**HELLP Syndrome is an extremely rare disorder that effects less than 1% of pregnancies. HELLP Syndrome is a combination of the breakdown of red blood cells (hemolysis; the H in the acronym), elevated liver enzymes (EL), and low platelet count (LP) occurring in pregnancy. The combination of these complications commonly results in placental abruption, acute renal failure, liver hematoma, permanent liver damage, and retinal detachment. It may also result in death to the mother and baby if the baby is not delivered within 36 hours of diagnoses – it is an extremely aggressive illness. You may have symptoms that mirror pre-eclampsia, such as blurred vision, nausea, dizziness, loss of appetite (which is pretty much ALWAYS an issue when you’re pregnant!), severe swelling with pitted edema (when you push down, the mark in your skin doesn’t go away), or upper right quadrant pain.
Or, you may not have any symptoms at all. I didn’t. This is my HELLP story.
It was the day of my regularly schedule 32 week appointment. In the past few days, I had clumsily transitioned from the second trimester to the third. I went from feeling energized, rested, and operating in full-on nesting mode to practically falling asleep at my desk at work. I had already spent two weeks on bed rest for high blood pressure, and looking back, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to have an impressive end to my pregnancy.
That morning, I was cranky. It had taken me forever to fall asleep the night before because it was getting hard to breath, but my wife was snoring the moment her head hit the pillow. I had watched ‘Friends’ until about 2 am, and when my alarm went off at 6am, I had to take a huge breath in order to lift my body up over the side of the bed. I stood up and immediately felt out of breath and sick to my stomach. I thought “This third trimester is going to be a real treat.” I recalled a cab driver 25 weeks earlier warning me that the third trimester might be worse than the first, and this being my first pregnancy, I figured the way I was feeling was totally normal.
As I got ready for work, I had to sit down more than once in order to catch my breath. I could feel my pulse in my head as it pounded in pain (I had a headache every day of my pregnancy starting at week 12, so I was pretty used to it). When I brushed my teeth, the sink filled with blood from my bleeding gums, which had also become normal to me. I had to sit down several times during the makeup and hair process because I had actual shin splints from the swelling – my God, the swelling. None of my shoes fit – I wore flip flops to drive and house slippers around my office (the judges and staff attorneys just had to deal with it).
I stopped off in the kitchen to have my usual morning glass of water, which I chugged before heading to work every morning. It became somewhat of a ritual since I couldn’t have coffee. I realized that I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before, and I actually asked my wife “I wonder when all the crazy pregnancy cravings are going to hit. Is it weird to crave water?”. She did indeed think it was weird that I was craving water. I chugged a second glass and I was out the door!
I’d had a 4d sonogram done on the day I was 32 weeks, but my little one had her hands in front of her face. The ladies who did the sonogram were so nice, they asked if I wanted to reschedule but I told them I would just have to be patient to see what my baby looked like! Little did I know I would be seeing her face in just a few days. When I got to the office that morning, I showed my coworkers the CD of what few 4d photos the techs had been able to capture of Ruby. They gushed over how cute she was already, and everyone marveled at how awesome technology is these days. (My coworkers are thirty years my senior, and having babies in the eighties was apparently a whole different experience.) Then, I sent out an email reminding everyone that I had a doctor’s appointment at 3:30 and would be leaving early.
Since I hadn’t eaten anything in a pretty long time, I decided to get an orange juice from our cafeteria. Three swallows in, an intense wave of heartburn swept over my digestive system, rendering me unable to eat the donuts that one of the judges had brought for the clerks. In order to combat the heartburn, I filled my giant cup with water and got to work for the day.
My lunch hour came and went, and I was able to finish my orange juice. Terra and I had planned to meet at my doctor’s appointment and go eat a late lunch/early dinner afterwards. I decided to stop by the bathroom before I left for my appointment just in case the baby woke up and started kicking me in the bladder. As I sat (breathlessly) on the toilet, I realized I hadn’t peed since the night before as I was getting ready for bed. And I wasn’t peeing now – I didn’t NEED to. I started counting the number of ounces of water I had consumed since the last time I peed. It was 106. One hundred and six ounces of liquid had gone in to my body in approximately twelve hours and I didn’t need to pee. AND I was 8 months pregnant – I text Terra when I got to the car and said “I just have a feeling something is wrong.”
We waited an hour and a half to see our wonderful OB, Dr. Nicole Heidemann. Since being on bed rest, I was already seeing her every week. I was her last appointment for the day, which was a good thing because Terra almost didn’t make it in time to go back with me. Dr. Heidemann delivers over twenty babies a month, so she is constantly running back and forth between her office and the hospital. It was ok – Terra and I don’t mind waiting for greatness.
I hadn’t gained much wait during my pregnancy – nine pounds in 32 weeks to be exact. Aside from the swelling, most people couldn’t really tell I was pregnant. It was bizarre. While I sat in the waiting room I guzzled another 32 ounces of water since I knew I had to give my doctor a urine sample as part of my weekly checkup. We were finally called, I was able to give a sparse urine sample, and I stepped on the scale as usual. I saw Nurse Kathy’s eyes shift when she saw my weight. She’s pretty good at hiding any sign of panic, but I saw it. I had gained 15 pounds in six days. My thought was “I’m finally gaining pregnancy weight! YAY!”, completely oblivious that anything might be wrong. My blood pressure was taken: 140/89. I already knew that wasn’t a good sign, and that I would probably have to go back on bed rest, but I wasn’t worried at all. I had absolutely no idea what was about to happen.
When Dr. H finally came in the room, she had news I could tell she did not want to share with me (I’m a crier when I get bad news – and a sobber when I’m knocked up). Apparently, the fifteen pounds of weight gain was fluid. My blood pressure was in a zone that was dangerous to myself and our baby. And . . . the kicker – protein in my urine. For generally healthy people who might not know what this means (I sure didn’t – I had to ask!) this means there was blood in my urine. In pregnancy, this put very simply means that your kidneys are injured and the blood is seeping in to your urine. AKA – kidney failure.
At this point, Dr. H informed us that she needed to observe me for 24 hours, but that if her hunch was correct, we would be meeting our baby very, very soon.