I'm excited to share with all of you Courtney and Carly's birth story. Courtney's story is one that will inspire you to trust your instincts and not be afraid to speak up and ask your doctor questions. She was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome, which occurs in about 1 to 2 of 1,000 pregnancies. Through her story, Courtney hopes people will know what to look for so they can better fight for themselves and their baby. At the end of Courtney's story I included more information about her diagnosis and where you can find more information.
My entire pregnancy I felt amazing! Never any sickness, just typical tiredness during the first trimester. I used an OBthat a coworker had recommended to me. I felt like every appointment was rushed and any concerns or questions I had were brushed off. They seemed to push genetic testing and spoke in terms that sounded like Chinese to me. I'm a first time mom! Why is this getting so confusing? I felt great but my tests were coming back with not too great results. I was told my baby could have Down syndrome, trisomy 22 (which my daughter wouldn't live long after birth) and spina bifida. I had an amniocentesis, which looking back was probably unnecessary. It's almost 3 years later and I think about my experience and feel like I was being sold to try every test they had. I was seen almost every week for a new test or blood work. On the positive, I had so many sonograms and was able to see my baby! Long story short, they were all false positives and my daughter is perfectly healthy. So as if all of that wasn't stressful enough...
At around 28 weeks I had crazy bleeding in my mouth while brushing my teeth. Like pouring out and it wouldn't stop. I called my OB and they told me to see a dentist. I knew bleeding of the gums were common but this was a lot of blood. I felt my OB once again was brushing it off.
I noticed crazy swelling around 30-31 weeks pregnant. At first, I thought the swelling was normal since I'm on my feet all day at work. My rings wouldn't fit and I couldn't get my watch on. It got to the point that I couldn't even wear flip flops. I was worried and everyone around me was concerned because the swelling got bad so quickly. I begged my OB to see me during my lunch break and they assured me that the weather was getting warmer (June) and that swelling is common around this time during pregnancy. At this particular visit my OB asked me if doctors have ever questioned my blood platelet count. I was beyond confused. No, no, no! No one has ever said anything. He told me if my platelet numbers didn't increase to be prepared to have a natural birth without the option of an epidural. At this point I'm thinking WTF! I should be able to decide this. This guy is scaring me and not giving me an explanation. Can I handle a natural birth? I'm scared? My pain tolerance is low? I think it is. He gave me zero reassurance and basically wished me luck.
Throughout most of my pregnancy I complained of upper right rib pain. It was uncomfortable. I was assured it was normal and that it was my body stretching.
At 32 weeks pregnant, on June 20, 2014, I had a beautiful baby shower at work. I look back at the pictures and can't believe how my face looked and my poor, poor feet. That night as I lay in bed in pain, I took deep breaths trying to listen to my instincts. I started pacing my house trying to see if the pain on my right side would go away. I woke my husband and said take me to the hospital. He asked, "Are you in labor?" In a very nasty tone I replied, "I have no clue what labor is but this pain is unbearable!"
He drove us so fast to South Nassau Hospital labor and delivery. The nurses questioned if I was even pregnant because at 32 weeks I didn't really show or have a bump. They treated my concerns and pains like a joke. Nurse after nurse would give me a pat on the back and tell me, "Honey, you're pregnant you're suppose to feel aches and pains." They drew blood and took urine and told me I'd be going home shortly. I started getting nasty and demanded that I couldn't go home feeling like this. Within 2 hours their faces quickly changed and I could see their concern. I was given steroid shots to help develop my unborn child's lungs. I was told I would have my baby this weekend. Both my OBs were unavailable. The next day, an on-call OB diagnosed me with HELLP syndrome. That right rib pain I was complaining about was my liver in full failure. My blood pressure was through the roof. I was given magnesium which saved me. At this point, I was pretty much a zombie. After having my cervix checked in a very harsh way, I was rushed to have an emergency C-section.
I have no memory of first meeting my daughter. I couldn't hold Carly until she was almost 8 days old. She was in the NICU for a month. I had a home nurse taking care of me for my blood pressure issues. I struggled with pumping. I had to leave my baby in the hospital and depend on my family to drive me to visit my daughter and drop off milk. The nurses did not encourage me to breastfeed and by the time Carly was able to come home I was pumping and bottle feeding her. The NICU journey and Carly coming home is another long story. I went through a lot of delayed grief after my daughter was born. Going through it all, I didn't have time to feel or understand what happened. It wasn't until a year later I really started to understand and handle my feelings about what happen.
I've learned a lot and now spend my time volunteering and advising other preemie moms and the March of Dimes. My goal is to bring awareness to HELLP syndrome and hope that moms get the support they need after having a child.
HELLP syndrome is a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered to be a variant of preeclampsia. Both conditions usually occur during the later stages of pregnancy, or sometimes after childbirth. HELLP stands for (H) hemolysis, which is the breaking down of red blood cells, (EL) elevated liver enzymes and (LP) low platelet count. Courtney suffered from the following symptoms: headaches, chest tenderness/upper right rib pain, bleeding, changes in vision, swelling, high blood pressure, and protein in urine.
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