Hi. Since your form for sharing stories is not up yet, I thought I would
Posted On Friday, June 21, 2002 by Toni
Hi. Since your form for sharing stories is not up yet, I thought I would share this way (via email). I actually found your site a few months ago, but it looks like much more is on it now. Bless you for creating this foundation.
My son Calvin died around the 29th week of my pregnancy, this past March. I was 30 years old, had started my pregnancy perhaps 20 pounds overweight and had normal blood pressure -- though my diastolic pressure had read borderline high once or twice in the year or two before my pregnancy and was recorded slightly above 90 once early in my pregnancy, but no one felt that it was any cause for immediate concern. I was plagued by severe morning sickness, but my pregnancy seemed perfectly healthy. I was gaining weight at exactly the rate my midwives felt was appropriate for my pre-pregnancy weight, I took prenatal yoga and continued to get moderate exercise, I went to Bradley classes and began learning about childbirth. I did have an abnormal Triple Check blood test -- my AFP levels were high, indicating the possibility of neural tube defects -- but Level 2 ultrasounds, and subsequently autopsy, attested to the normal development of my baby.
It was early in the morning on New Year's Day when I first felt the baby move (I had been careful not to find out the sex during the ultrasounds ... I wanted to have all the excitement at the birth).
Things started to get funny in my 27th week, a week after my last (completely normal) checkup. I developed a terrible stomach flu and after 12 hours of agony ended up on the maternity ward to get anti-nausea medication and be rehydrated. I have asked and asked, but it does not seem that this had anything to do with the pre-eclampsia. I did not develop HELLP, and a bad stomach flu *was* going around then. The nurses had seen many pregnant women come in dehydrated from vomiting.
That morning on the maternity ward, my blood pressure was fine and I was hooked up to a fetal monitor for several hours. The baby's heartrate was a little fast, but that was attributed to the stress of the situation. The one thing that disturbs me is that no one checked my urine.
I went home from the hospital with a prescription for suppositories to help quell any further nausea. I was reluctant to use them, but continued to be very sick for several days and did resort to them once or twice. I slept for most of 5 days, I think, and did not eat very well at all during that time. Once I started feeling a little better, I noticed that I was having killer headaches, but I thought they were because I hadn't been eating right for so long. Besides, I have a tendency to get migraines, so I didn't realize I should be alarmed by the flashes of light that accompanied them. It wasn't for another week that I understood they were related to my sky-rocketing blood pressure.
As I began to eat more, the headaches seemed to be subsiding, so I decided against calling my midwives to report them. Besides, as I understood it, the main symptom of pre-eclampsia is swelling, which I did not have. I have kicked myself about this many, many times, wishing I had done something more, but by all indications my baby had probably already died by the time I had any suspicions. At the end of this week, I began to realize I hadn't been feeling the baby move as much. Up until then, I had been so sick myself that I wasn't really paying attention. I called the office and they told me to drink cold juice and lie down and count the movements. I fooled myself into believing I was feeling movement that I couldn't have been feeling. My baby was already dead.
That was on a Friday, but we didn't know until the following Monday. I'm glad of that actually. That weekend my husband and I really started nesting and feeling like we were ready for parenthood. It was a wonderful weekend and I am glad we had it. I think it made what came next more bearable somehow.
Monday morning, I was finally feeling pretty normal again. My husband and I went to see our main midwife for a check-up before heading off to work (to which I was finally returning). My blood pressure was high -- about 130/100, I think. I was shedding protein in my urine. My midwife was concerned, but said she'd check my pressure again at the end of the visit. We talked about finding a pediatrician. I went over the details of my flu with her. I told her about the headaches and the flashes of light. She knitted her brow and asked me about swelling. I HAD NONE. She asked me to lie back so she could listen for the baby's heartbeat. The first dop-tone machine was malfunctioning -- it didn't even pick up my heartbeat, so she went to get another. There was still no heartbeat. There was a change in her face I will never, ever forget. In that instant I knew, but did not want to believe, what was happening. It took my husband much longer to understand.
