I almost died while giving birth

The doctor walked into my dark room and woke both Jim and I up only after an hour of us falling asleep.

“Kristin, you were suffering from HELLP syndrome. We’re lucky your husband will be taking you home too and not just your new baby.”

I didn’t know it, but apparently, I almost died while giving birth.

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Pregnancy felt awful. I was sick all day, every day for at least 8 of the 9 months. I ate little more than fruit and vegetables. Meat was terrible. Sauces: no thank you. And anything greasy? Ugh! I finally got some relief in month 7 and had a craving for real food: BBQ ribs. So Jim took me out to a local restaurant and we chowed down. There were appetizers, several entrees, and dessert, y’all. It was ridiculous and wonderful all at the same time.

I was finally living the “I finally feel good again!” again for a few weeks.

And then my feet started to retain water. And my stomach aches came back. My feet and hands started developing a red, dry, itchy rash. I wondered where in the world I would have picked up athlete’s foot and how it could have moved to my hands. I used an obnoxious amount of lubriderm to try to stop the irritation, to little avail. I was back in the hell of pregnancy. I was feeling unsure of my ability to give birth with what little energy I had. I was dreading waking up each day. I was feeling hopeless.

The stomach pain started to hit an intense level on a Saturday, and I struggled to sleep through the night. I reached out to the on-call doctor and he suggested I was likely suffering from the flu, and to keep my Tuesday afternoon appointment with my regular doctor. I felt really discouraged and not confident he was right. But it was the same-old pain I had been suffering throughout my entire pregnancy, so why get all worked up?

I stayed home from work on Monday because I simply hadn’t slept or eaten due to the stomach pain. That night, my feet reached a heightened level of itching. I actually got out of bed and put together an ice pack that would lay on my propped-up feet to make my toes go numb so I wouldn’t feel anything. By Tuesday morning, I told that doctor’s office they had better get me in ASAP, and when I walked in for a 1:30pm appointment, I was on the brink of tears from little food, extreme pain, and exhaustion. They took my blood pressure (a common action of every prenatal visit), and it was extremely high. My blood pressure had never registered as a concern to them in the past, and suddenly I was their number one priority. I was taken for an ultrasound to check on baby’s health, and they determined baby was ok but I was not. I completely lost my composure (from the hunger, hurt, and the unknown) and sobbed, while Dr. L came in and informed me to run home to grab a sandwich and meet her at the hospital in an hour. I was being induced.

As Jim and I met up at home, we realized: we were going to go have a baby. This is actually happening. And something’s not right. He reassured me the best he could, and we ventured to the hospital to meet life’s next journey: parenting.

I was offered an epidural, but was basically told because of my situation, it would be a good idea because they didn’t know how this labor was going to play out – and they knew I was already in a lot of pain, wanted to alleviate it, and prepare me for a long night. I was so incredibly miserable that I agreed to anything providing relief. They also began pumping magnesium into my body, in an effort to avoid seizures. A short while later, around 9pm, I was feeling a break and actually closed my eyes to sleep. It was the first time I’d really rested fairly comfortably in four days, as a result of feeling numb. Every hour, I remember being awakened by my nurse to check the dilation of my cervix. And every time I woke, I shook uncontrollably for several minutes, hence the need for the magnesium. It was scary, annoying, and frankly: I just wanted to be left the hell alone. We finally hit pushing levels at 5:00am.

And did I push. In every position. With every little ounce of strength I possessed. For three and a half hours. There were a lot of nurses in the room, and I wondered if that was normal, or if they were anticipating issues and needed “all hands on deck.” Mostly, I was just trying to not pass out. Or vomit again. The one time was enough.

The nurses gave those encouraging little cries every time I pushed: “Oh, you’re doing so good! Yes, keep coming!” But I knew when they weren’t good pushes. And it’s not like you’re not trying to give a good push. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. But Jim knows those encouraging little quips don’t help me, and he was dying to say, “You’re sucking! You need to do a better one! Step it up, girl!” But he was in a room full of medical professionals. He feared the repercussions of police questioning him and asking me, “Do you feel safe?” or “Blink twice if you need help.” And he feared the judgement of all those female nurses watching a husband be a total dick to this laboring wife. But I’m a tell-it-like-it-is kind of person. And negative criticism swings me into action faster than a polite comment on how I can improve something.

That baby FINALLY came out at 8:30am, and I just wanted to be left the hell alone. new-babe-owenI was so incredibly thrashed by the whole experience, and to be honest, struggling cognitively to take in my surroundings. I held Owen for a few minutes and then the nurses started to do their typical checks before taking him to the nursery. The medical staff recommended Jim and I get some sleep, and they’d holler at us in time to order lunch from the cafeteria.

At 11:00am, a male doctor (my doc went back to the office to see her patients) walked into my dark room and woke both Jim and I up only after an hour of us falling asleep. He proceeded to explain the complications I was having: low blood platelets not causing the blood to clot, my liver shutting down, and a red blood cell breakdown. Apparently my itchy extremities were a sign of my liver shutting down. And the magnesium was pushed to prevent seizures of preeclampsia. So every time a nurse woke me up, my body would shake for a short time – a lesser version of the seizure. If I had waited any longer, the outcome may not have turned out so well.

“Kristin, you were suffering from HELLP syndrome. We’re lucky your husband will be taking you home too and not just your new baby.”

I later learned I pushed for 3.5 hours because my doctor feared doing a c-section. She didn’t know if my blood would clot, which was necessary to survive surgery. She figured I’d have a better chance of survival with a vaginal birth. Jim told me later he’d notice Dr. L deeply thinking, perhaps about how to get Owen out. He didn’t realize she was weighing the options of how to keep both Owen and me alive. A friend later told me she believes God worked through Dr. L to make the best decisions to keep both his babies (Owen and me) on this earth a bit longer.

HELLP syndrome is a serious form of preeclampsia. It was only first named in 1982, and women are dying of it in 2016. Globally, mothers die at a rate of 25% once diagnosed. I know people who have friends who have died of this in the United States – in the past two years. I’m 25% likely to have this syndrome again if I become pregnant. I’ll be considered high risk. So I don’t know if we’ll ever have another baby. Because I’m scared of the 9-month nausea, the intense sickness and exhaustion, and the chance that I won’t live to see my babies grow up. I’m afraid of dying again while giving birth.

I hope parts of this story resonate with other mothers, and more importantly, I hope others know that if something feels wrong, speak up. Doctors are humans too, and we all make mistakes. Make the doctor’s office take you as a same-day appointment. Make them check twice. Don’t be embarrassed. You know yourself best. So always trust your gut. Especially your pregnancy gut.

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