Taylor and I found out we were expecting Baby Aiden at the end of October 2017 and couldn’t have been more excited and terrified at the same time. My first trimester I did not have too many symptoms. I did not normally have morning sickness if I snacked throughout the day. The worst side effect was the changes in bowel movements if you get my drift.

In February I hit second trimester and one of my prenatal appointments my blood pressure was a bit high. The doctor said to continue to monitor it at home and if it’s pretty consistent to call back up. I monitored it for a week and it was still slightly elevated so they put me on a blood pressure medicine at 17 weeks. Because it was before 20 weeks it was considered that I had chronic hypertension which technically is not pregnancy induced even though I did not have high blood pressure before pregnancy. I was also having some major heartburn any time of the day. I was making the joke that I was going to give birth to a wokie because of how bad the heartburn was.

After this I was constantly trying to learn as much as I could about high blood pressure during pregnancy, how to reduce it, what signs if it’s getting worse, what could happen during labor etc. I wanted to know everything I could. The biggest next sign is sudden swelling and sudden weight gain so I was really keeping an eye on these. There were some horrifying birth stories I read that I tried to keep out of my mind.

At the end of the second trimester, I was experiencing some severe stiffness in my fingers when I would wake up in the morning. It would take until I would get to school before I would finally have full motion of my fingers. My rings weren’t getting extremely tight on my hands. I mentioned this to the doctor at my appointment and it seemed to be a normal as the body is producing more fluid to support the baby.

I hit my third trimester at the end of April. My blood pressure was remaining within normal range and I was having some slight swelling during the day, but the temperature was really changing outside and it was getting warm.  I was starting to get some swelling in my feet during the day and when I would get hot some swelling in my fingers. The swelling would seem to go down at night when I would get home and be able to prop my feet up. I wasn’t gaining any rapid weight.

At this point, I was seeing the doctor twice a week for non-stress tests. They would strap a device to my belly to hear Aiden’s heartbeat and monitor his movements. This was standard procedure with high blood pressure to ensure the baby was doing well in there. Each appointment Aiden was being a star and would be awake and his heart rate would rise and lower like it was supposed to.  They also had me do another ultrasound to measure Aiden’s growth. I was not gaining any weight and was still 3 pounds under what I had started pregnancy at, but I am a bigger gal and was actively eating healthy, so it was considered normal. The ultrasound at 29 weeks went well and showed Aiden was within normal developmental range.

I did some baby shopping with my mom in Branson around week 31. I wanted to get some new summertime shoes, because I couldn’t fit into most of my shoes I had. It was an adventure but did find some stretchy shoes.

The last week of school was week 32 for me. It was the end of May, I was excited because summer was going to begin, but I was also a bit stressed due to moving classrooms because I would be changing teaching positions the next school year. I tried to take an easy, but there was so much to be done. It was making me more tired each day. I was also feeling pretty nauseous in the morning and some mornings would gag until I got something in my stomach. I didn’t think anything of this as I had read that morning sickness sometimes comes back. Non stress tests were on target and we had another ultrasound that showed Aiden was still growing at a normal pace and was measuring just over 4 pounds. My blood pressure was the lowest it had ever been at a doctor visit at 112 over 75. These were not the readings I was getting at home, so we thought that our home monitor had seemed to be off.

Memorial Day weekend happened and we had family in. We hit the lake early in the morning for some fishing before it got really hot. I definitely got warm out there and tried to stay cool by getting in the water. And as expected my hands and feet would swell, but as soon as I got home and cooled off it would go down. Saturday evening I was cooking dinner and I got an all of a sudden extremely sharp pain in my back in between my spine and right shoulder blade. I was not short of breath but the pain was taking my breath away. I sat down at the kitchen table and drank some water. Taylor brought over the blood pressure machine and the machine was having an extremely hard time finding my blood pressure. It was constantly showing an error code. When it finally was able to measure it, it gave what we thought was a ridiculous number. After about 20 minutes, the pain went away and we retook blood pressure and it was registering the same range the home machine had been registering. I didn’t think anything else of this episode till after Aiden arrived.

