D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: HELLP syndrome

the birth story

Guys, meet Ransom Gregory: born on May 5th, 2015.


I can’t believe I have a baby boy. I can’t believe he is really here. I can’t believe that I ended up having another totally traumatic birth experience. I can’t believe that things are OK. I can’t believe how different everything is now. It’s probably way too soon for me to even think about writing this out, but I have to try. Here is the story of his birth:


Two weeks ago, I went to my normal doctor’s appointment. The week before I had packed my bag (cell phone charger, extra books, change of clothes) and while I had ended up getting admitted, I had been released after several hours. Two weeks ago, I was feeling a bit better and my husband went with me this time since my mom was in town and watching Ramona. Two weeks ago, my blood pressure was really high so they admitted me to triage but I still felt very optimistic. After several hours the doctor on call came in and said all of my blood work looked normal except for one thing (kidneys) —and that one thing was very NOT normal. Preeclampsia with severe features, she told me. When did you last eat? Um, six hours ago? OK, then you will be having your baby within the next few hours.

My husband and I were surprised. Our phones were almost dead but we managed to text my mom and my husband took a pre c-section selfie. We thought it would take awhile for everything to get organized, but two hours later there I was, getting cut open. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as my first birth, but it still was a bit of a blur.



Ransom was born at 6lbs 2oz—a super healthy weight for a baby born at 36 weeks (on the dot). After a brief moment in the OR (pictured) I didn’t get to hold him for the next few hours, but Krispin was able to be with him and do skin-on-skin for awhile. The next few days are a blur—the normal recovery from a c-section, figuring out how Ransom was doing (he took a few days, but eventually was able to suck and swallow and start breastfeeding in earnest), remembering what it is like to have a newborn. On Friday, three days after the surgery, right on schedule, they let me and Ransom go home. I was shocked. No two week NICU stay. No lists of do’s and don’ts for a preemie (technically he was a late pre-term baby, and he was doing splendidly). No horrible lingering health effects. I felt on top of the world. We had dodged a bullet. We were good.

It was great to come home and hang out with Ramona again (she was able to visit us at least once a day in the hospital, but usually only in short bursts since she had tons of rather manic energy). The next day, Saturday, a home health nurse came to check on both Ransom and I (side note: home health nurses are awesome! You don’t have to cart your baby into the clinic/hospital the next day!). She was mostly concerned about him, checking jaundice levels and making sure he was at least maintaining weight. At the end, she took my blood pressure and I could tell she was trying not to freak out. She made me lie down for awhile and took it again. It was 170/110. She called my doctor and the doctor told me to go the emergency room at my earliest convenience.


At this point, it was creeping past dinner time and I knew I couldn’t bring my preemie baby with me into an emergency room. Also, I thought they just might give me some BP medication and send me home. The hospital where I had delivered at (plus where my clinic was) was 30 minutes away. We live 3 blocks away from another hospital, so we chose to go to the closer emergency room. It took forever, as those places can. I felt despondent at leaving my baby with my parents, especially as the hours ticked on. The emergency room doctor ran labs and results were not good—my liver enzymes were way elevated—and so he started me on the dreaded magnesium sulfate, the medicine I had been hoping to avoid this entire time. If you have never been on mag, it’s sort of hard to explain how awful it is (and if you have been on it, you are nodding your head in solidarity right now). As they inserted an IV into my arm, right there in the emergency room, I could feel it as it started to work it’s way into my system. I tried to explain it this way to my husband: imagine you are preparing to travel to some far-away galaxy, and you are mid-way through the process of being put into hyper-sleep. Except they stop halfway, so you are suspended in a half-dead, half-alive state of being. That’s what it feels like to be on mag, except you are also nauseous and irritable and your vision is so blurry you can’t hardly see. So lovely.

We managed to sweet-talk our way onto the maternity ward (they were going to put us in a regular old ICU room, but I was adamant about not bringing my preemie baby into that kind of environment) so finally they transferred me to the Mother Baby Center (which was across the street). It took forever for them to figure out how to transport me over there. I was hooked up to a lot of machines at that point, and wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Don’t you guys ever get people who come into the emergency room and have to be transferred to the Mother Baby Center? I asked one of the people tasked with transporting me. Yeah, he said, but nobody who is as sick as you. The machines surrounding me were to make sure I didn’t have a stroke on the one-block journey.


