“HELLP!” – with Bridget Travinski

Bridget Travinski shares her High Risk Birth Story and experience with HELLP Syndrome. Bridget already knew she had high blood pressure going into pregnancy, but was advised to stop taking her blood pressure medication due to growth restriction concerns. This resulted in a visit to the ER due to bleeding and dangerously high blood pressure, where doctors also find she has a blood clot on her cervix. Later, Bridget experiences abdominal pain and must return to the ER, and delivered her daughter at 27 weeks.

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Dr. Fox: Welcome to the “Healthful Woman” podcast, the fastest-growing podcast in women’s health. Today’s Monday, May 30th, 2022, Memorial Day. I am joined today by Bridget Travinski who’s going to tell the story of her birth, which was complicated by HELLP syndrome. As a reminder, we recently decided to include birth stories in this podcast, and we’d love to hear yours. If you would like to share your birth story, you can reach out to me through the website, or email me at hw@healthfulwoman.com, or the old birth story email still works, hrbs@highriskbirthstories.com. For now, enjoy today’s podcast. Thanks for listening. Have a great Memorial Day. See you next week.
Welcome to today’s episode of “Healthful Woman,” a podcast designed to explore topics in women’s health at all stages of life. I’m your host, Dr. Nathan Fox, an OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist practicing in New York City. At “Healthful Woman,” I speak with leaders in the field to help you learn more about women’s health, pregnancy, and wellness.
Bridget, welcome to the podcast. How are you doing today?
Bridget: I’m good. How are you?
Dr Fox: I’m wonderful. Thanks for asking. So thank you for volunteering to tell your birth story. I appreciate it. How did you come about our podcast?
Bridget: So when my daughter was in the NICU, I had found you and it was kind of nice to hear actual medical terminology and hear some, you know, uplifting stories sometimes.
Dr. Fox: Wow. And then what compelled you to share your own birth story?
Bridget: Honestly, I think, you know, for awareness for others. We had some things happen in our pregnancy journey that at times I wish I would have spoken up more or louder just to maybe try to have things be prevented and maybe not to have gotten as bad as they got. And then, I think the second part is just, like others have said before, they’ve had, you know, therapy. Honestly, it’s a little bit of therapy for myself in all honesty.
Dr. Fox: We’re happy to provide that for you if we can in any capacity. And where are you calling from or where am I calling you I guess I should say?
Bridget: Yeah. So we’re in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Dr. Fox: Are you born and raised in West Virginia or is this somewhere you moved to?
Bridget: No. We’re both born and raised here. He is from Morgantown originally and I’m from a town about 45 minutes away, Mannington. So when we got married, we moved to Morgantown.
Dr. Fox: Wow, that’s pretty cool. We’re talking about the birth of your daughter, Laurel, right?
Bridget: Mm-hmm, correct.
Dr. Fox: And when was she born?
Bridget: She was born June 8th, 2021.
Dr. Fox: Wow. All right. So she’s a youngin. She’s almost one.
Bridget: Almost one, yeah.
Dr. Fox: And so take us back to, I guess, 2020. So we’re in the heart of the pandemic, right?
Bridget: Mm-hmm, yep.
Dr. Fox: So first of all, did you expect to get pregnant in the middle of a pandemic or was it just like, “Well, we’re home, what else are we gonna do?”
Bridget: Yeah. So my husband and I, we got married June of 2019. You know, we did the basic, got married, bought the house, got the dog during the pandemic. And between there, we were like, “Okay, you know, it’s time. It’s time, we can start trying,” and, you know, we had the conversation. “We’re in a pandemic. Do we really wanna go about this?” But ultimately, it was like, “No, you know, everything will be okay. The world’s still happening.” So a little bit different at the time, but definitely, definitely don’t regret that.
Dr. Fox: And do you guys both come from large families? Like was having kids something that you thought, you know, “We’re definitely doing this, you know, pretty soon,” after you got married?
Bridget: Yeah, we both knew that we wanted kids. He has twin older sisters, and I have one older sister. So not big families, but we both knew that we always wanted kids. We didn’t wanna wait too, too long. After we were married, we wanted to start trying.
Dr. Fox: Right. And now coming into pregnancy, I just know because, you know, we were emailing before, you had some health issues coming into pregnancy. Correct?
Bridget: I did. So when I was in college, I found through an exercise physiology course that I was in where I had high blood pressure. I really didn’t, you know, have any symptoms or anything while I was young that I really noticed. But we were taking that, we were practicing on each other and somebody said, “Oh, I think yours is kind of high.” So the teacher came over and he’s like, “Yeah, this is really high. Like, you really should look into this.”
Dr. Fox: Oh my God. That was just in college? Oh my God, that must be terrifying.
Bridget: It was. It was. You know, went to the normal doctor and, you know, got hooked up with a cardiologist. And he spent a lot of time, a lot of tests and, you know, wore a heart rate monitor for a little bit and really couldn’t figure anything out except that, you know, he thought maybe it was just genetic, other people in my family had had it. So he just kind of chalked it up with that. Got me started on hydrochlorothiazide and lisinopril. And once we figured out the dosage of what my body needed, it was controlled, and honestly, it had never bothered me since. I just take the medicine every day.