Memorial Day night (Monday) and week 33, I woke up around 2am with an extreme pain in my right side immediately under my rib. It was a major pain to the point I couldn’t get comfortable. I just tossed and turned and eventually went downstairs to see if sitting up or walking around would help. I would get a little bit of relief. Taylor got up to go to work and I was still having some pain, but after he left I was able to eat some yogurt and got a bit of rest. I woke up again around 9am with the same pain and so nauseous I ended up throwing up the yogurt I ate. I had a doctors appointment scheduled that afternoon, but was concerned enough I called in. The office said to just come in at normal time. I googled my symptoms and the main thing I kept getting was that my gallbladder was infected. By the afternoon my pain had subsided and I was able to get some lunch. At my doctor appointment the stress test showed Aiden was acting normal. My blood pressure was 121 over 78 which is considered to be normal. This reading was a lot lower than my typical readings, but school was out and I wasn’t under much stress. When I discussed my symptoms with the doctor, it was determined it was just acid reflux and to continue taking my heart burn medicine. I went home feeling that there was no way that was heartburn at 2am, but trusted the doctor and thought it was just a part of pregnancy that I will have to continue to deal with.

Tuesday night I was able to sleep solidly for 12 hours without any issues. Wednesday I rested at home. My body felt extremely tired. I assumed from the lack of sleep the night before. I ate a cinnamon roll for breakfast and for dinner I only was able to eat just a bit of food before I would begin to feel uncomfortable. There was so much waste from dinner Tuesday and Wednesday evening I felt so bad for Taylor for even cooking dinner. Wednesday night again around 3am I woke up with extreme pain under my right rib.

Walking around in the middle of the night was the only thing that would be able to ease the pain. I was so nauseous I was hugging the toilet for a good hour around 5am. I knew we had our tDAP vaccine scheduled at 8 and then an appointment at 9 so I was just trying to hold it together. Around 7:30 the pain went away we got our vaccine and made it to the stress test. The nurse took my blood pressure and it was reading 141 over 93. The nurse was quite concerned that she took it one more time to confirm and then came back 10 minutes later. Aiden was showing normal movement. The doctor came in and said that my blood pressure for this time is normal as a rise in it is expected and it wasn’t alarming him. He did say that I did have a bit more proteins in my urine, which means my kidneys are having trouble getting waste out. High proteins combined with high blood pressure are telltale signs of preeclampsia a serious condition during pregnancy. So, the doctor sent me home with a large orange jug that I was to save my urine in for 24 hours and bring back to the hospital on Friday and get some blood drawn. I mentioned the pain again and he said acid reflux is totally normal as my organs are continuing to shift higher into my abdomen.

Taylor and I had lunch and he set up my classroom refrigerator in the bathroom for my 24 hour collection. With as much water as I knew I drank every day I knew I would be lucky for the jug to last till morning.  Thursday we also decided we needed to go ahead and order all of the items we still needed for when baby Aiden arrived including a car seat. We were excited because we knew we were getting closer to him being with us. While collecting my urine, I noticed it was getting dark in color. Because of the amount of water I drank, this was abnormal for me and I felt something might be wrong.

That night I did not have too bad of pain and was able to get some rest, but when I got up on Friday I was extremely exhausted. My jug was full at 7am and went to get another jug before my 24 hours was up at 11am. We went to the hospital around noon, I turned my jugs in and had my blood drawn. I asked the technicians when I would find out my results and he said maybe by the end of the day but he doubted it because the tech hate doing urine tests so likely Monday is when I would hear something. I was so tired we ended up going home and I rested on the couch. Around 4:30, i got a phone call and saw it was from the Doctors office. I put it on speaker and the nurse said they had gotten the results back and my proteins were 3x the normal level and my platelets were registering low. She said I had preeclampsia and to be on bed rest from now on. She said the doctor wants to be safe and for me to go to labor and delivery to make sure my blood work isn’t getting lower and they might keep me for monitoring. She asked when I could be there and I said immediately, but can I take a shower first? She said that was ok. So, I took a shower and finished packing a hospital bag with some basics still thinking I’ll be coming home. Taylor readied the house and I was trying to keep it together on the way to the hospital.

