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Post On Thursday, May 29, 2014 By April
Our story starts not unlike most. We’re a happily married couple starting a family and enjoying the ins and outs of our first pregnancy. We’ve chosen a nurse midwife that we really, really like. The weight gain is not too bad as I expected to pack on pounds. There’s not one single moment of morning sickness. Our co-ed baby shower is a hit with more than 3o in attendance. Our baby girl wants for nothing when she enters this world!
Around 30 weeks we get a phone call from the obstetrician’s office that we need to come in for an office visit. When we arrive the nurse midwife (the one we really, really like) advises us that due to the rising cost of malpractice insurance she was no longer going to be allowed to practice in that office and we will need to find another midwife if we choose to continue to see one. We are incredibly disappointed. She refers us out and we proceeded to make our appointment for the following week.
On the day of the appointment I attend alone as my husband is working. When she takes my vitals the BP is elevated. She has me lay on my side for a few minutes and then retakes the blood pressure. It has come down some and we attribute the spike to nerves. I’m in a new office and still upset about the loss of the previous midwife. I tell my husband the appointment was relatively uneventful and that I think I will like this midwife. We never lay eyes on her again.
Roughly a week later I’m having trouble sleeping. I get up and watch some television. I eat a bowl of lucky charms-one of my guilty pleasures. I’m having very strange thoughts. Paranoia is really what it seems like thinking back on it. At some point I finally fall asleep. A couple of hours later I awake to a dull pain in my back and the need to urinate. I relieve myself and head back to bed. Now the pain in the middle of my back between my shoulder blades is severe. I bend and stretch and move around trying to get some relief to no avail. My husband wonders if I’m in labor. I will never forget the look in his eyes when I tell him “No and I’m scared.”
We proceed to the hospital in his truck. He’s a local deputy and feels that he can get us there safely and quickly. At some point I lose control and he pulls into a fire station. He wakes the paramedics and they take over. The ambulance trip to the hospital is filled with the likes of incredulous murmurs after repeated blood pressure readings and nitroglycerin.
Upon arrival to the emergency room we are greeted with a team of people prepared to care for us. I’m almost immediately given pain medication and proceed to “float” from there. I’m prepped for a CAT scan as I hear them whisper of an aortic tear. Heading into CT a doctor so petite she seems childlike stops the gurney and demands that I be taken up to Labor and Delivery. An argument ensues and just a short time later I’m headed upstairs. Once I’m in the room and hooked to multiple monitors the doctor comes in and informs us that she will have to perform an emergency C-section. She advises us that I’m very sick and that both my life and the life of our unborn child are at high risk. She explains that I have HELLP syndrome and that the only way to cure this and give us a fighting chance is delivery. We are scared and confused and full of questions that there is no possible time to answer. We head into the OR. My daughter is born weighing 4lb 7 oz.
What seems like a lifetime later I awake in a dark room. There is a beeping monitor, blood pressure cuff, IV, and fear. There isn’t a brand new baby daughter, husband, flowers, balloons, or joy. A nurse comes in to find me awake and alerts the doctor. I start to ask questions and she stops me. She informs me that I should not talk, I should not try to move, and to do everything that I can to remain as calm as possible. I begin to cry and she hurriedly explains that my baby girl is perfectly beautifully fine, that she is actually better off that I am. She tells me they will get her in to see me as soon as I am well enough to handle it. My assumption is that will be in a few hours. Three days later she “sneaks” my baby in for a peek of a visit. It occurs to me many months later that they are able to take the 32 weeker out of the NICU to see her mother and not the other way around.
Five days later I’m cleared for release from the hospital. Our daughter was cleared two days earlier. During my 8 day stay I was given magnesium sulfate, a platelet transfusion, and constant blood pressure and urine out put monitoring. The last two days were spent getting to know my new baby and trying to come to grips with the fact that my “birth plan” was a bust. Nothing was as it was intended. Welcome to parenthood.
Exactly two years later we’re pregnant again. This time around we are seeing the wonderful doctor that just happened to be on call that fateful night our first was born. She monitors me closely. Over the last two years she’s armed us with all of the information we might need on Preeclampsia. We understood going in that a subsequent HELLP or preeclampsia pregnancy is possible. This time around is certainly not as uneventful as the first. There are multiple 24-hour urine catches, multiple office visits, and frequent blood pressure checks at the local fire station.