Dr. Fox: And then you said high blood pressure or hypertension, it runs in your family?
Bridget: It does, yeah. And in fact, the women in my family typically get it after childbirth, but mine was down before. So yeah, it’s very strange.
Dr. Fox: And now, since you knew you had this and you were on medication, and you were thinking about a pregnancy, is this something that you spoke about with your cardiologist before you got pregnant, with your OB-GYN before you got pregnant, all the above, none of the above?
Bridget: So the cardiologist actually had… We weren’t really doing annual meetups anymore. We had gotten to the point where he just basically said, “At the time when you do become pregnant, you need to speak with your primary to get switched to something safe.” So basically, that’s all I knew. So literally the day I found out, I called, had an appointment the next day, and she’d already had me switched to labetalol. It took a week or two after I was pregnant to figure out the dosage with that, but then once she figured that out, I was fine.
Dr. Fox: And again, she was a primary medical doctor or your OB-GYN?
Bridget: She was primary medical doctor. When I called the OB’s office, they said they typically don’t see you until week 10.
Dr. Fox: Okay. And then when you saw the OB-GYNs, did you have any expectation that you would see like a high-risk practice or were they comfortable taking care of women with hypertension? Like, what was the setup for your prenatal care?
Bridget: Right. I guess a little bit of background, my sister, she had preeclampsia with her son. And so, you know, that was kind of in the back of my mind that, “Okay, maybe, you know, this could be something because I already have high blood pressure.” And I had wondered going into that first appointment, you know, “Are they going to be comfortable with this or are they going to refer me to somebody?” And they didn’t. At the first appointment, they thought that they had taken my blood pressure there. They were asking me because I was taking it at home and monitoring it before I came in. It had been fine and they thought that they could adequately monitor me. The only thing that they did say was…at that very first appointment, actually, that their thinking was that they would probably induce me around 38 weeks if I hadn’t already gone to labor just because it’d be safer for both of us. But other than that, you know, they didn’t really seem too concerned.
Dr. Fox: And then did they change any parts of your prenatal care? Like, did they put you…? You’re obviously on your medication. Did they have you taking extra vitamins, or a baby aspirin, or have extra ultrasounds, or anything like that? Or was it your impression that they did that? Sometimes you don’t even know what’s normal and what’s not. So it’s hard to say.
Bridget: Sure. So nothing at the beginning was different. Nothing really changed until I ended up getting COVID at week 15. So the first appointment was on week 10. Everything was normal. They didn’t say to take anything extra. When I got COVID on week 15, that’s when we started the baby aspirin. So I don’t know…I mean, I have never been pregnant before, I don’t know if that was gonna be a normal routine thing to eventually start me on that anyways, but I know they were really concerned with COVID and blood clots in pregnancy. So yeah, I don’t know if that’s a normal thing that they were already gonna do or if it was just because COVID presented.
Dr. Fox: And I guess this was still in 2020, correct?
Bridget: Correct, yeah.
Dr. Fox: So this was pre-vaccine?
Bridget: Yeah. There was talks that it was going to be, you know, something coming out, but nothing was out yet.
Dr. Fox: When you got COVID, were you very sick with it or just so like, “Oh, I got a cold, I tested positive, kind of annoying, I gotta quarantine for a week?” Like which way was it?
Bridget: It was a little bit of cold at the beginning and then it turned into just extreme body aches. And my husband, he got it as well. His was more of a straight cold. He was done in two days. Mine was just…like, my back just hurts so bad. It just hurt even to lay down. But after about a week, I felt normal again. And it was, you know… I honestly felt fine. But yeah, a little bit of a cold at the beginning but more body aches and fatigue.
Dr. Fox: Okay. But you didn’t have to be hospitalized or anything like that?
Bridget: No, I did not. No.
Dr. Fox: Okay. All right. So you got the COVID, you’re on the baby aspirin, and then how did things progress from there?
Bridget: Yeah. So we get the COVID and, you know, everything was going fine. You know, we were having our just normal checkups. We did the genetic testing, found out she was a girl. And we’re having our normal ultrasounds. Of course, because of COVID, Luke couldn’t come to a lot of those. So it’s just, you know, me on my own, but everything was normal still. So I felt comfortable and I was fine. At my week 25 appointment, so I had met… At this practice, there’s multiple OBs, and you kind of rotate through them, I don’t know if that’s normal or not.
Dr. Fox: Frequently, yeah.
Bridget: Okay. So, you know, I find one that I haven’t had yet and he said that they’d done the ultrasound earlier that day and she’s kind of measuring petitely. Nothing that he was crazily concerned about but he said, “I’ve gone back through your records with us. Your blood pressure has never been elevated while you’ve been with us, pregnant.” And he just kind of wondered if he could get me off the blood pressure medication, if that would help not restrict her growth because she was already measuring petitely. And actually, my husband was able, thankfully, to go to this appointment with me. So we both kind of were like, “Really?” Like, we just can come off of it. And he said, “Yes, sometimes our bodies change, pregnancy. So yeah, you’ve never been elevated.” And, I mean, thinking back now, I wish I would have asked more questions when he brings all this up. But, you know, I’m just looking at him, he’s the doctor, and, you know, he knows more than I do, obviously. And he said, “You know, I’d just like to try to get you off of it.”
