I never expected my pregnancy, a seemingly healthy one with minimal complications, to come to the abrupt end that it did. My entire pregnancy had been wonderful: low blood pressure, great bloodwork, and despite some hip pain, no other issues. I was considered high risk because I have Chiari Malformation which can cause complications when delivering, but I experienced nothing out of the normal for nine months.
At 35 weeks I went in for a check up: my blood pressure was slightly elevated and I discovered I was anemic. I was given an iron supplement, but this was the first sign that my blood pressure was out of my normal range. At 37 weeks I woke up with a bloody nose two nights in a row, but on the second night I had a horrible headache. Using Dr. Google’s advice, I went to the nearest Walgreens when Caleb got off school to have my blood pressure taken. 146/110. I immediately called the labor and delivery (L&D) triage line and the nurse told us to come in. Luckily at this point I had my hospital bag packed and everything lined up for my pugs to be taken care of.
Caleb and I ran home grabbed the bags and packed our dogs bag for their sitter. We were on the road shortly after as we made our one hour drive to Darnall Army Hospital. Upon arriving at L&D, I checked in and told them I had elevated blood pressure. The wait to get in a room was agonizing. I could feel something was off. I felt anxious and on edge from the blood pressure. I was called to a room finally where I had to yet again wait for the longest 10-15 minutes. The nurse came in and took my blood pressure; that’s when everything changed. She immediately paged for several doctors. The tiny room filled up with as many staff as it could fit and my husband went outside to update our families. I was being admitted for preeclampsia, a condition that occurs only during pregnancy that is marked by high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Preeclampsia occurs in pregnancies that are over twenty weeks and effects 5-8% of all pregnancies (americanpregnancy.org).
I had a feeling. The Sunday before while at church, I had this gut feeling that the upcoming week would be the week I would meet our baby. We had maternity photos the Friday before and I had felt slight cramping, but otherwise felt great. I usually would lazily wait to take my weekly photos on Wednesdays, but I told my husband I wanted to take it earlier this week just in case. We got our 37 week “bumpie” taken just in time, the night before I was admitted.
Once admitted many calls were made to our families. I was told that my dream of mobile laboring was no longer possible. They needed to get me started on magnesium as soon as possible to combat my blood pressure. Magnesium unfortunately has some horrible side effects. I was now a fall risk because of it and needed a catheter. I would not be able to get out of bed as the medication made me feel hot, flushed, and irritated. I’d frequently get headaches and feel as my chest were heavy and painful. I also dealt with persistent nausea. My nurse compared the effects of magnesium to chemotherapy. A good way to start my labor no?
I didn’t realize how many times I could be induced. I received the foley catheter, a catheter that blows up in hopes of widening your cervix, cytotec (a pill that is used to cause abortions in early pregnancy) right against my cervix (the most painful causing contractions), cytotec taken orally that I was given several times, pitocin, and I had my water broken. Nothing helped me dilate. It was the slowest progressing labor of all time. I was determined to go all natural so I labored for 18 hours with no assistance, but once they put the cytotec next to my cervix, I contracted for 3-4 hours straight with no breaks. This whole time I screamed in agony. I checked out a few times when the pain became too much. It got to the point where I was silent screaming and I was just going to a state of delirium. I finally asked for an epidural.
It took the anesthesiologist about 3 hours to come in to finally proceed. They had me on a horrible uncomfortable position and I was in so much pain. My husband and mother were not allowed in the room. I made the mistake of allowing a student do the epidural. She had a tough time advancing it and I ended up with a hot spot on my left side meaning I could still fill contractions on that side. I don’t think she necessarily did a bad job, but I would have preferred someone who has done them numerous times for numerous years. One of the reasons I wanted to labor naturally is because of my Chiari. The risk of accidentally puncturing something could mess up with my cerebral spinal fluid. I just prayed the entire time as she gave me the epidural. I then got so entirely sick that I began vomiting everywhere because my blood pressure dropped so fast.
Once my husband and mom returned the laboring continued. I felt some relief with the epidural. They started me on pitocin and oral meds to “kickstart” contractions. I could feel my abdomen tightening with contractions but the pain was almost gone with the exception of the left side on occasion. Every shift change I’d have a new OBGYN come in and check on me. I was not dilating. At this point I was beginning to feel hopeless. I had a labor and delivery soundtrack of Lauren Daigle and other soft tunes played on an endless loop in order to breathe through it.
Through this all I was told an OB asked me what I wanted to do at this point and I apparently said I wanted to push. I do not remember this conversation as I was incoherent from the analgesic I had requested. Had I been coherent perhaps I would have requested the c-section I needed much earlier in this process. On night number two they broke my water. I had more cytotec orally and that when I begin hearing of my secondary problem: hyponatremia: A condition that occurs when the level of sodium in the blood is too low.
The doctors noticed that my sodium level began to drop rapidly as I was urinating it all out. Let me just state that this is a very rare situation; so rare, fact, two different teams (one from OB and one from internal medicine) asked to do a case study on me, which I happily obliged. They believed that the cause of the drop in sodium was due to the preeclampsia, but the issue is both conditions can cause seizures and they wouldn’t be able to know or treat which one. I was on strict fluid restriction (down to 400 mL a day in the ICU). My mouth craved water, but they didn’t want the water to interfere with my sodium levels so I went like this for over 48 hours.
On October 5th, 2018 I had a doctor from internal medicine who was a pulmonary doctor come in and tell me the problem with my sodium levels. Immediately after my obstetricians came in to update me on the seriousness of my situation. They told me an emergency c-section was needed to prevent me from having seizures. At this point I had been in labor for 46 hours and my baby’s head was in my birth canal. All this waiting only to have a c-section was a bit disappointing, but I was so ready to have my baby, I immediately said let’s do this. I had to have my epidural redone because it had failed and a spinal would take too long.
