Sometimes life has a way of throwing us a curve ball... of catching us off guard in the most unsuspecting of ways... ways that test our strength, our emotions. Sometimes life hands us a journey that both makes your heart swell, and shatter simultaneously.
On November 7th, 2016 our sweet baby girl joined the world at 23 weeks and 2 days gestation, 17 weeks early.
The morning of November 7th, I woke up with terrible abdominal pain and decided I better go to the hospital to have it checked out since I was worried it could be contractions. On arrival at the hospital they sent me directly to maternity. I had a blood pressure of 205/108 (normal is 120/80) and the pressure in my head was starting to build up - at this point I thought it was just a headache. A urine sample indicated there was protein in my sample in the 4000's range (normal is 0-20), and my bloodwork showed that I had low hemoglobin and my platelet levels were getting dangerously low. They inserted a catheter and an IV. Around the time these results started to come back is the point at which the pressure in my head had gotten so severe that I could hardly open my eyes, I couldn't talk to my husband, and I have very little memory of what happened next. My recollection of events is spotty, and foggy and a lot of what I know to have happened is from asking my husband. What I do remember of my time at the Chilliwack hospital was the OBGYN telling me I had pre eclampsia and HELLP syndrome and the only was to cure it was by delivering baby. Even being told that I wasn't really cluing in to what the doctor was telling me, until she said they were giving me a steroid injection to help baby's lungs for when they delivered, and that baby would likely be delivered within the week. I was stunned. I looked at my husband and he said to me "Ash, remember what you were taught as a flight attendant. You put your own mask on before helping others". I knew this would be a situation where I had to help myself in order to have any chance of helping our baby. I remember the doctor telling me they had contacted BC bedline to transfer me to a hospital that could deliver a baby this young and we were waiting to see if I would be transferred to Royal Columbian Hospital, BC Women's and Children's or a hospital in Victoria (this would be a last resort). RCH ended up having a bed so this was where I would be sent and the Critical Transport Ambulance was on it's way.
I don't remember much after that. My husband says I was taken downstairs for an ultrasound while we waited for the ambulance to arrive, and that at this point I was becoming a risk for a seizure so I was put on seizure precautions. My mom says they administered Fentanyl by IV to help with the pain in my head which didn't provide any relief... I was screaming, and crying and so scared because the pressure in my head was so severe.
I remember chaos. The room at some point went from calm, where I was texting my Mom not to come because we were just waiting in the room for bloodwork, to suddenly there were doctors and nurses, and paramedics and we were being told that our baby would be delivered that week. The paramedics transferred me to the stretcher and the nurse gave me a shot of morphine to help with the pain while en route to RCH which was a little over an hour away and off we went. My husband rode with me in the ambulance and as I finally started to feel some relief thanks to the morphine I remember hearing the paramedic say they would have air lifted me but there was a Transport Canada issue ongoing which suddenly helped me to understand that perhaps this was a little more serious that I had realized. I had been so caught up in the pain that I couldn't process all that was being told to us.
We arrived at RCH where three wonderful nurses were waiting in my room and started their assessments immediately. They did STAT bloodwork and upon receiving the results my platelets had dropped to 17,000 (normal is 150,000-450,000) and I was now at risk for stroking out as well as a seizure. The OBGYN and Neonatologist came in and told us that my placenta was no longer providing for my baby and that my body's systems were shutting down. They were prepping the OR. We hadn't found out our baby's gender but always knew in our hearts baby was a girl. My sister asked me "are you sure you don't want to know the baby's gender before you go into the c-section?" But we didn't. It didn't change anything. We waited.
I was terrified. Jeff sat next to me as the neonatologist explained to my husband and I what our baby's chances of survival were, and if baby did survive what to expect in those first hours, those first couple days. I remember the chances not being in our favour and my hands were shaking as my husband gripped them in his. The OBGYN then told us that I wouldn't be able to have a conscious C-section because my platelets were so low that an epidural into my spine would cause a pooling of blood on my spine and potentially leave me paralyzed, so I had to be put under which meant that my husband could not be there.
They wheeled me into the OR, my husband held my hand until the last set of doors he was allowed to and kissed me. I remember being so afraid that it would be the last time I kissed him... and then I was in the OR where the anesthesiologist put in an arterial line. She had to adjust it and I remember feeling my blood pulsing out from my artery because my blood was so thin from my platelets. Then came the mask over my face and I remember being so afraid that our baby would not survive and I would be under sedation an unable to meet her.
I next remember my husband waking my up in the recovery unit. It was dark and very open with a nursing station in the middle. I was so groggy, but I knew right away this was the first time I had woken since the c-section. My husband was holding my hand and he said "Babe... we had a girl. I have a daughter. A baby girl" and showed me a photo of her. He asked me "how did you know? you knew it was a girl all along. how did you know?"
I just did. Our bond. Our connection. I knew from the very first day I got that positive test that we were having a daughter.
Hazel Emilie. Her birth weight was 420 grams (not even a pound).
The next couple days were still foggy. I had a 24 hour nurse at my bedside for the first two days until they were able to finally remove the seizure precautions. The only time I was allowed to be without a nurse was when my husband took me in a wheelchair to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) to see our daughter 24 hours after her birth. I had been taken in my stretcher after leaving the recovery unit from my c-section but I don't remember it so that first time was special, but it shattered my heart a million times over to see our sweet girl in her incubator, on a ventilator and under a plastic blanket to keep the moisture in because her skin was so thin.
Over the next week I cried more heavy sobs than ever in my life, and I dealt with so much guilt for my body failing us both. I spent 11 days admitted in the hospital with regular visits from internal medicine doctors, kidney specialists and the OB where the picture of how critical my life was started to be brought to my attention. A week later, my kidneys weren't recovering well, my blood pressure was still high and my bloodwork was still looking terrible but eventually it got to a place where even though I wasn't fully healed it was safe for me to go home.
Now Our sweet girl is still in the NICU at RCH and we make the commute daily. She will be there until at least her due date at the beginning of March but she is doing exceptionally well. She is a little fighter. At 22 days old we were able to visit with her incubator open and give her a kiss for the first time, and at 23 days old I got to hold her in my arms for the first time while her daddy fed her. She is now 25 days old and will be a month old on Monday! Her gestational age is 27 weeks today.
If you've read through our story then thank you. It's long and it isn't for everyone but I became a part of a very small percentage of women who develop a rapid onset of pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome without warning. My OB says 2-3%. It's a story I want to share, and bring awareness to, and awareness to prematurity and life in the NICU. The staff at RCH have been incredible, and Hazel's NICU team is one of a kind.