Dr. Fox: Right. Right. Do you know what your dose was at the time? I’m just curious. Was it a lot? Was it a high dose or a small dose?
Bridget: It wasn’t super high. I’m not exactly sure what it was at the time. But I think it was just, like, a normal…you know, it wasn’t anything crazy.
Dr. Fox: Right. And were your blood pressures, like, running kind of normal or were they running on the low side?
Bridget: No, they were actually normal. They weren’t low.
Dr. Fox: It’s actually not an unreasonable sort of premise at the time that, you know, we used…and when I say used to, I mean, there was, like, a study that came out, like, two weeks ago, but basically, like, up until now, and for many places still now, you really wouldn’t treat high blood pressure unless it sort of got to a more dangerous range, like, a severe range, like, 160/105. And the thought was that the medications might affect the baby’s growth negatively. That if you’re sort of decreasing blood pressure to the uterus, you’re gonna, like, decrease nutrients and the baby, you know, isn’t gonna grow so well. And so actually, it’s not that uncommon that even if the baby wasn’t measuring small, to sort of take someone like you who has kind of a mild, stable, hypertension in pregnancy sort of reduce your medication, see how it goes, and then maybe go back on it. So I can see what he was thinking, that like, “Hey, like, sometimes we do this anyways, maybe let’s try it and see if it helps the baby grow.” So I don’t think it was a crazy idea, you know, to try that, per se, at the time. Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if it worked or didn’t work, or whatever, if it had anything to do with what happened to you, but it’s not that far to left field, is what I’m saying.
Bridget: And it wasn’t anything either that I thought about asking like, “Do we wean off? You know, is it just something…?” He basically just said…because I take it every night before bed, he said, you know, “Tonight, don’t take it. You know, you have your at-home cuff, just monitor it. Obviously, if you start to see or feel differently, you know, immediately call us.” So we were pretty excited, actually. Because I kept thinking, “Well, this is great. You know, maybe my body has changed and I don’t need to be on it and she won’t be restricted.” And, you know, we were excited. Thinking back now, I’m like, “Oh gosh.” You know, I was kind of optimistic. I should have asked more questions but… So that night, I didn’t take it. You know, went to bed, didn’t feel any differently. Around 3:00 a.m., I woke up with a lot of bleeding.
Dr. Fox: Whoa.
Bridget: Yeah, a lot, a lot of bleeding. And I knew… You know, obviously, they tell you, “A little bit of bleeding is okay.” You know, but this was more than I was comfortable with. I woke my husband up, he said, “Yeah, I think we should call.” So he called, like, the after-hours number and got the OB on call who happened to be the very first doctor I saw ever at the practice. He was like, “Yeah, you know, it might be something that we need to look at. I really don’t want you just to, you know, lay back down. I want you to meet me at the ER.” So we’re like, “Okay.” And that was scary. You know, obviously, bleeding you think, obviously, not good things especially…and I’m, you know, pretty early still.
Dr. Fox: Was your blood pressure very high?
Bridget: No, it was normal at the time. Like, when I took it at home, I was okay. That even really wasn’t going through my head either. But then we get to the ER, you know, they hook me up. You know, I don’t really have the big of a belly yet, so they’re, like, awkwardly trying to get like the monitor on to find her. Found her, she sounded great. They checked my blood pressure and it is like stroke level, apparently.
Dr. Fox: Wow.
Bridget: And they kept asking, “Do you feel okay?” And I said, “I feel fine.” And she said, “You don’t have any headaches?”
Dr. Fox: Are you sure you feel okay?
Bridget: She’s like, “You’re sure?” I know what a blood pressure headache feels like. You know, it’s an awkward like…it’s kind of like pop your head type feeling. I said, “I’m not having that. I have no floaters.” She said, “Can you see straight?” I was like, “I am absolutely fine, except this bleeding.” So they were really concerned with that. Of course, he comes in. My husband and I explained to him what the doctor, you know, literally, just the evening before had told us and he was a little upset. He was like, you know, “The reason it was controlled and why we had you on it is because, you know, the medicine was doing the job.” He’s like, “Obviously, your body needs this.” So they started to put blood pressure medicine back through IV, I believe. And with the bleeding and everything, they sent me to do an ultrasound and he did an exam and he found a blood clot on my cervix.
Dr. Fox: Probably above.
Bridget: Yeah, maybe a little. Okay. And he said something about, like, “The way she was positioned, I thought maybe she was like rubbing on it a little bit,” is why I was really noticing the bleeding, but that the placenta was in good position, and everything else seemed fine. So, I mean, that was positive. That was, you know, better news than what I thought we were going to get that night, to be honest. But everything looked good. He just wanted us, basically, to do a modified bed rest. So he sent us home, said modified bed rest and to do a follow-up appointment just so they could check that clot again to make sure, you know, it wasn’t changing size, it wasn’t moving. They wanted to, you know, kind of watch over it. He kept saying, you know, “I think it will resolve itself. I think, you know, you’re noticing it again because of where her head is positioned.”
