This is one woman’s story of HELLP Syndrome, and should not be used in place of medical advice from your doctor. If you have questions or concerns about your health, please see your medical professional.
When I started to consider what I wanted to write about for my first piece with Grande Prairie Family, it became clear to me early on that there was really just one place I had to start, and that was at the beginning – that is, the beginning of my own little family. Of course my husband and I, and our big goofy pooch, were totally united before our sweet little addition joined us in May 2017, but it was her coming into existence that truly brought our family into existence as well.
I’ve long been interested in fertility and birth, and by the time we were ready to try for a baby, I had been charting my cycles for ages. My pregnancy was wonderful. I loved being pregnant, and felt some special connection to the earth, and to all of the mothers that had come before me. One thing I didn’t plan for (or love) however was being diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I was devastated. I felt as though it was my fault, as if it was a test and that I had failed (well… that was what happened, to be fair). I did move past it though, and was able to keep my blood sugar levels in line with dietary changes alone.
Enter next hurdle: towards the end of my pregnancy my blood pressure began to slightly rise. And it was slight – my doctor wasn’t overly alarmed, and simply advised me to pop into the hospital weekly for non-stress tests. I hated going to the non-stress tests, and much preferred to call them stress tests as they filled me with anxiety when I was otherwise feeling pretty great. After doing a couple of these, all with nothing to report, I was feeling like they were a waste of time and a stress I didn’t need. I didn’t want to be negligent however, and so I continued to pop in there at my doctor’s behest. At this time I did start having some minor lower abdominal pain and diarrhea. I knew these could be signs of my body gearing up for labour, but something didn’t quite feel right to me and I did talk to my doctor about it. My doctor wasn’t worried about these symptoms, however she did want me to continue with the non-stress tests including the additional joy of having the nurse take and check my blood during the visit while I wait. At the time, I wasn’t really sure why my doctor was taking this extra precaution. I honestly just felt it was yet another hoop I had to jump through. Even now, knowing that it was the precaution that could have possibly saved my life and the life of my beautiful girl, I understand why I felt the way I did. I was so tired of all the doctors, nurses, gadgets, having to drink gross glucose drinks, being poked and prodded… and this was all prior to my labour and the birth of my baby! In my heart I had wanted a homebirth (which I knew was not possible, but a girl can dream can’t she?) with little to no medical intervention – and my pregnancy was absolutely not headed in that direction.
In spite of that, I am forever grateful that my doctor had the foresight to send me for non-stress tests and have my blood checked. Around two weeks out from my due date, the day after I finished work, my husband and I were told that I had a low platelet count. I had none of the classic symptoms (blurred vision, sudden weight gain, swelling, headache, nausea/vomiting seizures, pain in upper abdomen, nosebleeds, bleeding that doesn’t stop as quickly as usual) had not developed preeclampsia, but all the same, I had developed HELLP syndrome: a rare and life threatening condition. I had heard of HELLP syndrome, but I mostly had forgotten all about it and didn’t really know what it meant for me, my baby, and the birth.
HELLP syndrome is a condition categorized by the breaking down of red blood cells (which carry oxygen from your lungs to the body), the elevation of liver enzymes (indicating a problem with your liver), and low platelet count (causing difficulty for your blood to clot) during pregnancy, or right after you give birth. It still isn’t known what causes HELLP syndrome. I was lucky. The doctors caught wind of what was going on before things became dire, and the medical folk allowed me to be induced (with careful and constant monitoring) instead of heading straight to the operating table. I was not allowed an epidural, but that was ok with me since it was the one thing that was finally going the way I planned. However, if it had have gone to a C-section, I still would not have been able to get an epidural, and would have to be put under, something that was a big fear of mine. When it came to go time, my platelets had dropped further still, and my doctor told me that if I didn’t have my baby my morning I would have to have surgery. But, like I said, I was lucky. Lucky to have had this scary condition discovered early on, lucky to have amazing birth partners in my husband and my doula, lucky to be an informed, strong and stubborn woman, lucky that my baby was facing the right way and that she did her amazing part, and so very lucky to birth a healthy, perfect baby girl.
When I think back to the period of time before my platelet count was found to be low, I think I knew something wasn’t quite right. I felt weird. I even took a couple days off work, and as I mentioned, went to see my doctor. My intuition told me I wasn’t in labour then, and that something else was amiss. I brushed it off at the time, what did I know? I had never had a baby before… and yet I think that some small part of me did know. My hopes in writing this is that it informs a little on HELLP syndrome, and more importantly, I hope to encourage you trust your intuition throughout the amazing feat of growing a tiny human and during the journey of bringing your sweet bundle earthside.
“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” – Benjamin Spock