As a 28-year-old who had always been healthy, I figured pregnancy would be a breeze for me. And for the first few months, it pretty much was. Then, one evening in early October 1999, around the 26th week, I noticed how swollen my ankles were. I didn't think much of it, but over the next few days my hands and face swelled up, too. By the end of the month, I was forced to take off my ring. I asked my midwife about it at the next appointment, and she said that as long as my blood pressure and urine samples checked out, I was probably fine.
In the 32nd week, my husband, Nathan, and I drove to Colorado for a big family Thanksgiving gathering. I was really swollen, which concerned my family, but I felt pretty good. Plus, I'd just been to see the midwife. After a couple days, though, I started feeling worse - my ribs hurt and I just generally felt bad. I was miserable on the trip home, and by the time we got there, my temperature was about 101, but went down after taking some Tylenol. By the next evening, Saturday, I was concerned about the temperature enough to go to a walk-in clinic. They told me it was probably the flu, and gave me a prescription for a cough medicine to help my ribs. When I reminded them that I was 32 weeks pregnant, they said, "Oh, it won't hurt the baby." They didn't care that the rib pain preceded the cough by a day. I left the prescription unfilled and went home feeling frustrated. I decided to hold out for my appointment the next Friday.
I was feeling somewhat better by the time Nathan left for Orlando on a business trip the next morning. For the next few days, the fever would come and go, but never got much higher than 100.5. I went to work as much as I could. I called a triage nurse once, but had a hard time explaining how I felt - I just felt rotten and my ribs hurt. Nathan had gotten home Thursday evening, so he dropped me off at work Friday morning. I felt progressively worse throughout the day - I just kept thinking, "Only 4 hours 'til the appointment" (then 3, etc.).
When I gave the urine sample that afternoon, it alarmed even me - it was very orange. I stepped on the scale and saw that I'd gained 20 pounds over the past 2 weeks, even though I'd had to force myself to eat for the baby's sake. The midwife thought it was a bladder infection, but decided to check me. Because I was 2 cm dilated, I was walked over to labor and delivery. They ran more tests until they finally told me I had severe preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome (which affects the liver and blood platelet levels, as well as blood pressure). By dinnertime I was on an IV of magnesium sulfate to prevent organ failure and seizures and was told I would be having the baby soon. That evening I was transferred to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where they have a better neonatal unit, and before long they induced labor. We were told nothing would probably happen until morning, so Nathan went home around midnight.
The magnesium sulfate, besides making me hot, made me groggy, so the next 24 hours are kind of a blur. They had me lay on my left side and breathe oxygen for the baby's sake. At 3:15 AM they broke my water to put an internal monitor in for the contractions and the baby's heart rate. By the time Nathan returned at 5 AM, they had decided that the baby wasn't taking the labor well and gave me an amniotic transfusion to replace some of the fluid and serve as a buffer. At that point, I was having some serious pain during contractions, but was only about 4 cm dilated. Not knowing how much longer it would be, I finally asked for pain medication. Shortly after, they decided they needed to get the baby out, and started talking about doing a cesarean. Because my blood platelets were so low, they were concerned about my ability to clot and even told us that, though it was unlikely, they might have to pull my uterus if the bleeding wouldn't stop. Around 7:15 a doctor came in and explained she'd be helping with the cesarean, and just then I had a huge contraction. After telling me not to push (yeah, right!), she checked and I was 9 1/2 cm! They wheeled me over to the delivery room as fast as they could (which wasn't very with the IV, arterial, catheter, and monitors). Four contractions and about 20 minutes later, Daniel was born at 7:41 AM on December 4, 1999, 33 weeks gestation, weighing 3 lbs, 6 oz! The 4 baby doctors took him for a few minutes, then let me hold him for a minute before taking him to the newborn ICU. He was so tiny and beautiful - just amazing!
I was stuck in bed with the IV for the next 24 hours, but Nathan brought a Polaroid of Daniel for me. Three days later, when I was able to go home, leaving Daniel in the hospital was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. When asked how long he might have to be in, the nurses said to think in terms of the due date - January 18. That was especially hard, since before the birth a doctor had told us it would be "maybe a couple weeks". The next few weeks were an emotional roller coaster. When Daniel was 5 days old, they did a head ultrasound as a standard test for premies born vaginally, and found that his brain ventricles were enlarged. Follow-up ultrasounds showed that the enlargement was probably due to a grade 3 (with 4 being the most serious) hemorrhage before he was born. Research on the long-term effects of this is fairly recent. One doctor told us that there was a 70% chance he'd have some degree of motor problems, i.e., cerebral palsy, only to tell us 2 weeks later that the chance was probably half that. When he was a week old, he got an e-coli infection, probably through the central line in the umbilical cord, and had to get antibiotics through IV - often placed in his head. Otherwise, though, Daniel progressed fairly well. He was only on a ventilator for 9 days, had steady weight gain, and made daily progress on his feedings. When he was almost 5 weeks old, we were all set to take him home. That morning when I got to the hospital, though, I found that he'd just he had an apnea / bradycardia episode, so he'd have to stay in the hospital to be monitored another 5 days. For the last week we'd been feeling like he'd be better off at home, where it was quiet and his schedule not so rigid, so this setback was really a blow. Finally, 5 1/2 weeks after his birth, we were able to take him home, weighing 4 lbs, 11 oz!
Daniel is now almost 11 months old (9 1/2 adjusted) and doing great! He is developing normally and most likely will not have any motor problems. He is so sweet and so much fun! I think the whole experience has made us appreciate the little things so much more. Every day I hear stories that make me realize how lucky we are!