I ended up being in that hospital for almost four days. They were pretty awful days. 30+ hours on the horrible medicine, while trying to figure out breastfeeding with a preemie. A few more days of trying to figure out medication to bring my blood pressure down. My mom and dad and Ramona all got sick, so they couldn’t come visit us in the hospital. Ransom wasn’t a patient but I was, so my husband wasn’t allowed to leave the baby alone with me for even a second (because I was in no shape to care for him and the nurses weren’t in charge of him—only me). 


As it turns out, this happens all the time. Preeclampsia (and HELLP) can spike after delivery—even up to weeks afterward. It was pretty devastating psychologically, because I truly felt like I had made it through victorious, only to come crashing back to reality. All along I knew that in this pregnancy I had a 25% chance of HELLP recurring, and I knew the chances of developing pre-e were high (I just didn’t know how high—50%). I felt confident that this time, the doctor’s would be watching me like a hawk and they would catch things before I got too sick. And even though I did have excellent medical care, as it turns out, I still got super sick. It was hard to accept, even as it was happening to me and my body. 


Finally, on Tuesday afternoon they let me go home. They had switched up my meds and my BP was as low as it had been pre-pregnancy. But that night I took my blood pressure right before I went to bed. It was as high as it had been to land me in the emergency room on Saturday. I wanted to cry and scream, but I knew that it would only raise my blood pressure more (indeed, this entire time, these past 8 days, I had been trying hard to keep my shit together because the only way I could go home was if my BP lowered—so I had barely cried at all). All I knew was that there was no way in hell I was going back to the emergency room. I was not leaving my babies again. So if I had a stroke in the middle of the night, so be it. Obviously, this was not a good recipe for sleep. I had a terribly anxious, sleep-less night (also: newborn). The next day I called my regular doctor and she told me to come in. My husband and I packed bags, we kissed our daughter goodbye and cried the entire way to the hospital (the first one, the far away one). We were so scared of it all happening again.


The doctor was sober but not overly concerned. She forbade me from taking my blood pressure again. I was still to be on modified bed rest, like I had been since the beginning of April. My labs came back that day stable—the liver enzymes hadn’t gone down in a few days, but they weren’t sky high. We went home, relieved, but I still struggled with feeling like the other shoe still hadn’t dropped. The next few days involved a whole lot of anxiety and soliciting of prayers and psalms. I was so so so terrified of going back to the hospital, and I was also terrified of dying. I have never experienced fears like this before, and they were devastating. My dad, a bastion of calm amidst life’s storms (that’s what being a pastor for nearly 40 years will do to you) likes to tell people this in times of crisis: when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. Don’t assume the worst, most terrifying outcome possible. But as my mom said about Ransom’s birth: well, we sure have had a lot of zebras around here


A few things helped: knowing people everywhere were praying. This meditation by the New Liturgists. This album of psalms by Sandra McCracken. My mom. My husband. My two kids. Ice cream sandwiches. This particular episode of Bob’s Burgers. This blog post about not trying to control the future, because God is only with us in the present. Newborn snuggles. In the hospital I had been texting with my sisters, and my younger sister told me to look for the mercies. So I have been trying to train my eyes to see, and they really are all around, they really are new every morning. A friend messaged me that when he is feeling anxious he stands tall and puts his hand on his heart and says “Jesus, I trust in you.” I have been doing that a lot lately.


In the past few days, my blood pressure has slowly started to go down. My body is slowly returning to normal, or at least a new normal (it will take time to see what the long-term affects are, especially in terms of BP and vision). I see my doctor every few days. I am being taken care of. I am in that strange land of being so grateful for my son and so utterly gutted by the experience of bringing him into this world. Eventually I will think of myself as a survivor. Eventually I will think about how 100 years ago I would have been dead, twice over. Eventually I will be grateful for everything, will see it through the misty lens of time and distance. But for now I am sad, anxious, tired, delighted, charmed, and most of all—present. The miracles are just as obvious as the traumas: for instance, if the home health nurse hadn’t visited, I might not have gone into the hospital until it was too late (I was an odd case where I presented no other symptoms of high BP—no headaches or shortness of breath or spotty vision). In time, I will be able to see it all more clearly.


For now, we are all working on recovering. We are taking the rest of May as a family to recuperate and regroup, to enjoy each other anew. The house will be a mess, but we will be together. We will marvel at what we have now, and where we have come from. We will learn to see the mercies every morning. We will look for them expectantly. 







