ever have to feel alone; this book is for anyone who has ever experienced the downsides of life – the dark times, the hardships, the struggles – and at one point or another has felt alone. Please know you are not alone. My story is meant to help inspire you to live a full, beautiful life, and find joy in spite of the hardship life has thrown at you.”

Courtesy of Faby Ryan
Young widow walks on the beach in a white dress with her daughter she fought so hard to have
Courtesy of Faby Ryan
Young widowed mother hugs her only daughter during a fall photoshoot in the woods together
Courtesy of Faby Ryan

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Faby Ryan of Lakewood, CA. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more from Faby here:

‘Get me off speaker now!’ She hangs up. ‘We have to go, something happened.’ I see ambulances at the river.’: Woman loses husband in boating accident right after micropreemie daughter regains health, family ‘starting to live again’

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‘The ministry called. ‘We have a boy and a girl. Would you be open to adopting two children?’ WHAT? Could this be real?! We were moved to tears.’: After 11 miscarriages, failed surrogacy, couple adopt 2 kids from foster care

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