Dr. Fox: I’m just curious, in your headspace now, are you thinking, “This all happened because I didn’t take my medication once?”
Bridget: 110%. And who knows? You know?
Dr. Fox: Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I’m not saying one way or another, maybe yes, maybe no. There’s no way to know. It would be unusual to miss one dose of a labetalol and to have that happen, but I don’t know. I mean, you know, it did happen the same day, it’s hard to say. And I think, you know, it’s interesting because… Listen, I’m a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, so of course, I’m biased in these things, but it doesn’t have to be an MFM, but it just seems it’s one of these situations where, especially when, you know…and we have this in our own practice, it’s a group practice, we have a lot of different doctors, it’s one of these situations where, you know, when someone walks into pregnancy with a condition, or with a unique circumstance, or whatever it is, to have some sort of, like, sit down, you and, you know, the doctor, whoever it might be, and, like, “This is gonna be our plan, right? This is what we’re doing.” And you sort of map it out. You, like, write it out, “We’re gonna do this medication. We’re gonna do this at this week, this at this week. You know, what is our goal blood pressure gonna be for your medication?” So everyone’s on the same page. And then you don’t get sort of like, “Oh, he’s doing this and she’s doing that, and that person is doing this.”
Because whether it actually leads to better outcomes, I don’t know. Maybe yes, maybe no. I would like to think yes, but maybe not, but just from your own mind, you know, had you sort of entered into the whole pregnancy with a plan saying, “These are our blood pressure parameters, right? I’m gonna take medication if it’s above this, and I’m not gonna take if it’s below this,” and then you’re not gonna have that sort of feeling in your head that something was done sort of haphazard and it caused all these problems, again, whether it’s actually the way it happened or not. And I just think that, you know, it’s one of these situations, that’s why I asked, you know, did you make something like this? Because just to have a plan in place, I think, gives people a lot of comfort that there’s like a roadmap for how this is gonna play out.
Bridget: Oh, for sure. Yeah, that would have given me so much peace of mind because I just felt like, you know, every different person I saw…and I get that, you know, you wanna rotate, you wanna be familiar, you know, you never know who would be on call for delivery, but it seemed like one person had an idea of what was supposed to happen with my pregnancy and then I would see the other one and it’s almost like they almost had a different route in their mind and I would have just liked a nice, cohesive plan so I could have just felt like, “Okay, you know, we’re all on the same page, we all now understand what’s going on,” because, you know, I just felt a little bit like everything was up in the air.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. I mean, and it’s not an MFM thing versus an OB-GYN thing because you don’t have to be an MFM to know how to manage blood pressure in pregnancy. Not at all. It’s one of these things, and again, it’s tough because, you know, I practice in a group practice, and we’re a big group and we have the same challenges because we’re all different people, and we have different personalities, and we have different tolerance for risk. And, you know, that’s normal amongst doctors to have variation in this but we have to practice together. We have to take care of the same set of patients. So either you have to make a decision, “All right. I see this patient, you see this patient, you see this patient.” We do it the whole way, the whole pregnancy and just, you know, we sort of split it up at delivery which is okay, that’s one model. Or to sort of say, “We have to get on the same page somehow. We have to just decide as a group what we’re doing either in general or for each particular patient.” And that’s hard. It takes a lot of coordination to do that and it’s something we struggle with. I mean, we try our very, very best to do it and hopefully we succeed most of the time, but it’s not always easy to do, but you sort of get caught in the middle of that and it’s hard.
Bridget: Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Fox: Wow. All right. So you’re home, you have modified bed rest, and he thought everything was gonna resolve. How did it go?
Bridget: So we went to the follow up that was, I don’t know, maybe a few days later, and the ultrasound tech did an ultrasound, just said that everything looked good and that the clot appeared to be smaller. So that was promising. And everybody was happy with that. It was like, “Okay.” You know, my husband and I kind of took a breath like, “All right. That’s it. You know, we’ll stay on the medication. They’re gonna monitor us really closely. Everything’s gonna be fine.” And they, you know, took my blood pressure that day in the office and it was fine and normal. I’d been taking it at home, and it was fine. So they wanted to see me again in a week to keep monitoring that clot. So we went home and everything seemed normal. A few days before the next appointment, I started having what I thought was like a trapped gas pain, like, in my upper right abdomen.
Dr. Fox: Oh, that’s a bad place, that pain.
Bridget: Yeah, apparently. I did not know that. You know, I don’t know, naive me was just like, “Oh, gosh, like what did I eat? What happened?”
Dr. Fox: Upper right abdomen and in the middle of your head, those are two bad places to have with the high blood pressure. Okay.