There is an ultrasound lab right in the office my midwife is in, but they had a 3-hour wait even for an emergency. Luckily, the office happens to be on the ground floor of the hospital, so she called up and arranged for a resident to do the ultrasound on the labor and delivery ward. We still had to wait at least 30 minutes. During that time, I was trying as hard as I could just to clear my mind, to think nothing, not to worry, not to hope, just to wait. My husband, on the other hand, kept telling himself that everything was going to be OK.
We finally got into a room on labor and delivery -- a room we did not leave for 3 days. The resident came in, did the ultrasound, told us flatly that she could not find a heartbeat, and left. The sky had fallen. It was an earthquake, a trainwreck, a disaster. Our baby was dead. My husband hadn't even understood what the resident had said, but he knew from my reaction what was going on.
For awhile there was talk of letting me go home for awhile and go into labor on my own, something I wanted very much, so that I could have a chance to process what was happening. But my blood pressure was 180/120 and I was in danger of seizures or a stroke, and they couldn't let me leave. An hour and a half after arriving for my check-up I was admitted to the hospital.
They put me on magnesium sulfate and tied pillows to my bed rails in case I had a seizure -- which thankfully I did not. They induced labor slowly. My midwife lobbied to have it done as gently as possible. Bless her. About 36 hours later they finally started a pitocin drip to speed the things along. Meanwhile we had been asked all sorts of questions no one should ever be asked -- did we want to see the baby? what did we want to do with the body? It was surreal. My plans for a natural childbirth now completely moot, I asked for pain relief and finally an epidural.
At 11:14 PM, March 20, 2001, when I was exactly 30 weeks pregnant, my son Calvin Baker Thayer-Hansen was born dead. They took him away and cleaned him up before we saw him, because we wanted to wait until our midwife was there -- the final stages had happened too quickly for her to get to the hospital for the birth. When she arrived, she brought him in to us and my husband and I both held him briefly and looked at his perfect little face then said goodbye and let him go. Later someone came up from the morgue to do all the paperwork for an autopsy and for the hospital-arranged memorial. It was two more days before I was able to go home.
My blood pressure returned to normal within 36 hours of giving birth and has remained so since then. The autopsy showed that there may have been problems with blood profusion in the placenta from early on, but that Calvin was by all appearances a healthy, normal boy, perhaps slightly underweight, when he died. His time of death was estimated to be 1 - 2 weeks before his birth, sometime while I was sick or recovering from the flu.
I never really knew things like this happened, even though my own mother is a maternal-newborn nurse. Even she had never seen anything quite like what happened to me, neither had my midwife, and the doctor she practices with, who supervised my care in the hospital, says the suddenness and severity of my case is very unusual. It's a big, nationally famous women's hospital, and they see it all, but still . . . they have very few answers. They ran all sorts of blood tests, looking for auto-immune disorders or genetic problems. Everything came back normal. That is good in terms of future pregnancies, but still, it leaves us with so little. We have no idea why or how this happened.
I think I was more educated than a lot of people are when they get pregnant. I knew what pre-eclampsia was. I even worried that I might be at risk for it because of my weight. But I thought that there would be swelling. I thought that there would be more of a window for them to detect my rising blood pressure and do something. I didn't know how dangerous it really could be.
Now, I look at pregnancy advice books, and I am infuriated. EAch of them seems to have a different explanation of pre-eclampsia, if the mention it at all. None of them really explain the fact that no one, not even the experts, really understands what this disease is or how it functions.
My son is dead and I can never change that, but I would like to find a way to help other women so that this never happens to them. My grief is still too fresh for me to know how I am going to do that yet, but perhaps I can contribute to the work your foundation is doing somehow. I am a writer and a teacher. Someday, somehow, I would like to write and educate people about this disease. I am glad you are already trying to do that.
Ethan will be turning 3 at the end of this month (October). The month of October always brings up some scary memories and emotions for me... I never thought I would have a difficult pregnancy or labor. After all...