I don’t know where to begin, and I feel as if already moments have been pushed out of my memory, blurred on purpose. But I need to put it down, watch it sit on the screen and develop into a concrete block of text.
December 6th was the worst day of my life. My son was born December 7th.
On Friday (the 3rd), I woke up with pains in my upper abdomen and nausea, but went in to school. Before first period was over, I knew I would have difficulty making it. I emailed the school secretary, letting her know I felt sick. I stayed until after the study period and left a little after 10am. I called Jordan and told him I was sick, but that I didn’t think it was labor. I went over to my mom’s house and slept, and when I got up later I felt weak, but no longer in pain.
Saturday and Sunday were busy days. I had a technology class at the school Saturday morning. We had a busy class that lasted the whole period — from 8am to about 2pm. My sister in law, Megan, and I had planned to meet at my mom’s to make a chicken mix to freeze, but she had already left for work by the time I got to my mom’s. I had bought a large bag (8lbs?) of chicken at Costco that week, and we went to work boiling, shredding, seasoning, and freezing as well as making chicken broth and gravy mixes. I was on my feet but felt generally good. I was nearly 38 weeks pregnant and a week away from my induction date — any fatigue or discomfort was attributed to this.
On Sunday, it was back over to my mom’s for holiday baking with the girls. I headed over early so that my mom and I could drive down to the fire station and have my carseat installed by a firefighter. Megan, Mom, Michelle, Miley, and Meg’s mom and sister, Kaitlin — thank god for a name of a different letter — met up around noon to start the long process of baking hundreds of cookies and treats for family, coworkers, and friends. I had brought twenty bags to fill myself for Jordan and my coworkers. We baked for a solid five or six hours, during which I found myself tired and swelling a little, but nothing out of the ordinary. We went out for Mexican food and I was home around 8 to get ready for bed.
I tossed and turned in the early night. I had a dream that something was wrong with Carter, and that we had to return to the hospital in Tucson to have him. I was wide awake by one a.m. with those upper abdomen pains and nausea. The nausea continued to get worse over the next few hours, and I knew I wouldn’t make it through a school day. I woke Jordan up to let him know that I wasn’t feeling well, that I didn’t think I was in labor but that I needed to stay home and see the doctor. He had a big deadline that day at work, so we agreed that because it probably wasn’t serious he should just come home as early as he could and I’d keep him posted.
I set up a substitute and drove myself to school around 4:30a.m. to wait in the parking lot until the school opened. I had to open my car door and heave bile for most of this time. A little before five, I set up my classroom and substitute plans, but it was a slow process, as I was having to stop every few minutes to puke bile. I called my mom because I wasn’t sure I could drive myself back, but when she got there I felt like a prize idiot because I remembered the substitute would need my parking space. It was probably a good thing she’d come anyway, because I couldn’t drive my car out of the parking lot without having to stop and push the door open to heave and pour puddles of spit onto the concrete. I drove back to her house to rest.
We called the OB’s office and the nurse practitioner said to go into L&D; she thought it sounded like labor. My mom had me go outside and walk laps around the greenbelt by her house to help me dilate more (I was a 3). Jordan met us and we left for the hospital. When we got to L&D, my mom kept reminding me to act miserable and not smile or joke, or they would send me home. I reminded her that I was miserable.
In triage, our nurse Cheryl took a urine sample. I was only able to give her a small amount of very dark urine, and she commented about me maybe being dehydrated. She said she thought we’d be admitted if we could get me dilated to a 4, so she had me walk the floor for an hour. I did my best to walk quickly, squatting at the end of hallways and stretching along the way.
When I got back, they had reviewed my blood and urine samples, and something was wrong. Everything moved in fast forward. We had coordinated with my hematologist to have DDAVP, an intravenous drug that helps raise my plasma levels, at the hospital. (It wasn’t there…but they got it there fast). I was given the dose, and I was quickly admitted to a room directly across from the nurses’ station. Even with all of the reading I had done, I didn’t recognize the acronym being thrown out at me. HELLP. I didn’t understand, and it was a while before it was explained fully. Help? I needed help? No, I had HELLP syndrome.
Normal platelet levels in healthy adults are 150k to 400k. My platelet count was at 53k. If they continued to drop, I was at risk for spontaneous hemorraging through all orifices. My liver enzymes were dangerously high, and I was at risk of organ failure. If I wasn’t treated quickly, the syndrome would prove fatal for both the baby and myself.
I can’t even remember everything I was hooked up to. I had two IV towers. My veins started to go AWOL, and at one point, five nurses took turns trying to get a line with an 18 gauge needle. Perhaps the most important IV was for magnesium to help prevent seizures. Magnesium, as I learned during my extended stay on it, makes you feel awful. Headaches, muscle weakness, constipation…fun.
HELLP syndrome is usually expressed in women with preeclampsia-eclampsia, but mine was a separate entity. My blood pressure was normal. Baby was not showing any signs of distress, and my favorite ultrasound technician from previous appointments did a scan on my kidneys and liver and then showed Carter happily swallowing amniotic fluid.
The only way to cure HELLP is to deliver the baby quickly. My OB came in and broke my water, and I was started on a very high dose of pitocin.
My first nurse, Cathie, was raised by midwives in New Hampshire and loved the Red Sox. Because of the situation, I was her only patient. She’d worked as a doula before. All of this was reassuring after I got the big news: no pain meds. An epidural was too risky because of my platelet count. She had me in a couple of different positions, and I quickly dilated from a 3 to a 7.
My transition period, where contractions are at their strongest and most unpredictable, lasted from about 3pm until 9pm. (Transition is supposed to be the quickest part…ha.) Because of the high dose of pitocin, my contractions were erratic and very close together. There is no way to describe it. I have never been in so much pain. I think I would have rather been shot.
At the 7pm shift change, my night nurse Kelly was assigned to me. She kept telling me I was so close, but hours kept passing. My mind was blurry; my body weak (I hadn’t eaten in long over 24 hours). I had nothing to give, but I felt the urge to vomit. I like to think that I was not too astonishingly rude. I didn’t scream obscenities, but I couldn’t stop the gutteral noises, tears, and a few gems (“This is the WORST music I’ve ever heard” in response to Kelly trying to soothe me with KYOTE Smooooth Jazz and “I don’t want a fucking stuffed animal” to Jordan when the nurse left to get a stuffed mouse for me to focus on).
I started pushing at 8 or 9ish. Everything blurs together. I delivered several hours later. Pushing was sort of a relief; at least I had pain with a more focused purpose. The contractions were about a minute apart. My mom held my hand when I grabbed for it; waited when I pushed it away. My sister fed me ice cubes by a spoon. Jordan held my face and talked me through it. We could do it.
Jordan, my sister, and my mom were in the room with me. Everyone keeps telling me I handled it so well — but I can’t think of any one of them being there without high levels of anxiety. To have had anyone see me like that, crying for help and begging in pain, drives me to the edge. I kept apologizing through my 26-hour labor. Even then, I knew I was scarring them, taxing them emotionally in a way that wouldn’t, won’t leave them. Selfishly, I wouldn’t go back and change it. I needed every one of them. I needed Jordan, my best friend, my heart and soul. I needed my mom to feel protected and fought for. I needed Michelle, with her deep wells of knowledge and her guardianship.
Carter Patrick Doneskey was born at 1:11am on December 7th. He weighed 6lbs 10oz and measured 19 and 3/4”. He was absolutely, breathtakingly awe-inspiring. He is perfect. And worth every bit of December 6th.