Bridget: So, you know, my husband, I’m like, “I don’t know, I got this pain.” He’s like, “All right. You know, maybe you just got a little bit of trapped gas.” So here we are, you know, not doing full-on yoga, but, you know, trying to do like the cat pose. He’s like, “Maybe that’ll get things moving. You know, what can we do here?” And of course, that didn’t help. And I was, you know, maybe taking like some TUMS or something thinking like, “Okay, maybe I just, you know, have really bad heartburn.” Like, I couldn’t figure out, I couldn’t pinpoint. And I never really had…other than describing that it felt like trapped gas, that’s the only thing that I had to reference it to but nothing else.
Dr. Fox: Did you go to the Google or anything like that?
Bridget: No, not yet. I did not, which I don’t know if that would have helped or not. I mean…
Dr. Fox: No, I’m not recommending it as a source of information in this circumstance. I’m just curious. A lot of people say, “I went to Google and they said, ‘Yeah, you know, you have a broken rib or, you know, whatever. Google misdiagnosed me,’” which happens. Google is sometimes not so good with these things.
Bridget: Right. Yeah. No, I didn’t Google. The pain was getting, like, increasingly worse. And, like, over the next couple of days, I mean, it was kind of starting to move around my side to the back. And, you know, he was trying to look from my back thinking, like, “How now? Maybe, again, trapped gas, I don’t know.” I’m like, “Listen, we’re not getting any relief.” And he kept saying, you know, “Do you wanna call them?” But, I mean, nothing else was happening. You know what I mean? Nothing else was going on. I felt fine other than that. And I kept thinking, “Well, I have an appointment on Friday. Maybe I’ll just wait.” And he had had enough of it and he was like, “Absolutely not. You’re calling. Something seems wrong. Like, this is not normal.” I mean, I couldn’t sleep. Like, I just couldn’t get relief at all. I did just wait for the Friday appointment.
Dr. Fox: So even though Luke said, “You’re calling,” you’re like, “I am overruling you, I’m not calling?”
Bridget: Yes. Correct. Right. I was like…
Dr. Fox: “I’m pregnant. I’m not calling. Good for you.” All right. Listen, I do like the persistence. I think that’s cool.
Bridget: I was like, “I’m okay.”
Dr. Fox: Yeah. Well, listen, what would you know? I mean, you’re like it’s not like…you know, you don’t have a high fever, your blood pressure is not crazy. You’re not bleeding. You’re like, “I’m having pain in my whatever, I can wait. What’s the big deal?” You’re like, “I’m not gonna call because I’m having some pain.” Yeah, I hear you and that’s a normal sort of response, you know, from people like, “I’ll just wait till Friday. What’s the big deal? It’s all cool.”
Bridget: Right. Yeah. So I went Friday, it was, you know, the ultrasound first. And I mentioned to her and she was, “Yeah, you know, mention that to the nurse, mention that to the doctor.” So I get in the regular room, and I told the nurse and she’s like, “Yeah, that can happen with pregnancy. Tell the doctor when she comes in.” She’s like, “Yeah.” You know, everybody just kind of kept brushing it off as, “Trapped gas can happen with pregnancy. Trapped gas can happen with pregnancy.” To the point where I almost started to get embarrassed to bring it up because in my head, it was like, “If you can’t handle this trapped gas pain, how in the world are you gonna handle, you know, labor?” Yeah, thinking back now, obviously, it wasn’t obviously trapped gas but…
Dr. Fox: And your blood pressure was good, right? Still good?
Bridget: It was still fine. It was still fine. They would check it and everything was fine. So went home. Then a couple days after that appointment is when it really got bad. And he was like, “No, I am overriding you this time, we will call.” So we called. And at first, you just get the nurse on the nurse’s station and she was like, “Well, have you tried [inaudible 00:23:20]? Have you tried like anything?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” So she said, “Maalox may give you some relief.” So Luke runs down the road before he goes to work, grabs some, drops it off. He’s like, “I gotta go. Drink this. Let me know how you feel.” So I swig it down and she calls me back from the OB office. She’s like, “Listen, I’m going through your chart more. I see you have the blood clot already. I’ve already consulted the doctor. We don’t feel comfortable with you being at home. We want you to go to the ER.” And she didn’t sound, you know, like anything was dire.
Dr. Fox: Just to be cautious, just to double-check.
Bridget: Better safe than sorry.
Dr. Fox: It’s the right call. And 9 out of 10 times, nothing is going on. Absolutely.
Bridget: And I even thought that. I was like, you know, “It’s all right. I’ll send an email or two and I’ll go.” so, you know, I get dressed. We had a little dog and at the time he couldn’t stay at home very well by himself. So I pack the dog up, dropped the dog off at doggy daycare, and I go to the ER. And I didn’t call Luke because…or I told him I was going to the ER but I didn’t say like, “Hey, meet me there,” because I didn’t know what was gonna happen. You know what I mean?
Dr. Fox: Yeah.