May is actually HELLP and Preeclampsia awareness month. If you are pregnant, or plan on getting pregnant, or know people who are, I urge you to be aware of the signs and symptoms. Here are a few good resources

On Birth (part 1)

I want to tell you all how excited I am that I am pregnant, that we are expecting, that our life is going to continue to change and stretch and mold us—but in order to do that, I have to tell you so much other stuff. Because if you had told me—not too long ago, perhaps last winter or early spring even—that I would be OK with getting pregnant, I would have laughed in your face. Last time I was pregnant, I developed a life-threatening condition called HELLP and almost died (and my daughter was born nearly 2 months premature). The doctors told me right away that if I got pregnant again, I would have a 1 in 4 chance of recurrence of HELLP. After all that drama and trauma, I thought the answer was easy: we would adopt through foster care when the time came. Our perspective on that has now changed (a painful, but needed decision) which I plan on writing about in the future. For now, though, I feel compelled to write about my first birth experience, because it is something I have never done before. This is your chance to stop reading right now. I know birth and babies are full of trauma for so many—infertility, stillborn children, broken dreams, crushing disappointments—and I won’t feel slighted in the least if you choose to opt out. But one of the reasons I decided to write about all of this is that we so rarely do talk about the trauma. And that, partially, might be why I was so surprised at what happened to me.

I was 25 when I got pregnant, two years into being married to the best boy. There are only a few pictures of me looking pregnant. We just didn't think to document it at all, we thought we had loads of time. I just knew I was going to be one of those people who go late, who blow up like whales, who waddle into the last stretch. When I was about 30 weeks along, in the middle of the summer, I ran a basketball camp for all of the kids in our apartment complex (this is hilarious for many reasons, not the least of which I know absolutely nothing about the sport). My friends and neighbors would gather in the shades of the trees in the park and watch me run around, directing the volunteers and blowing whistles at the unruly children. The mothers would urge me to sit down, and look worriedly at my expanding belly. But I felt fine (I thought miserable was the baseline, after all), and I was determined to go on as if life was not changing. When I tried to plan a trip to the beach with a bunch of neighbors the next week, they all politely declined. They told me that they would not be going anywhere with me until after I had the baby. I was mystified, and more than a little put out.

Right around that time, my legs started swelling. At the end of a long day of being on my feet, selling over-priced chocolate inside of a high-end mall, I would have what can only be described as massive “cankles”—which my husband and I would laugh over. At first, the swelling would be gone by the morning. Pretty soon, it never went away, and began to creep higher and higher up my legs. I would go to see my midwife (remember, I lived in Portland, where everyone has a midwife and is bound and determined to never use drugs or the hated "medical interventions"). She would caution me about my sudden weight gain. “But I’m not eating any more food!’ I would wail, despondent to see the numbers creeping up. She was hurried, brusque, and unfailingly optimistic. Just lay off those sweets, dear! She would tell me. When I told her who I wasn’t feeling so great, how the swelling was getting worse, she consoled me that these were just normal symptoms. I started to realize that maybe I wasn’t one of those glowing pregnant people. Maybe I was just one of those miserable ones.

When I was almost 33 weeks I woke up and my face was so swollen that I couldn’t even open my eyes all the way. I took a picture of my face and texted it to my husband, who was already at work (he did doubles on Saturdays). He thought it was kind of hilarious, but that maybe I should just call my midwife to see if it was normal. I called her office, but was routed to an answering machine at the hospital that she worked out of. I left a message detailing my swelling and how I felt, and hung up. She called back a while later, and again told me that this was all normal, nothing to be worried about (I didn’t know it then, but she was currently on vacation in Central Oregon). I hung up, resigned myself to my puffy-faced fate, and got ready to go hit up some garage sales with my mom.

I got a call from the hospital a short while later. The doctor on call for the weekend had heard my message and wanted to check in with me. I told him my symptoms and he urged me to come in, just to get my blood pressure checked. Ok, I said, I’ll try and come in sometime this morning. My mom swung by our apartment and we hit up a few sales on the way to the hospital (I bought a bunch of yarn, probably with the intent to make a bunch of lumpy, ill-fitting hipster baby hats). When we got to the hospital, we were ushered up to labor and delivery. A nurse put me in an empty room and took my blood pressure. It was slightly high, but nothing too terrible. She told me was going to wait 15 minutes, then take it again. She did, and she frowned slightly. It was higher. We waited another 30 minutes. It was higher again.

