On Christmas day of 2011, I was flat on my back in a stretcher within the maternity ward recovering from an emergency c-section. My first-born child, Ashlin, was only a few hundred feet away from me in the neonatal intensive care unit, being tended to by an army of doctors, nurses, and physician assistants. In reality the distance could be measured in mere yards, but the distance between us seemed much greater during that worrisome time apart.
For the first 48 hours of Ashlin’s life, I struggled to keep focus on her picture taped to the white board across the room. It displayed a skinny little red human being with a tiny hand clamped around my husband’s index finger. His finger was longer than her arm.
Ashlin and I were the victims of a mysterious condition known as preeclampsia, which can strike any pregnant woman and cause serious complications for both the mother and the baby. In our case, it was as bad as it gets, falling in the range of the aptly named “HELLP syndrome.” Essentially, this causes severe bleeding in the mother on top of high blood pressure and liver damage, which are hallmarks of the underlying problem. No one quite understands preeclampsia, but as the chief of the women’s health service told me several weeks later, “It is one of the few conditions that can turn a perfectly healthy person into mush in no time at all.” On December 23, 2011, that person was me.
Now, every time I look at a chest film of a tiny baby I think back on my time struggling with preeclampsia and how lucky we were. I also catch myself thinking about it every time I look at a head ultrasound or every time I speak to a neonatologist about an upper GI or MRI.
Parents, especially parents in the NICU: I have been where you stand and I promise to do everything in my power to fight for you and yours.
Contributed by Dr. Erin Rowe and edited by Tony Dandino, SPEC-MR QUALITY.