Bridget: I honestly thought, “Yeah, they’ll hook me up. Maybe they’ll give me something for pain and I’ll be home.” So the ER had already been called by the office, knew that I was coming in. The ER doctor, he looked at me and he said, you know, “This is kind of out of my realm. I’d like to call labor and delivery down to look at you. Just with you being…you know, you’re early, you’re 27 weeks, you’re having a lot of pain and your blood pressure is extremely high.”
Dr. Fox: Oh, it was extremely high at that point?
Bridget: Yeah. At the ER, yes.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, okay.
Bridget: So yeah, it had been fine at home. Then now, you know, the pain got really bad in the ER.
Dr. Fox: Every time you go to the ER, your blood pressure’s high, and at home, it’s fine.
Bridget: Right. I’m like, “Maybe it’s you guys. What is happening? You are stressing me out.”
Dr. Fox: You people are freaking me out over here. Yeah. Okay.
Bridget: So, you know, they kept fumbling with it. Like, one nurse would come in, try to get the cuff and she is like, “This one is too big. It’s not reading right.”
Dr. Fox: This one is too small. This one’s too big.
Bridget: Yeah. It’s like, “We can’t get this right.” You know, and every single one of them that kept coming in, it was like, “That can’t be right. There’s no way that’s right.”
Dr. Fox: Right. “Are you sure you feel okay other than your pain there?” The same question, “Are you sure you don’t have a headache?”
Bridget: Right. Again, I’m just sitting there like, “I don’t know, I just have the stomach pain, like nothing’s working.” So a labor and delivery nurse comes down. Immediately she walks in and she’s like, “Oh my gosh, I don’t know what they’re doing with your blood pressure because there’s no way this is right.” So she takes it herself [inaudible 00:25:49]. And she very calmly said, “I’d like you to call your husband. We’re going upstairs because I think we’re gonna deliver you today.” And I had no idea what was even happening. I mean, I didn’t expect in a million years that that’s what she was gonna say. You know, I’m confused because I’m like, “I’m not even near close to ready.” You know what I mean? Nothing in my head said, “Oh, you’re gonna go today and have a baby.” So I called Luke. And it’s fuzzy…I don’t even know, I think I just told him, “I think they’re gonna take the baby today.” And he’s like, “What? You know, what are you talking about? You just went in for some stomach pain. I’m not sure what’s going on.”
Dr. Fox: What was it that she thought you’d be delivered as opposed to getting admitted, getting magnesium, getting steroids, like all the things that you would typically do if it’s related to high blood pressure?
Bridget: I am not exactly sure. She didn’t really say because I thought like, “Okay, we’ll go upstairs. Maybe they’ll just watch me for a day or two.” You know what I mean? Like having a lot more of real bed rest maybe. But no, she kind of just made it…she was real calm. Maybe she was just, I don’t know, maybe just making sure that my husband would get there. I’m not exactly sure. Thankfully, he happened to be…he’s a real estate appraiser, so he happened to be doing a home inspection down the road, so he was really close. He got there pretty fast. And from there, once he got there, I mean, the doctor came in. You know, everybody was kind of moving around me, but not talking to me. So, you know, a little confusion, and then she just finally said, “She has something called HELLP syndrome and the only cure is delivery.” I heard of the term before. I actually had a coworker sister who had it recently at that time, but I really wasn’t like familiar with what actually was happening or what was going on with her body. And she said, you know, “At this hospital, we don’t have a NICU but the hospital across town has a NICU. So I’d like to transfer you if possible. They’re gonna wanna meet with you. And then we’d make a plan or they would make a plan and deliver you.”
Dr. Fox: Had they drawn bloodwork on you in the emergency room? Is that how they made the diagnosis?
Bridget: Yeah, they did do all the bloodwork. I think my blood platelet count was like 14,000.
Dr. Fox: Oh God. Yeah, that is pretty bad. All right.
Bridget: Yeah. I had the protein in the urine. My blood pressure was just like extremely high. So she’s explaining kind of, you know, how we’re gonna transport me, what the plan would be. And the nurse interrupted her and said, you know, “Baby’s heart rate just dropped.”
Dr. Fox: Oh God.
Bridget: And she said, “Okay, yeah.” So she’s like, “Okay, give her a second. Let her see if she can recover.” And she gave her a moment and she dropped again. And she said that she didn’t feel comfortable transporting. That she would just call a code and deliver me here.
Dr. Fox: And I assume because of your platelets, they had to put you to sleep for that C-section.
Bridget: They did. Yeah, yeah. So yeah. And everything from there, I mean, was really fuzzy. I mean, I just remember, I mean, there were a lot of people in the room. You know, they take me away. My husband doesn’t get to come with me. They’re putting me to sleep and it was just a very odd, odd experience. I mean, it’s not what either of us expected. We didn’t even get to talk. I mean, they literally just grabbed the bag…or the bed and just took me out of the room, so I don’t…
Dr. Fox: They’re figuring they’re saving your daughter’s life and probably your life too. Tell me about waking up from that, right? Because you had this whole whirlwind but then they knock you out. So you’re asleep. You don’t know what’s going on during the operation. The next thing that you’re gonna have is a memory of waking up somewhere. So where do you wake up that you remember?
Bridget: I woke up back in that same labor and delivery room.