Everything I had read regarding what the nurse said was serious. I don’t think Taylor knew all of the stuff I had read or how serious it was at this point, but I was a nervous wreck getting to the hospital. We had to figure out where labor and delivery was because we hadn’t planned to go and find it till we had our birthing class in 2 weeks at 36 weeks. The doors were locked and we had to call back to get the doors open. After talking with the nurse she took us into a small room where she began hooking me up to blood pressure machine, fetal heart rate, and pulse. She asked me a series of questions, had me pee in a cup, take my weight, and pathology came and drew some more blood. The blood pressure machine would take my pressure every 15 minutes. It was registering 150s over 110s, which is pretty high and each time would set off an alarm. The nurse also gave me a steroid shot around 7pm to help develop Aiden’s lungs. All of this took about 2 hours. At this point we had not had dinner and were getting hungry. I was limited to just ice chips. The nurse came back and said my labs were in and they are going to move me to a room and the doctor will be by soon but he will likely be sending you down to Little Rock.  This news was extremely scary. I did not feel like something was seriously wrong with me, I just had a small pain in my rib and I was tired.

They wouldn’t let me walk to the new room which was just right around the corner, which I found odd so they wheeled the bed in there. They immediately asked me to undress and put a gown on but before I got up they asked me to make sure I could walk on my own. This was getting a scary and was happening really fast. I got back in the bed and the nurse hooked up blood pressure machine and started an IV.  Emotions and fear were setting in rapidly. Rather quickly the doctor came in and explained that I had extremely low platelets, high blood pressure and elevated liver enzymes and this is called HELLP syndrome. The safest thing to do now is to send me to Baptist Hospital in Little Rock because at 33 weeks and 5 days they have better resources to help baby Aiden if he was to be born. The doctor said he was going to check with Air Evac to see if they can flight me and if not I will go by ambulance. The doctor also said I need to be put on some medicine called Magnesium sulfate to prevent me from possibly have seizures. He said that I will hate the drug because of the side effects.

Because of the magnesium sulfate they had to put in a catheter. This was possibly the worst thing ever! It took a couple of tries because I kept moving and was pretty painful. Once they began to administer the magnesium sulfate they warned me that I would get extremely hot and be a little woozy. The magnesium sulfate slows down all the muscles so I couldn’t get out of bed anymore either. When the magnesium sulfate was given, it hit me like a truck. It felt like someone had turned on a bed warmer and my vision was starting to get blurry. This was all while the doctor was checking me to make sure my cervix wasn’t dilated and it wasn’t and was telling me that I would be going by ambulance.

At some point, Taylor had snuck off and called my mom. The poor guy looked so worried. Thinking about the look on his face still chokes me up. My blood pressure was still being monitored every 15 minutes and the alarm was still going off every time. At one point I asked the nurses, if I’ll be able to be transferred back up here. Bless their hearts, looking back now I think they said oh yes just because it wouldn’t upset me.

No one was going to be allowed to ride in the 3 hours ambulance ride with me so Taylor and my mom went ahead and began their journey to Little Rock. The EMTs arrived, asked me a few questions and began wheeling me out the hall. One of the nurses hollered back, “The doctor said lights and sirens” just as I was out the door. The ambulance had to be one of the older ones and it was really warm in there. I’m sure the magnesium sulfate didn’t help either. The ride was a bit weird being on a bed the whole time. I knew I needed to get some rest, but I couldn’t help but do some research about HELLP. I found out that its likely that I would be delivered within 48 hours so I began researching how Aiden would likely be at that time and because he was a boy and white he might have some issues. What I read said that I needed have at least two steroid shots to help develop lungs to give him the best odds for an early delivery.

The ambulance pulled over two times to take my blood pressure. The first reading was really good, I was almost back into regular readings at 130 over 88 but the second one, the one closer to Little Rock was 153 over 98. I was texting Taylor and my mom during the ride and at one point Taylor said I think you just went by, were the siren’s on? And the sirens were on so I knew they were close behind us. The ambulance arrived at the hospital and I was wheeled up to labor and delivery. Soon as I got in the room, Taylor and my mom arrived.

