Earlier I was reminiscing about past Easter Sundays. How over the years they’ve evolved from one of hectic preparation – matching outfits, baskets of candy, dinner with lots of relatives, and the egg hunt to a relaxed Sunday at home. Now I spend Easter Sunday in either my jammies on the couch or in my muck boots digging in the garden - depending upon the weather. A simple and easy dinner for my family of six and lots of laughter and noise. It’s all good.
As I looked through past photos I came across this one of myself, 14 years ago. It was March 27th, 2005 and UNC was in the Championship. (Since I’m married to a Tarheel this is a really big deal). We were headed to my brother’s house for the Annual Easter Egg hunt and dinner with lots of family. I was very pregnant with my third child, but not due for another month.
The kids had fun hunting for eggs and devouring candy while the adults sipped Mimosa’s and nibbled on shrimp cocktail, cheese and crackers. During dinner, I began to feel strange. Several times while laughing at a joke, I felt this strange kind of contraction – I assumed it was just Braxton Hicks except the contraction didn’t seem to release. After a few of these, my husband noticed something was wrong. We quickly made arrangements for the kids to stay with my brother and we headed for home to call the doctor and find out what she wanted us to do.
Once home, we waited for the return call from the doctor. My husband was glued in front of the television watching his beloved Tarheels and I was feeling extremely restless. I decided to take our dogs for a walk. While walking, the “non-contractions” began again. It was like I’d have two or three contractions in a row that didn’t release and then they’d release all at once. I hurried home with the dogs and called the doctor’s office again. My doctor was on vacation. The on-call obstetrician called us back and told us to come to the hospital right away.
We arrived in record time at Beth Israel Hospital. The hospital was quiet and the Labor and Delivery Ward even quieter. Just one other woman laboring away on Easter Sunday. There was some concern that I wasn’t due for another month so they planned to watch me and see if the contractions would stop with bedrest. Shortly after getting settled into bed, the non-contractions started again with much more gusto! On top of the contractions, my blood pressure started edging upward and I was diagnosed with preeclampsia and went from being a month away from delivery to giving birth on Easter Sunday.
My contractions were powerful and pushed me into full dilation within a few hours of arriving at the hospital. The Labor and Delivery Ward was full of residents who didn’t get the holiday off and a wonderful Jewish doctor who said he loved working Easter since it was just another day of the week for him. He had a great sense of humor and didn’t laugh when I told him that I wanted to pull my baby out – it was in my birth plan and since nothing else was going according to plan, I wanted to do this. It was truly an incredible experience as he helped guide my hands down so I could hook my fingers under her little armpits while the doctor cradled her head, with the next contraction I tugged and out she came – this tiny, little newborn girl. That is really my last happy memory of Anna’s birth. Once she was born they whisked her away to check her vital signs and look for signs of distress. She was just a little over 5 pounds.
I vaguely recall having her on my chest, but I don’t know if that’s a real memory or a memory from a photograph I have. What I do remember distinctly is the sudden pain that hit me maybe an hour or so after the birth. I felt like a Mack Truck was parked on my chest, I felt dizzy and disoriented and just so incredibly tired. I just wanted to close my eyes and go to sleep. Suddenly there was activity all around me, residents scurrying to get the doctor and my husband leaning over me. The last thing I remember from that night was my husband’s blue eyes close to my face and him saying, “Stay with me Pammy. Don’t you leave me. Stay with me.”
HELLP Syndrome stands for H - Hemolysis (breakdown of red blood cells), EL – elevated liver enzymes (liver function) and LP – low platelets count (platelets help the blood clot). HELLP Syndrome affects less than 1% of all pregnancies and typically begins during the last trimester of the pregnancy or shortly after childbirth. Many of the symptoms are often confused with common pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, fluid retention and feeling tired. Other symptoms can include nosebleeds or simple cuts that bleed excessively, headaches, blurry vision, upper right abdominal pain and seizures.
There are numerous complications that can occur including disseminated intravascular coagulation (blood clots forming throughout the body), placental abruption, pulmonary edema, respiratory distress, ruptured liver hematoma and kidney failure. Women who experience Preeclampsia and/or HELLP Syndrome are often at a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease and strokes later in life.
I was fortunate – it was a slow night at BI and I had residents tripping over themselves to help as none of them had ever seen something like this before. All my needs were taken care of immediately and I had the best round-the-clock care. The other woman who gave birth that night had an easy birth with no complications. Around midnight they told my husband to head home and get some rest as I was out of the woods and resting comfortably. He arrived home to find our basement under almost a half a foot of water. Did I mention that sometime during Anna’s birth it had begun to rain and hard. After realizing that bailing with a gallon size jug was futile, Dave decided to leave it and head to bed.
The hospital woke him up a few hours later telling him to get back there immediately as they were afraid I had blood clots. Dave raced back into Boston in time to accompany my gurney down to imaging. A few hours later, I was back on the labor and delivery ward where I stayed for three nights and four days. Finally, at long last, I was deemed stable enough to head down to the post-partum ward and my kids could finally come to see me and meet their new, little sister.
My husband was amazing. I have no actual memories of any of this – my last memory was his beautiful, blue eyes telling me to stay and then waking up a few days later and not being able to focus my eyes and having no fine motor skills. Thanks to lots of medications including Magnesium Sulfate, it was weeks before I could tie my own shoes or snap my fingers. It did get me out of diaper duty for a while though! Sometime between when I crashed and when I woke up, Dave managed to get a couple of sump pumps and pump out the basement, retrieve the children from my brother’s, feed, bathe and amuse the one-year old and the four-year old and schlep back and forth to the hospital to bond with our newest family member and give her some parental love. It was several days before I could even hold Anna and breast feeding was not possible due to the anti-seizure medications. It’s no secret that Anna is a Daddy’s girl – she’s his little Tarheel and the two are the best of buddies.
This Easter, I’m going to give my two Tarheels some extra love and gratitude. I’m grateful to have them and I’m grateful to all those residents who helped make my outcome a positive one. Have a wonderful Easter Sunday.
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