Dr. Fox: Like you never went anywhere?
Bridget: Yeah, it’s almost like I didn’t even leave.
Dr. Fox: Wow.
Bridget: They started the magnesium and it was really…I did not take well to it. I could barely like open my eyes. I feel like I just couldn’t like focus. My body felt like heavy and just fatigued. I could hear Luke saying, you know, “If you look over, there’s Laurel.” And sure enough, you know, in this crazy plastic box, you know, in a bag, and I can’t even make out…I mean, it sounds horrible, but like I couldn’t even make out that there was like a baby in there. You know? It was the strangest thing.
Dr. Fox: How big was she when she was born? A couple pounds?
Bridget: She was 1 pound, 50 ounces.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, they’re small.
Bridget: Yeah. So small.
Dr. Fox: I assume they were gonna transport her and you to the other hospital at this point. Right?
Bridget: So they were definitely gonna transport her but they did not transport me.
Dr Fox: You’re separate?
Bridget: Yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Fox: Oh, no.
Bridget: So they took her over… Yeah. You know, we got like a minute or two and we videoed it because I really don’t remember too much of it. So thankfully, you know, he’s videoing it and taking pictures. So they took her across town and I stayed, which, you know, not the most ideal situation. I would’ve rather been…obviously in the same hospital would’ve been easy on him, you know, because he’s going back and forth now to visit us. So it was very, very strange.
Dr. Fox: How long did you have to stay in the hospital after the delivery?
Bridget: So I had her on a Tuesday and I was discharged on a Saturday, but before I was discharged, like, the day after delivery, I was starting to feel better and like they said, “Okay, you know, we’re gonna get you up out of the bed today. We’re gonna take a shower. We’re gonna feel like a person again.” I said, “Okay, This is great. Let’s feel normal again.” So, like, they take my catheter out. I get a shower. And as soon as we’re done with the shower, I realized I can’t breathe very well. Like it was hard for me to get like a full breath. And I thought like, you know, “Am I having like a panic attack? Like, is this anxiety?” So they walked me back and put me in bed and I said, “I think I’m having a panic attack. Like I can’t breathe.” So, you know, the nurse comes in, a bunch of other people come in, and they’re thinking I had pulmonary edema. So, you know, they took me and got some scans and they started me on…was it diuretics?
Dr. Fox: Yeah. Some form of diuretic.
Bridget: Yeah. And then [crosstalk 00:31:54]
Dr. Fox: They were correct, it was pulmonary edema? Is that correct?
Bridget: It was. Yeah, it was pulmonary edema.
Dr. Fox: Okay. That’s, listen, better than a blood clot because that’s the other thing it could have been and pulmonary edema is much easier to treat than…you know, because it’s a short term thing versus getting a blot clot in your lungs.
Bridget: Yes, right, that’s what she was…yes, the one nurse was like, you know, “This is the best case scenario. You know, we just need to treat this so it can, you know, resolve.” After that happened, I woke up the next morning and thought, “Okay, now I feel human. Like I feel normal. I can keep my eyes open. I can breathe.” So yeah.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. Listen, based on how sick you were Tuesday to go home on Saturday is pretty good. That’s four days, you know, because you were…I mean, you were really sick and so that’s pretty awesome for you.
Bridget: Yeah, we kept thinking…I was kind of persistent like, you know, “I wanna leave. I wanna be out of here. I wanna go see her.” And they were like, “You’re really sick. You know, just stay here.” You know, he’s like, “As long as you’re monitored and everything and you feel okay, I’ll release you on Saturday.” So thankfully, nothing else bad happened.
Dr. Fox: And how long was Laurel in the NICU?
Bridget: She was in the NICU for 86 days.
Dr. Fox: 86 days, so that’s like just under 3 months?
Bridget: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. She almost went home on her due date, but she failed her car seat test. [crosstalk 00:33:08]
Dr. Fox: She couldn’t drive yet. Yeah.
Bridget: She couldn’t drive yet. Yeah. So she failed. They went to, you know, order for that day and see if she could try again the next day. So next day she passed and they sent us home, thankfully.
Dr. Fox: Wow. And how’s she doing now?
Bridget: She’s doing great now. They had found that she had elevated TSH in the NICU so she came home on a thyroid medication. So we’ll be on that for like year three of life, I think he said. So we came home on thyroid. We did not come home on oxygen. So yeah. I mean, we see her cardiologist and he said everything’s been great. She did develop ROP in the eye, so she had to have the Avastin injections. And that has since resolved and he thinks we’re past the point…he doesn’t think, you know, that anything will come back.
Dr. Fox: Right. ROP is retinopathy of prematurity. Just for our listeners, it’s an eye issue that premature babies…I mean, anyone can get it but it’s of prematurity. I mean, it’s much more common for premature babies to have that. If she was born in June, right, when was she due? I guess it must have been September?
Bridget: Yeah, she was due September 1st.
Dr. Fox: Right. So we’re recording this in April. So even though she’s, you know, whatever it is, she’s 10 months old, she’s really 7 months corrected?