The room was huge! It had a special area for the baby with lots of different devices to help the baby and room for company. It took the nurse a little while to get me all hooked up. At one point she brought in a machine for my legs. They looked like leg warmers but massaged my legs constantly. This device was no stranger to myself or my mom as my dad had these on his legs during his accident to prevent blood clots. My mom and Taylor began to take up home in the “dad” bed and the recliner. The nurse said to get comfy and try to get some rest the doctor will be in shortly.

Around midnight the OB GYN on called came in and pulled up a chair. This is the moment I think we all realized how serious this was. She was extremely straightforward and said you are seriously sick. She asked what we knew about HELLP and then said that my platelets were sitting at 72 while a normal is anything above 150. The good news was is that my levels had gone up since they drew blood at Mountain Home, but they weren’t going up  as much as she wanted. She said my liver enzyme were high and were showing signs that my liver was shutting down.  I did not have the hemolysis, drop in red blood cell count that is a part of HELLP, but I had the elevated liver enzymes and low platelets. She said that all of this is caused because of some abnormality in the placenta. The only way to make me get better is to take the placenta out, but the baby can’t survive without the placenta.They do not know what causes it and it was nothing that I could have prevented. She then went on to say that its currently 12:30am and my shift ends at 7:30. It is highly likely I will be delivering you by C section because we do not want your health to get any worse but we are going to try to hold out so we can get a second steroid shot in for baby Aiden.  After this statement, I think we all lost it. The fear of early delivery for baby A’s lungs and my low platelet count with the fear of not being able to clot was extremely overwhelming.

She said they are going to take my blood again at 2am and go from there. She asked if we had any questions and we asked about the baby. She said white boys do have the hardest time but when delivered he will have his own team to help him. We needed to get to 7am to get that second shot in for Aiden.

So we tried to get some rest. I was still having my blood pressure taken every 15 minutes and with each tightening of the cuff I hoped it would be starting to go down, but it wasn’t. The alarms would still go off each time. The leg compresses were still constantly messaging me. I don’t think I ever got my mind to quiet down. The nurse drew blood at 2am and results were in at 3:30 with my platelets at 74. They were holding steady. Again at 5pm the nurse came in and drew some more blood. At 6:30 the nurse came in with my second steroid shot for Aiden. We hadn’t heard anything else about being delivered so Taylor went to take a quick shower and my mom went to take a smoke break.

About 6:45 a different nurse came in and said we are going to begin to prep you for a c-section and the anesthesiologist will be in shortly. So they began prepping my bed and the area for incision. I was taken a bit back by this because we hadn’t heard anything from the doctor. Taylor was still in the shower when the new shift OB came in. She explained we are going to go ahead and take the baby because your health is our biggest concern right now. We plan to do this at 8am and should be back in recovery by 9am. Taylor quickly got out of the shower and was able to ask if I’ll be able to be awake for the procedure before the doctor left. Unfortunately, my platelet count wasn’t high enough for me to be awake so I will be completely under and he won’t be able to be in the delivery room.

The anesthesiologist came in and explained that they are going to put a mask over my face with some gas to send me to sleep and then they will put a tube down my throat to keep me out during the procedure. When the procedure is over they will remove it and then wake me up. It all seemed pretty straightforward to me. At 7:45 they said we are going to start moving  you now. So they told Taylor and my mom there is a small waiting room right outside the room they can sit in. Taylor hugged and kissed me goodbye and we said we’ll see each other after Aiden is here. The sure worry and concern on his face still makes this experience tough to talk about.

The delivery room looked like one of those delivery rooms you see in old tv shows and looked completely different from the other parts of the hospital. They moved me over to the operating table and then had me move my arms straight out and tied them down. There was a person to my left, behind me, and to my right all monitoring my vitals. There were several towards the end of my feet prepping me. They were all busy working and chatting about their weekend plans. They had me all prepped, then the doctor arrived. The anesthesiologist put some oxygen over my face and told me just to breathe normally. The doctor didn’t like something they did so they had to reprep me. While they were doing that they anesthesiologist began massaging my airway. When they finished prepping they all the all clear to put me under and the anesthesiologist said starting counting back from 10 for me. The next thing I remember is someone saying my name over and over and  “I don’t know why it’s not working”. I finally woke and was crying and asking about the baby.