Before I knew it the epidural was done (it went so much better than before: I had a pro at epidurals put it in) and I was being wheeled to the operating room. I was terrified. I began praying and crying. I had the difficult discussion with Caleb that if it had to come down to my life or the baby’s to choose the baby. It was incredibly difficult. They discussed all the risks and stated I was at higher risk for bleeding out, but they’d have blood standing by. They told me I’d go to ICU afterwards because of my sodium levels. I knew their was a chance I wouldn’t make it. I was at risk for losing my life. I couldn’t stop crying.
The anesthesiologist was trying to make sure I was completely numb, but she was asking if I could feel her pricking so quickly that my brain was overloaded. I told them no on a spot I could feel and then immediately told her I did feel the left side after they were getting prepared to start. Luckily she listened to me and went in an adjusted the amount of medicine in my epidural because sure enough I had sensation still. They finally agreed I was numb and my husband joined me in the OR. He sat by my head holding my hand as tears streamed from my face. They started and it went so quickly. I could feel the pressure of tearing and pulling and it made me instantly sick. I began vomiting which throughout this whole ordeal from admittance to this point was a recurring theme. I just prayed the entire time. The OR team let me pick the music, so I went ahead with Lauren Daigle again because her voice soothes me and I needed to hear the message she sings in her songs.
The delivery was so fast. I heard a cry and they told Caleb to announce the gender: “It’s a Boy!” I couldn’t stop crying. Caleb went over to cut the cord and take photos of the baby in what seemed like an eternity. I just wanted to see him. The team shifted their focus on me. Making sure I was okay and that all the bleeding was under control. They finally brought my baby boy to my side. The first time I saw him. He’s so perfect. I gave him kisses and held his little hand. Griffin. Our sweet baby was finally here after a devilish ordeal. I was happy he was here but sad I would have to be away from him. I attempted to get him to latch on for breastfeeding but the side effects from the magnesium made him too tired. I cherished those brief few minutes. I could not hold him for obvious reasons, but I gave him kisses and told him how much I loved him. He is the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen and he looks so much like me, which was a surprise as I thought Caleb’s genes were much stronger.
Saying goodbye to my husband and baby was the hardest thing I had to do. I was transferred to the ICU while my husband went up to the mother and baby unit to bond with our little man. I had requested donor breastmilk, but they would not let him since he wasn’t a NICU baby. So he had to be fed formula via syringe. Caleb got to do skin to skin and couldn’t leave him at all to come see me because only his guardians (mom and dad) could be with him in the room. In the NICU I felt isolated and it felt like a dream. It didn’t really hit me I had my baby because I didn’t get to bond with him after birth.
The night in ICU was horrible. I had a male nurse that didn’t want to massage my uterus (something’s that incredibly painful but has to be done to ensure that mom doesn’t bleed out). I was at higher risk because I couldn’t be give pitocin (due to my sodium issue) after birth which helps the uterus contract to help blood vessels from bleeding. He told me I could do it myself; like I would know where to massage let alone be able to put that much pressure on it. He didn’t want to do essential thing for post partum care. He said I’ll get a female nurse to do this. I requested someone from L&D to come down so I could express my concerns but no one came. On top of that he brought me a pump and said “you know how to do this.” How the hell would I know how to pump when this is my first baby. He tried to lazily show me and put the pump somewhere I couldn’t reach. I began crying out of frustration and texted my dad what was going on.
Luckily my dad was an officer in the Navy and retired with a high rank so he called up the ICU and asked to speak with the head nurse. He basically told them it was unsatisfactory what they were doing and that if my nurse was incapable of doing what was needed of a post-partum patient that they would be reported. I could tell my nurse’s tune changed. He came in acting all rude and then eventually cooled off and said he would do what he was supposed to do. I was still in fluid restriction, still had my catheter in, bed ridden, and on magnesium so I was utterly miserable. I just wanted to see my family. In the morning all my doctors came by to check on me. I was asked if I could be part of case studies and my labs were redrawn every 2-4 hours around the clock. I was exhausted.
The day I was supposed to be transferred to be reunited went on way too long. I was told one hour after lunch I would have my lab results and be able to go to mother & baby if they were good, yet the doctor who was in charge of transferring me over got called in to an emergency and I had to wait and wait. It’s ironic because he was part of a medical team of about six doctors yet it had to be him to put in the orders. I cried in desperation. I finally was reunited after twenty-six hours of being apart. I finally could hold my son and bond with him. It was an overflow of emotions. All this pain, suffering, and trauma was worth it to have my little Griffin. I was so happy to be reunited with my hubby and baby boy.
After staying in the hospital for five days in total I was discharged. I suffered a few set backs battling my blood pressure, which sent me to the emergency room three days after being discharged and suffering from delirium. I finally made it home and am working on my recovery. Griffin is healthy and we are truly blessed for this. I had been struggling with my health since being discharged: pain, medication side effects, and my blood pressure kept me from doing normal mommy things after arriving home, but I’m learning to cope with these things until I’m back on my feet.
I have set up a Venmo (@CassandraShea) and Paypal, just in case anyone would like to make donations towards my uncovered emergency visit and baby necessities for Griffin. We’re at a tough spot right now financially and asking for help has always been a hard thing for us, but we’d greatly appreciate it if you have the means to donate just a small amount or share. Your love and support means the world to us especially as we go through this tough transition. If you have any questions about my delivery or situation please feel free to ask. I thank God so much for getting me through this difficult time as well as the love and support of my family and friends who have generously given their time to aid us. We are so blessed to have people who truly love us and want the best for us.