Bridget: Correct, yes.
Dr. Fox: Something like that. Wow. Okay, that’s awesome. Well, what was it like coming home with her?
Bridget: Stressful.
Dr. Fox: Really? Okay.
Bridget: Yeah, yeah. I mean…
Dr. Fox: Because she’s been under like intense surveillance for 90 days and now it’s just you guys?
Bridget: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, and they would say, you know, “Don’t look at the monitors,” because, you know, every time…. You could see her trending down. There for a while, it was kind of touch and go. And there were nights where she was having a lot of…you know, she’d have a spell, they called them, and they’d have to, like, give her some stimulation to kind of remind her to breathe. And pulling that monitor off of her, I mean, and the coming home, just being like, “Okay, here you go,” you know, it’s like, “How do I know if she’s breathing? You know, how do I even know if she’s okay?” So, you know, that was stressful.
Dr. Fox: That’s why they do the car seat test.
Bridget: Yeah, they did the car seat test. Thank God, my coworkers, they had bought us an outlet. I mean, I know that’s not the best medical practice, but it was something that gave us peace of mind a little bit in the night. So yeah, it was very stressful. And we were worried, obviously, just her lungs still…she was still so small. She came home, I think, a little over 6 pounds, and with the pandemic and everything, it was like we were just so scared for her to get sick and have to take her back there. You know, we were just so scared.
Dr. Fox: Wow. Wow. Well, looking back at all this now, I mean, it’s not a year out, but it’s several months out, what do you think about all this when you look back on it now that you’re telling your story?
Bridget: It’s amazing what a baby can do outside of the womb. You know, I didn’t know that and I was probably naive. I mean, I didn’t realize babies born that young could thrive and do so well. So it’s definitely, you know, a teaching moment for me, that’s for sure. But she’s surpassed, you know, everything. She’s doing exactly what, you know, the seven-month adjusted baby should be doing. She’s hitting those milestones and it’s miraculous to watch, literally, watch a miracle happen in a plastic incubator. It’s incredible.
Dr. Fox: Wow. And what about your own experience that how, you know, suddenly you’re so sick, right, you go from basically thinking you got a little bit of a, you know, whatever, like some gas pain to, you know, “You and your baby could die if we don’t do this right away,” how do you process that?
Bridget: Yeah. It took me a while. I mean, I still think I’m working through some things. And there’s the therapy and the work being done. So I think just mentally, it’s kind of an odd feeling to think that life was that close to being taken away. You know what I mean? I mean, I think they had said had I waited a couple more days, she wouldn’t have made it and if I’d waited a few more days than that, then I wouldn’t have made it either. So just to think like mentally, wow. It’s hard to process still at this time.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. No, I hear you. That’s some tough stuff to sort through, as you said. And it does take time and really interesting. And what is it when you said at the beginning that one of the reasons you wanna tell your stories is the therapeutic aspect, but the other was, you know, for people to hear your story and to take something away from it. Other than what you said about sort of like the miracle of what can be done with premature babies and how well they can do with good care, what else would you like people to take away from your incredible story?
Bridget: Advocate for yourself. You know, when you’re pregnant, you’re not only advocating for yourself, you’re advocating for your baby. And I wish I would have spoken up more. I wish I would have spoken up louder, you know, and trusted my body a little bit more to know that something was wrong. And who knows? I mean, I think about sometimes maybe if I would’ve spoken up, maybe it could have been caught sooner, maybe it could have been prevented. And I know through therapy, I’ve done the work, I know it’s not my fault, you know, I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but I still wish that I wouldn’t have kind of let them brush me off. You know, when I was in the office that day, I wish I would have said like, “Listen, I am in extreme pain here. Yeah, I need some help.”
And I think, you know, just trust your body and know the signs. I think people think, you know, pregnancy, everything is just like, “Oh, you’re fine, your body will know what to do.” And I don’t think my body has ever been so unsure of what to do as when I was pregnant. I mean, I just didn’t handle it well. You know? And I just think sometimes if we all just kind of kept it on the back of our minds that, you know, things can happen and we need to be vocal when something’s wrong, it can prevent a lot of things.
Dr. Fox: Amazing. Great lessons. Bridget, thank you so much for volunteering to tell your story. Obviously, a little scary to hear and scary at the time, obviously, but I’m really glad that you’re doing well and, of course, that Laurel is doing well even though she was born so prematurely and that she’s thriving and it’s really awesome to hear. And, you know, sometimes these stories are both therapeutic, but also they’re hard to tell because they bring up a lot of memories, obviously. And I really appreciate it because I do think it’s important for people to hear these stories. And thank you so much.
Bridget: Oh, thank you. I appreciate it. Absolutely. It’s definitely, like I said, been therapeutic and glad I got to share my story.
Dr. Fox: Thank you for listening to the “Healthful Woman” podcast. To learn more about our podcast, please visit our website at www.healthfulwoman.com. That’s healthfulwoman.com. If you have any questions about this podcast or any other topic you would like us to address, please feel free to email us at hw@healthfulwoman.com. Have a great day.
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