Grand Traverse Woman
Surviving Post-partum And how I’m helping others BY MARIANNE BOHN
THE AUTHOR’S FAMILY: LEFT TO RIGHT IN THE BACK: JOSEPHINE, JACKSON, AUTHOR MARIANNE AND HER HUSBAND BRYAN. IN THE FRONT: SAMMY AND ETHAN.
EVEN BEFORE I became a mother, I’d heard of preeclampsia, a hypertensive condition that develops either during pregnancy or up to six weeks post-partum. Then, I became the mother of two beautiful boys, my pregnancies smooth, my health in check. “Preeclampsia” was just a term. Then came my third child, and everything changed. I developed post-partum preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome, a life-threatening pregnancy condition, and I experienced both again when I had my fourth child. I felt helpless, alone, and at times I feared for my life. Now I’m determined to raise awareness for other mothers and families struggling post-partum.
BABY BOY NUMBER 3 When I was admitted to the hospital for the birth of my third son, my initial blood pressure was high. I was in labor, after all! Six agonizing hours later, Samuel was born on Nov. 30, 2012. He was perfect, and I was in love with every 7 pounds, 2 ounces of him. After, as I dozed off in my postpartum room, the nurse came in to take my blood pressure. “How are you feeling?” she asked. I distinctly remember saying that I was OK, aside from a nagging headache. I was dehydrated, I thought. I knew that grandparents and siblings would soon fill the room, and I was so excited to introduce this sweetheart to my older boys. We stayed that day and the following night, and, although I was provided pain relief, nothing seemed to help. I was discharged, head still pounding, blood pressure still elevated.
A POST-PARTUM BIRTHDAY The following days with Samuel were difficult. I struggled with nursing and felt worse by the minute.
On Dec. 4, 2012, my second child’s 6th birthday, I hopped into the shower to get ready for the big day. I raised my legs to shave and noticed I was swelled clear up to my hips. In fact, I could not even tell where my knees were. Huh, I thought. I guess this is post-partum after 30. Before the celebration, a friend (an OB nurse) stopped in to see the new bundle of joy. After oohing and aahing over Samuel, she looked at me. “How are YOU feeling?” she asked. Without hesitation, I burst into tears. “I feel horrible. I am SO swollen and my head hurts SO bad!” I admitted. “I think that you should go lie down,” she said. “I am going to grab my blood pressure monitor. I will be right back.” As she left for the door, she encouraged me to reach out to my OB office and tell them how I was feeling. Through tear-filled eyes I dialed the number. I spoke to the triage nurse, describing my symptoms, and she said she’d speak with my doctor. My friend returned and took my blood pressure. “You are not going to like this,” she said. My blood pressure was 190/106. She recommended I go to the hospital to be evaluated immediately. She loaded sweet Sammy into his car seat saying, “Don’t be surprised if they admit you.”
We are going to need to admit you,” he said. I was relieved. Finally, I knew there was a name for what I was experiencing. But what the heck is HELLP? I learned that HELLP stands for hemolysis (the bursting of red blood cells), elevated liver enzymes, and low platelets (which makes it harder for blood to clot). Symptoms include elevated blood pressure, headache, severe swelling and vision changes. I was sent to the Critical Care Unit and I sent my husband and newborn boy home. I explained how he would have to give him a bottle, and I felt defeated. I was too sick to nurse him at that point. I spent the night in and out of sleep and in extreme pain. Every single part of my body hurt.
My husband and I decided to go to the closest hospital with an OB unit. This was not the hospital where I delivered, but I was feeling worse every second. My weight was 5 pounds MORE than when I delivered. I was so swollen. After numerous tests, the physician’s assistant in the ER came in and explained what was going on. “You have something called HELLP syndrome.
I was transferred to a larger hospital better equipped to care for my deteriorating condition, and the next few days were filled with tests, scans and a lot of pain. I was treated with 2 different blood pressure medications, and pain medication, and my headache faded, my blood pressure lowered, and the swelling resolved (mostly). I was sent to a step-down unit to recover for the next few days before being discharged.
DROWNING The following day I had a lot of visits from nurses, lactation consultants and doctors. My husband came with the baby, and I nursed him when I could. Later, I sent them home to get some rest. That night, as I was dozing off, I heard a noise…. a crackling… coming from my lungs. My lungs sounded like Rice Krispies. My monitor started blaring. My nurse came in and applied oxygen to my nose. I called my husband back to the hospital right away, and while I waited for him, I reminded myself to breathe. I had been drowning in my own fluid.