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Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Even now, nine years after the fact, I struggle about where to post this. I’ve been told so many times that I had a miscarriage, that Maggie wasn’t even a viable baby.

She was my baby. She was my daughter. I held her in my arms, and I gave her a name.

I have a daughter.

Some people I know are surprised to hear this, since I only talk about my sons, Big and Little G. I don’t talk a lot about the fact that there were pregnancies #4 and 5.

I’m going to pull a lot of this from a story I posted at the Preeclampsia Foundation back in 2002. The women in the forums there saved my sanity, and I love them for it.

About 17 weeks into my second pregnancy (my first ended with a miscarriage at 14 weeks), I experienced a day where I threw up all day long. I hadn’t had morning sickness at all, so I was a little concerned, but Car (my husband) and I assumed I had a 24-hour bug. The next day I didn’t throw up, but I simply didn’t feel well. I had a general feeling of unwellness from then on, but nothing specific.

At about 17.5 weeks, the pain started. At first I assumed the pain, which was located just below my sternum, was heartburn. I’d never had heartburn, but I couldn’t imagine what else the stabbing pain could be, and everyone knows that pregnant women get terrible heartburn. The pain got progressively worse until I could no longer work. I asked a few people if this was really what heartburn was like, and they assured me that pregnancy heartburn could be really bad. I took the maximum amount of antacids allowed, but nothing helped.

I had my usual appointment with my perinatologist on a Wednesday, and I mentioned the pain. He suggested Pepcid AC. My urine showed only a trace of protein, so there was no cause for concern, despite the fact that I had to have a friend drive me to my appointment because the pain was so intense.

That evening, as I curled up in a ball on the couch and sobbed, Car decided I needed to go to the emergency room. I refused, positive the ER personnel would laugh at the pregnant woman who couldn’t handle simple heartburn. We finally struck a compromise–I would page my local OB and if she thought I needed to go to the ER, I would. When my doctor returned the page, I was crying too hard to speak with her, so my husband filled her in. She also thought it was most likely heartburn, but said if the pain was bad enough that I couldn’t talk on the phone, the ER wouldn’t be a bad idea.

The first thing the doctor at the ER did was give me something he called a “GI Cocktail.” It’s a lovely little drink that numbs your entire digestive tract down to your stomach, and will apparently subdue even the worst heartburn. It made my tongue and throat numb, but did nothing for the pain. The doctor said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but it’s not heartburn.” They gave me a shot of Demerol for the pain and ran  several tests (blood work, ultrasound, CT scan). After about 4 hours in the ER, all they could come up with was, “We can’t find anything wrong except for some elevated liver enzymes. We think it’s probably your gallbladder. Call your doctor in the morning.” They discharged me and sent me home.

The next day I called my doctor and told her I had elevated liver enzymes and the ER doctor thought I had something wrong with my gallbladder. My wonderful doctor, whom I credit with saving my life, said, “That doesn’t sound right. Let me makes some calls and call you back.” Within 30 minutes, she called me back and told me to go to the hospital for further testing.

From that point on, things become a blur. I was admitted to the hospital on Thursday and put on a morphine drip for pain. My liver enzymes skyrocketed, my platelets dropped. We were told that the best-case scenario was hepatitis. My red blood cells started to self-destruct and my kidneys began to shut down. My brother flew out from Minnesota in case he had to say goodbye. Every possible liver disease was tested for and ruled out between Thursday and Saturday, when the doctors finally settled on the final diagnosis–HELLP Syndrome. They told us that to save my life we would need to terminate the pregnancy. I begged them to prolong the pregnancy long enough to save my child. The doctor told me, “I don’t think you understand. It’s not an either/or situation. If we don’t end the pregnancy, both you AND your baby will die.”

I was 19 weeks pregnant.

On Saturday night a doctor started the process of manual dilation (which is every bit as painful as it sounds), and on Sunday I delivered a perfectly formed little girl, Margaret Marie. Maggie weighed 3.88 ounces and never took a breath on this earth. I held her in my arms, counted her fingers and toes, and decided she looked like my husband, who was weeping by my side.

About six months after Maggie was born, we decided to try again. I miscarried at six weeks. I told myself , “At least it happened early,” but I was still devastated.

Three months after that, I had my first drink.