Phoebe suffered with HELLP syndrome, a dangerous variant of pre-eclampsia. Her story is a reminder of the epigastric pain which can accompany pre-eclampsia and why you should never ignore it:
“When I was 29 weeks pregnant, I started to have upper abdominal pain that kept me wide awake and no painkillers would help. I thought it was normal pregnancy pain so tried to sleep it off. By the morning the pain was gone and I tried to forget about it.
One week later, the pain was back. I managed to get through the night and walked into work in the morning. I tried my hardest to work through the pain but as it had come back I thought that I should go to the GP to make sure all was well. I thought that perhaps I had injured my ribs. I left the office with my laptop in tow, letting everyone know I would be back later that day.
When I went to the GP, they thought that perhaps I could have gallstones so referred me for an ultrasound. They also checked my blood pressure. I was told this was just as a precaution as I was pregnant. My blood pressure was extremely high so a urine sample was taken. This came back positive for protein. The GP rang the maternity triage and I was told to go to the hospital immediately.
I went to the hospital thinking that this was likely to be an over cautious GP and that I felt fine aside from the abdominal pain that I wasn’t even experiencing at that moment! I had my work clothes and bag with me but nothing else.
When I arrived at triage I was admitted to a room almost immediately. I was under 15 minute blood pressure monitoring and had further urine samples and now blood tests. As the afternoon became the evening, I realised that perhaps this could be more serious than I initially thought.
I was told that I had pre-eclampsia and I was to stay in hospital until my baby was delivered.
I didn’t understand. I thought I felt fine. I argued with the doctors and midwives that this had to be a mistake. I couldn’t process that I was going to have a premature baby and it was all down to how long my body could cope. I was on numerous blood pressure medications that increased daily as the doctors struggled to get my blood pressure under control.
During my 3 weeks in hospital there were many times where I was sent to the delivery suite as they thought my decline was imminent. During blood tests it was found that my platelets, liver and kidneys were starting to fail. I was now diagnosed as having HELLP. Due to this I had steroid injections given to help mature my baby’s lungs.
At 33+1 weeks pregnant I woke up and my whole body had swelled overnight. My feet no longer fitted into my shoes. I had a headache that I could not shift. The abdominal pain was back. I knew that today was the day.
After my first set of bloods, it was quickly decided that I would need to have an emergency caesarean. Within an hour the consent forms were signed, I had seen the anaesthetist and the NICU doctor had visited me to talk about what I should expect after delivery.
I was terrified but I knew it was time. Before I could deliver, I needed to have magnesium and other medication. The wait was unbearable.
The NICU doctor had told me that sometimes premature babies don’t cry straight away and that they may need help. When my baby was delivered, I knew because he let out a loud cry. The relief was immense. We were able to give him a quick cuddle before he had to make his way to NICU.
But it was not all plain sailing. I was unable to see my baby for 27 hours. When I woke up after the surgery, I sobbed for hours. I just wanted to be with him. I still had numerous drips in me and was unable to move my legs. I was told that as soon as I could move from the bed into a chair I would be able to go and see my baby. As feeling started to come back to my feet, I tried to get out of the bed. My blood pressure was now too low and I fainted. I now had to wait even longer to see him.
Eventually, I was well enough to be wheeled to NICU. I saw my tiny 3lb 5oz baby. He was born at 33+1 weeks but due to IUGR had the maturity of a 28 weeker. He was jaundiced and was struggling to breathe. Nothing can prepare you for seeing your baby with wires, monitors, oxygen mask, head cap and eye mask in an incubator. It’s not how you imagine meeting your baby.
After many ups and downs including being diagnosed with chronic lung disease, after 6 weeks we were finally able to be at home as a family. It was 6 days before Christmas and it was the best Christmas present I could have ever have asked for.
I had never heard of HELLP nor did I consider that pre-eclampsia could happen to me. More awareness needs to be raised so that pregnant people are aware of the signs and symptoms.”