The mood shifted in the room. The nurse got me a sandwich. She said I would probably be there for a few hours while they kept an eye on me. But every time they checked me, my blood pressure continued to climb. They brought me forms to fill out: I was being admitted. They did blood and urine tests, but I didn’t know why. I was texting my husband, who was still at work, and I didn’t understand what was going on.

At some point, later in the afternoon, the on-call doctor, the one who had told me to come in, came by. I don’t remember this very well. In fact, from here on out, I hardly remember anything at all. He must have explained what my symptoms were—how I had something called HELLP syndrome, which is a trifecta of bad news—red blood cells breaking down, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelet counts. In practicality, it meant this for me: my body was attacking itself—my liver had shut down, causing all fluids to be retained in my muscle tissue (hence the weight gain), I was at a great risk for stroke, and the only cure was delivery of the baby. Plus, if I didn’t do it soon—with my platelet counts dropping—I was likely to bleed out during birth.

But I had 2 months to go! I didn't have a crib. I was supposed to go to work that day. My husband wasn’t responding to his texts. My dad and my sister were out of town, and my other sister was in Africa. My mom listened to the doctor and asked all the questions that I could not form. I had a hard time grasping that this was a serious situation, but I was trying. The doctor, who I suspect was trying not to frighten me, seemed exceedingly calm about it all. I murmured some things about birth plans and natural birth and he said I could be induced and we could try for it, but it would most likely end up in a c-section anyway. I don't remember this but I guess I called my husband's work and demanded to be put through. But I was crying too hard to talk to him, so my mom got on the phone. You need to be here NOW, she said, and he left right away.

He got there, looking as scared and bewildered as I was. I was given a shot of steroids to help the baby’s lungs (the last organ to be fully developed). How long can we wait? We asked the doctor, scared first and foremost for the baby. The doctor did not want to commit to an answer; we settled for getting my blood drawn every 3 hours and watching the levels closely. We tried to sleep. The next day, Sunday, we spent waiting. I don't remember anything about that day. At some point, they must have put an IV in me. At some point, they put me on magnesium, to keep me from having a stroke. The nurses were so quiet and careful with us. We didn't know this then, but I was too sick to be transported to another hospital, and the one we were at was not equipped with a NICU. If the baby needed more care, she would have to be transported while I remained behind. In the morning, my levels were dropping fast enough we had to make a decision. The doctor did not hem and haw any longer. We need to do this now.

I was alone when they wheeled me into surgery, as alone as I have ever been. I felt like I was dying, which is exactly what was happening. I lay on my side on the cold metal table as they inserted the hollow needle into my spine. If I wasn’t so miserable, I thought, I would be pretty scared right now. I can't be sure, but it seems like I was thinking about terrible Christian artwork--you know, the kind where there is a man, slumped over, being held up by a beatific Jesus. I was thinking about the halo-ed light, I was thinking about what it means to be alone and not alone, I was thinking about what it means to have faith that you are being carried by someone you cannot even see.

My husband came in with scrubs on, and held my hand. I was too sick to be very worried. Everyone was very fast and quiet. I just wanted to know if the baby was ok. They cut me open, and I couldn’t feel it. They tugged and pulled and it was so strange and horrible and miraculous too; then they were telling me I had a baby girl, and she was crying, and it felt like a dream that I was just a minor character in.

My husband says they took her to the incubator to check her lungs; after it appeared like she was doing fine, they washed her up and did a few tests. They bundled her up and someone held her close to my face. I think I gave her a kiss. She was tiny, 4 pounds, with sharp little elvish features. My mom, who badgered her way into the room, took our first family picture.









She was fine, she was fine, she was fine. Relief was the overwhelming feeling, and to this day it lingers, and it colors the way I want to tell this story. Because I want to end it here, in a happy place, I want to show you that we are well we are doing now. But the truth is I almost died that day, and I ended up being so sick that I don't remember the first time I held my daughter, I don't remember feeding her, I don't really remember the first week of her life.



I was saved, she was saved, but I was also robbed of so many dreams of my own. In the end, that matters so little. But it is still worth saying aloud.









(Next week I will write about what happened after the birth. And the week after that I hope to write about our journey through the foster care system. Thanks for reading along).


My favorite site for getting an overview of HELLP/how to raise awareness is here. (but be warned, some of these stories are unbelievably sad).




Powered by Squarespace. Background image by Kmayfield