The nurse said he’s doing really well and we are going to take you to back to your room now. When I arrived back to the room it was 8:55am.

Aiden was born at 33 weeks and 6 days at 8:30am on Saturday June 2nd. He weighed 3 pounds 14 oz.

Back at the room Taylor and my mom told me all about Aiden and how well he was doing. He was only on a cannula to push air through his airway and did not have to have any other pieces of medical equipment and that he had my nose! I asked when I would be able to see him, they said soon as the catheter was out you could. The catheter had to be in for at least 24 hours after to make sure everything is going back to normal. This was extremely disheartening. Looking back on all of it now, I had a baby, did not feel or experience any of the normal labor experiences I was expecting to experience. In a way, I feel my labor had been robbed from me.

While this was happening they were hooking up some morphine for me because my abdomen was in a lot of pain. I was supposed to hit the button whenever I felt I needed it within 10-minute intervals.  Taylor, my mom, and Taylor’s mom would go check on Aiden and get updates from the nurses throughout the day and I was managing my pain and was pretty loopy. Once evening came, the mom’s left and Taylor started to settle down for the evening. Then the nurse came in and said we are going to move you to the antepartum ward now. So they moved us out of the labor and delivery room into a small room. I asked Taylor if he had spoken to a doctor yet and he hadn’t so I asked the nurse if we could speak to one of Aiden’s doctors.

Eventually the doctor came up and said that he’s doing really well, he just needs to be monitored and grow. He said they typically don’t get released till closer to their due date. This meant to us that Aiden would be in the NICU for 6 weeks. The nurse was checking on my every two hours or so giving me some medicine, checking my blood pressure, and emptying my catheter. Each time the bag would be full. If I remember correctly I lost almost a gallon and a half of fluid throughout the night. My blood pressure was still monitoring a bit higher than they liked but my platelets and liver enzymes had gone back to normal by Sunday morning. Aiden was doing well in the NICU. The magnesium sulfate was taking a while to wear off on him so he wasn’t able to eat anything quite yet and his platelet count increased so they did not have to give him a transfusion.

Sunday morning the nurse came in and said we are going to remove your catheter so you can start to get up and walk around and we are going to move you over to a different room. It felt so good to get up and move to a wheelchair. Soon as we got to the new room, the lactation consultant came in and told me how to use the breast pump to begin expressing colostrum for Aiden. After that I was finally able to see Aiden. A friend helped wheel me down to the NICU. I had no idea how serious it was until she pulled me up to the sink to wash my hands before we went in. The sink basins looked like surgery basins you see in hospital shows on tv. The room Aiden was in was small and he was in an incubator resting. He was so small and all skin and bones and attached to all kinds of different monitors. The nurse came by and help me do some skin to skin with him. She tucked him inside my hospital gown and he soaked up my warmth. I was still quite loopy from the medicine and it all still seems a bit hazy but eventually he had to go back into this incubator. I was able to take a shower that afternoon and order some food to eat. I was starting to feel like a normal person again. The only thing I hadn’t been able to do was that initial pee after the catheter had been removed. The nurse got to the point that she threatened to put it back in if I didn’t go in the next 30 minutes. I finally was able to relax enough to get it going again.

Taylor and I went back and forth several times throughout Sunday and Monday. Aiden was not able to actually be fed yet again but we could put some breast milk on the end of these long q-tip sticks and swab his mouth with them. He really liked them and the nurses said it was the only thing that could calm him down when he would get a bit fussy. Each time we left his room to rest it got harder and harder. We just wanted to take our little boy home with us. There still wasn’t much sleep for me at the hospital as they continued to monitor me through Monday night with medicine and I pumped every 2 hours to get my milk flowing for when Aiden would be able to eat.

