We’ll be discussing a specific pregnancy complication that is close to our hearts: preeclampsia. World Preeclampsia Day is right around the corner (May 22nd) and Cheryl, a member of our team, actually had HELLP syndrome (the more severe case of preeclampsia) when she was pregnant with her daughter.Before we dive into Cheryl’s story, we want to give a brief look at what this complication is. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and excess protein in urine. It usually happens after 20 weeks of pregnancy and can lead to dangerous health concerns for both the mother and the baby - both pre and post partum. HELLP syndrome is a very rare and more severe form of preeclampsia that occurs in less than 1% of pregnancies. Most common symptoms are low platelet count (so your blood can’t clot like it should) and elevated liver enzymes. Some major risk factors include if this is the first pregnancy, age (very young women and women over 35 are at a higher risk), family history of preeclampsia, multiple pregnancy (twins and up). You can find out more about preeclampsia here.
Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Beyoncé, and Mariah Carey have all been vocal about this condition. Kim had it when she was pregnant with her first two children and it is one of the reasons she was unable to carry her last two children. Beyoncé and Mariah Carey had it when they were carrying twins and they both had to have emergency Cesarean sections because their lives and their babies’ lives were all at risk. All three women had to give birth early because that is the safest way to limit further complications such as eclampsia, which is another severe form of preeclampsia when seizures occur during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth.
Now that we have all that information in our back pocket let’s jump into our conversation with Cheryl!
Knours: How old were you when you became pregnant and when did you find out you had HELLP syndrome? Did you have to make any changes to your routine?
Cheryl: I was 30 when I conceived my daughter and to be honest, I actually didn’t realize I had HELLP syndrome until I was in the hospital, about to deliver.
I gained about 40lbs during my pregnancy and was extremely swollen everywhere (especially in my hands & feet), but I thought this was normal, especially that late into the pregnancy. My blood pressure was slightly high so my doctor always asked me whether I had headaches or fuzzy eyesight, but I didn’t have either. My BP had started to skyrocket around 34 weeks, which is when I knew something was wrong. My doctor advised me to stick to a low-sodium diet and to NOT overexert myself so I basically ate sweet potatoes and veggies and laid down all day for almost a week.
K: That must not have been easy to hear and I’m sure you had so many thoughts running through your head at the time. How did you and your husband feel after you got the diagnosis?
C: I was more worried and scared about my unborn child than anything else. I’m sure my husband was extremely concerned as well, but I could tell he was trying to stay calm and not stress me out more. We found out that it was MY life that was in danger, and not so much the baby’s.
K: Had you or any of your friends heard about preeclampsia or HELLP previously?
C: Yes, I read about celebrities like Kim Kardashian having preeclampsia and I remember she posted on IG about her emotional and physical experiences. My aunt actually also had preeclampsia and she warned me to be careful since it might run in the family - I guess it turns out she was right!
K: Yes, I guess she was! It’s a good thing you could sort of be mentally aware of it even though you found out very late. Would you mind sharing your birth story with us?
C: At my 35th week check-up, my doctor told me my blood pressure was too high and that he wanted to monitor my urine for 24hrs. I went home with this huge container to collect 24hrs worth of urine and went back the next day to bring in the sample. They checked my bp again that day and my doctor took one look and told me to go home, pack a bag, and get admitted. I was NOT ready at all and freaked out a bit, but we did as we were told and I got admitted that night. The doctor I met with after being admitted was the first person who I heard say that I may have HELLP syndrome.
I was also informed that my platelet count was too low so I had IVs with magnesium and platelets put into me, and was induced that night for roughly 12hrs until about 10am the next morning. My doctor came and said I wasn’t dilated enough so I would continue to be induced. He came back shortly thereafter and said that my liver enzymes were too high and could potentially damage my liver and on top of all that, my platelets were dropping dangerously low despite the IVs. He said I would be rushed into surgery to have a c-section. It all happened very quickly and swiftly.
Because my platelets were low and my blood wasn’t clotting, I wasn’t able to get regional anesthesia (like an epidural or spinal block, which is usually what happens), so I got general anesthesia instead. My husband couldn’t even come into the delivery room, which was probably the hardest part. He said he went into the waiting room and only 5 or so minutes after he started praying, a nurse came and said “congratulations, dad.” I apparently lost a ton of blood during the surgery, ended up staying in the hospital for five days, and I didn’t even remember certain things that happened post-surgery. After I woke-up, my husband actually had to ask me if I wanted to see the baby because I was so disoriented! K: Wow, it sounds like it all happened very very quickly, but you did it and now you have a beautiful baby girl! So was your daughter affected by the complication at all?
C: Nope, she was a healthy, lively 4lbs and surprisingly didn’t have to go into the NICU!
K: That is amazing! I’m sure you were so exhausted between the sudden diagnosis and delivery. What were your early days of motherhood like?
C: Simply, a combination of being the most tired I’ve ever been in my life and the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.
K: That’s certainly the beauty of motherhood: feeling incredibly happy on top of your exhaustion. Now that you’ve gone through this experience, what advice do you have for women who have this condition?
C: Don’t stress, it’s not your fault, the baby will be FINE, and trust your doctor!
K: Thank you again for coming on here and sharing your story with us. Is there anything else you would like to share with our Knours Kommunity?
C: As I prepare (only mentally, I’m not pregnant yet) for a sibling for our daughter, I’m aware that the risk that this will happen again is very real and hope to be as healthy and as careful as possible with my second pregnancy.
We hope Cheryl’s story resonates with women who are experiencing something similar and that they can take comfort in knowing that they’re not alone. Knours will always be here for you and we hope to have more of these conversations about just how beautiful womanhood is. Every mom is a hero and every child is a miracle!