At 35 weeks when the blood pressure starts creeping up the doctor orders me on bed rest. After two straight weeks of nothing but lying around I can’t stand it anymore. I go to dinner with a friend and while we are eating she comments on how red my face is. After dinner we head to the fire station just as a precaution. My blood pressure reads 170/98. The paramedics want to take me to the hospital. I have to sign a release holding them harmless as I wish to contact my doctor directly and head there on my own. A short while later we meet in labor and delivery yet again. My son Luke is born via emergency C-section at 37 weeks gestation
This time I awake in a hospital room. There is a monitor, bp cuff, catheter, IV, and hope. They bring my son in and we meet for the first time. While he was small at 5lbs 6oz he thrived and was off the charts just a few short weeks later. We were only in the hospital four short days and left feeling like we got really lucky this time.
We decide that we are done taking our chances. We’re obviously not very good at this whole pregnancy thing. We begin to use birthcontrol as I’m just wholly unprepared to endure another surgery. Our life feels a bit chaotic as we’re trying to adjust to being a two-kid family. My son is not nearly as easy a baby as my daughter was and my daughter is not too sure how she feels about sharing all of the attention with her new brother.
Six months later we are pregnant again. While we are happy about the new life we are bringing into the world we are scared and confused yet again. We feel that this is meant to be as we took precautions to ensure that this would not happen again. This pregnancy is anything but uneventful. As with the last one there are multiple tests, constant bp checks, and an overall feeling of illness. We take many trips to the hospital for monitoring only to be sent home with reassurances that all is ok.
At 30 weeks gestation our son Grayson is stillborn. It is a morning similar to any other morning. I wake up to relieve myself. I’m frustrated because sleep evades me and when I do finally sleep I have to get up to pee. It’s a vicious cycle. This particular morning when I stand I have a vey sharp pain in my lower abdomen. I sit for a couple of minutes and am finally able to walk to the restroom. I figure it’s round ligament stretching as I seem to be getting into that almost third trimester growth spurt. I’m scheduled for a regular weekly check-up that morning so I lay back down and make a note to tell her about the pain when I see her. A couple of hours later in the office the nurse goes to check his heartbeat. She mentions that the monitor must be broken and excuses herself to get a different one. When she returns she still can’t find the heartbeat. A bit later the doctor arrives with an ultrasound machine and confirms that his heart is still. She sends us to the hospital to prepare for delivery.
This delivery is tricky as my blood pressure is skyrocketing and my labs confirm I do in fact have severe preeclampsia. She wants me to try to deliver this baby vaginally as I’ve already had two incisions from the previous C-sections. They start me on Pitocin and give me an epidural. The labor is slow and non productive. She advises that if I don’t move forward soon we will have to deliver via C-section. At this time I suffer from a severe abdominal pain. My belly actually moves as if the baby were turning. We are unsure of what’s happening as I shouldn’t have felt the pain under the anesthesia and the monitors do not show contractions. I’m immediately prepped for emergency surgery and we head to the OR.
This time I awake in yet another dark and silent room with yet another monitor, bp cuff, and IV. This time however I’m only greeted with despair. They’ve already started the mag. I know this drill. They don’t sneak my bundle of joy into my room to alleviate my tears however. This time my husband hands my stillborn son to me and tells me I can hold him as long as I like. They will take him downstairs after we say goodbye.
It turns out that this time my uterus ruptured. My baby saved my life with the way he burst from that place in my body that was supposed to protect and nourish him. His little head clamped that main artery and the doctor was able to stitch me up from the inside out. It was just 6 months later that she performed yet another surgery on me and removed that tired old uterus. It was an act of closure that I desperately needed. The constant pain was nothing but a reminder of the loss we so recently had suffered.
Today we are a happy family of four. We honor our Grayson and thank the powers that be on a regular basis for allowing all of us our time here on earth. Iris and Luke are healthy, smart, and beautiful children. You would never know that they came into the world with such a shocking start. It is our hope that they will not have to suffer the same fate in childbirth that we did. We hope for a cure long before this could ever touch them. We hope for a cure so that other families only wake to crying babies, sunshine, and balloons.
October 2, 2002 Iris Jacqueline Hightower is born at 32 weeks gestation from HELLP syndrome.
October 9, 2004 Evan Luke Hightower is born at 37 week gestation from Preeclampsia.
December 7, 2005 James Grayson Hightower is born at 30 weeks gestation from Severe Preeclampsia resulting in a ruptured uterus.
Dr. Aimee Raup is credited with delivering all three children and saving the life of April Dawn Hightower.
Evan Brent Hightower is credited with being the most loving and supportive husband any wife, patient, or mother could ever hope for.
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