I was discharged Tuesday afternoon. Taylor needed to go back home to do a few things and was going to return the next day. My mom rented a room for us Tuesday evening at the hospital related hotel which was about 3 blocks walking distance. It was a nice place to stay. I set up a pumping station in the hotel room and tried to get some rest. Emotions were still high because we just wanted to get him home. When Taylor was at home and worked his butt off. He mowed the yard, cleaned up the house, and we had ordered a bunch of items on our registry before all of this happened and they had arrived. So he set up everything in the house so we would be ready when Aiden was able to come home.
The next 17 days were typically the same. We would walk to and from the hospital several times a day to see Aiden. These were often during his feeding times. Aiden was finally able to have a breast milk through his feeding tube. During the day the nurses would let us hold him while he was feeding through the tube. Eventually, they began the feeding procedure to get him off of the tube. It was slow going with only one bottle every 12 hours at a time and then every other all the way to his was taking every feeding by bottle. The breast milk was being mixed with a fortifier to up the calorie amount in his food so he would gain weight quicker. We knew before he could be released, he had to take a feeding every 3 hours for 24 hours from bottle without having any heart rate drops, be circumcised, maintain his body temperature, weigh at least 4 pounds, and pass a car seat test.

At first everything was so scary as he was all hooked up in the incubator. The nurses taught us how to take his temperature and change his diaper. Boy were the diapers tiny. Once Aiden was able to get some food and his bowels moving he was in and out of the incubator due to needing to be under a bilirubin light. We would laugh every time he was under the light because it looked like he was sunbathing with his gauze sunglasses on.

He was finally able to start taking a bottle once every 12 hours. We always tried to be at all of the bottle feedings during the day even as he progressed. He took those first bottles like a champ and the nurses began to prep us for life after the NICU. He was finally released out of the intensive NICU unit after 6 days to what they called the 6th floor. These rooms were a bit bigger but he was still assigned a nurse who would take care of him and they began upping his bottle feedings. We anticipated every evening when they would weigh him to see how well he was gaining weight. He was pretty steady at gaining 3-4 oz every day which is great progress. During the evenings we would try to grab some food and tried to rest. I maintained every two hours of pumping and my milk supply was coming in as expected and every morning I would make the trek to the hospital with my milk bottles for Aiden. The hospital would store and use the milk as needed. Physically I was getting stronger every day. My incision was healing well and eventually the glue started to peel off. Emotionally, I was good sometimes and a wreck the next days. We knew he was not having any major issues but it felt that each morning we were uneasy as to what we would find when we would talk to the nurses, would today be the day that something bad happened overnight. We were the ones that were supposed to be taking care of him despite how amazing the nurses were. Taylor was my rock and constantly supporting me through this whole process. I still cannot process how all of this affect him.

He quickly was released from the 6th floor to the final NICU unit called the K-2 unit. This unit we shared a room with another baby. This room was hard to adjust to because we were sharing and the nurse care seemed to more relaxed. At this point the feedings were slow going and he did have some setbacks to where he would forget to breathe while he was taking a bottle. This was extremely scary because the machines would all alarm while I was giving him a bottle. This was called a bradycardia and the nurses assured this is where it gets frustrating because you want them to get it so bad. This happened a couple of times consistently so they pulled back on the amount of bottle feeds. This just meant he didn’t have enough stamina quite yet. A few more days went by and he was sailing through the final stages of feeding. He passed the car seat test smooth sailing and we were finally discharged after 21 days in the NICU at 36 weeks and 6 days and 5lbs 7oz. We were stoked but so scared for that first car ride home.

The nurse went through the discharge paperwork and set up our appointment for Aiden to have his eyes checked. She gathered all of the extra milk I had stored and brought it to us. Man, we needed a bigger cooler! I was surprised by how much extra milk there was. The nurse helped us load up into the car and we made a beeline for home! We got home with no problems other than him blowing out his diaper.

We quickly got into a routine at home and everything is now normalized. My health is doing great. I am completely off of blood pressure medicine. The doctor did advise that if I was to get pregnant again this could happen again. So we are unsure if more biological children are in store for us.

Aiden is growing big and strong. He no longer has to take extra calories to gain weight and is a normal almost 3-month-old.

The biggest take away I have from this whole experience is to be more forceful when describing your symptoms if you feel something is wrong.

– Jackie Basinger