“Well, I have some good news and some other news.” The ultrasound tech tells me, “The good news is everything looks great and healthy, but there’s two of them.”
That was a moment I would never forget. I had been so worried about trying to keep my crazy 2 year old busy that I had barely glanced at the screen a few times during the beginning of my ultrasound. Don’t get me wrong. I was very excited to be expecting again but this was baby number 3 (and as I just found out, 4) and I already knew that the first half of the ultrasound, when the tech is taking measurements and checking fluid, I would not be able to really tell what I was looking at. Plus, I was only 11 weeks, the baby (or babies) looked like gummy bears more than anything else.
At that moment all sorts of thoughts started running through my head. We need a bigger car. We need a bigger house. What if I go on bed rest? We live 2000 miles away from our family! How am I going to take care of the big kids if I am on bed rest? How are we going to handle twins?!? I started tearing up because of the shock and the tech started to tell me she was sorry. I quickly told her that I wasn’t sad and there was no reason for anyone to be sorry. I also told her she was going to have to call my husband and tell him the news because there was no way he was going to believe me. We had just been joking a few days earlier about having twins.
A few weeks later, after meeting with several specialists and my own OB, I was informed that I was having identical twins (I found out a couple weeks after that they were boys) and that I was in for a whole lot of testing and monitoring for the rest of my pregnancy. I was also told all of the scary things that can happen to identical twins. Things like Twin to Twin Transfer Syndrome, when the blood supply is shared between the babies and can lead to one baby getting too much fluid in their body and the other not having enough and can be fatal, and premature birth. Luckily, my boys were very healthy and my pregnancy was pretty much text book, until the delivery.
On March 20, 2013, I was scheduled to be induced at 39 weeks pregnant (I was miserable!) but my induction time was pushed back. Luckily it was only about 12 extra hours that I had to wait. This pregnancy I had a positive Strep B test so I had to sit through a few hours of antibiotics. Those felt like the longest hours I had ever experienced. Finally at about 10 p.m. I was officially induced. They broke my water and hooked up that wonderful thing called an epidural. My husband had just matched into the anesthesia program here at the University of Iowa the week before so while he chatted up the anesthesiologist I took a nap. I was woken up at about 2 a.m. by the nurse coming to check out my progress and letting me know that it was time to go to the OR. (When you deliver twins, even if you plan on doing it without a c-section, you have to deliver in the OR just in case there is an emergency.)
Going into the OR I was greeted by three teams of nurses (one for me and one for each baby), as well as an ultrasound tech, and my OB. It was quite the party. The ultrasound tech checked to make sure the boys were still in the right position and we got the show on the road. Baby A was born at 2:22 a.m. weighing 6 lbs 11 oz. The tech quickly checked to make sure that Baby B didn’t flip after his brother was born and once we got the all clear, he joined his brother in the world at 2:29 at 6 lbs 9 oz. Then the real “fun” started.
As soon as the babies were born the nurses took them to clean them up and weigh them. They were perfectly healthy but I, for some reason, was not. I started to hemorrhage but the doctor was able to get that under control pretty quickly. I also got very sick (nauseous) as soon as I delivered and I felt like I was freezing. Thank goodness those nurses move fast. I started throwing up right away and I knew something was off. I was so sick that I honestly don’t remember much of the first day with my boys. It makes me sad to know that most things I know from that day are things I was told by my husband and family. I remember waking up every few hours feeling like I was so hot, weak (because of the magnesium sulfate I was given to try to prevent seizures), and thirsty. I would drink as much as I could and then I would throw it all back up and fall asleep/pass out. I remember my parents coming to meet their grandsons before heading off to work. I remember handing my Dad a baby and then waking up a few hours later to my mom and mother in law sitting in the corner of my room looking very nervous. I remember my mom waking me up in the afternoon telling me that I needed to try to look normal so my big kids could come meet their brothers and not be scared by how I looked.
I was told later that I had developed something called HELLP Syndrome (the H stands for hemolysis – the breakdown of blood cells, the EL stands for elevated liver enzymes, and the LP stands for low platelet count – which causes clotting issues) during my pregnancy and that it hadn’t been detected until delivery. I had an extremely high fever from my body attacking itself and my organs were at risk of shutting down because of my liver enzymes. I was so lucky that my medical team acted so quickly and took such good care of me. After spending an extra night in triage, I was able to move up to the post-partum recovery and enjoy (or more importantly, remember) my time with my boys.
Some things that I have learned since my experience with HELLP Syndrome is that it is more prevalent in women who experience Preeclampsia. There are certain symptoms that can go along with HELLP, such as headache, swelling, protein in your urine, high blood pressure, visual disturbances, bleeding, and upper right quadrant pain, but it is only diagnosed with blood test. After looking back I know that I experienced some of the symptoms: headache, swelling, and pain in my “upper right quadrant” (just below your ribs on the right side). I told my doctors about those, but what pregnant lady with 2 other kids doesn’t get headaches? And what pregnant lady who spends most of her time on her feet doesn’t experience a little bit of swelling? My doctor thought I could have a gallbladder issue when I told him about the pain I was experiencing, but we decided that wasn’t the cause and it was probably just me running out of room for the boys.
My story ended happy. Other than having a patchy memory of that first day, I don’t have any lasting effects from HELLP. I am healthy and enjoying every minute I have with my family.
**Special thanks to our Guest Blogger, Ashley Breinholt, for sharing her story with us!