West Michigan

Real Women, Real Stories: surviving postpartum H.E.L.L.P.S

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV) - Hello. My name is Marianne Bohn. I am a 2-time post-partum Hellps and preeclampsia survivor. I first developed these conditions with my third child. Here is my story…

I need to start by explaining exactly what HELLP syndrome and preeclampsia is… HELLP is an acronym for H- Hemolysis EL- elevated liver enzymes LP- low platelets (the clotting factor in your blood) Preeclampsia is a hypertensive condition developed either during or up to 6 weeks post-partum which consists of elevated blood pressure, headache, severe swelling and vision changes. I was one in 50,000 who was lucky enough to develop both postpartum…. twice.

My experience begins upon being admitted to the hospital with my third son. My initial blood pressure was high. We chocked it up to me being in labor, DUH! What woman’s blood pressure wouldn’t be high, am I right? Fast forward 6 agonizing hours, my third son Samuel was born. He was perfection and I was in love with every 7 pound 2 ounces of him. I was sent to my post-partum room to begin my motherhood of 3!!!!!! Boys. As I was just dozing off, the nurse came in like they always do. She took my blood pressure, palpated my uterus and lastly, asked how I was feeling.

I distinctly remember saying that I was ok besides this nagging headache. Naturally, I wrote it off stating that I was probably dehydrated. My nurse made note and promptly brought in a glass of ice water insisting that I drink. I complied to the request and was left to rest. At this point it was about 8am. I knew that grandparents and siblings would soon fill the room. I was restless with anticipation to introduce this sweetheart to my older boys.

While family was visiting, a different nurse came in to check on my headache and blood pressure and offered some pain relief. Needless to say, it did not help. We stayed that day and the following night, then I was discharged, headache still pounding and blood pressure still elevated.

The post-partum period with Samuel was difficult. I was struggling with nursing as he was tongue-tied and feeling worse by the minute. It was not until December 4th, 2012 that I was changed forever.

It was my second child’s 6th birthday. So naturally, my mother and mother in law were over not only to get in some baby snuggles but to celebrate the birthday boy. I can distinctly recall my shower that morning. As I raised my legs to shave I realized that the swelling I had was clear up to my hips. In fact, I could not even tell where my knee was. My only thought was huh, I guess this is post-partum after 30.

A friend (who happened to be an OB nurse) stopped in to see the new bundle of joy. After oohing and ahhing over that beautiful boy, she looked at me and simply said “How are YOU feeling?” Without hesitation, I burst into tears admitting that I felt terrible. I can recall saying “ I feel horrible. I am SO swollen and my head hurts SO bad!” At which her response was, “ I think that you should go lie down, I am going to grab my blood pressure monitor. I will be right back.”

As she left for the door she encouraged me to reach out to my OB office and tell them how I was feeling. Through tear-filled eyes I dialed the number. I spoke to the triage nurse describing my symptoms and she stated that she would call me back after speaking with the doctor. At that point, my friend had returned, took my blood pressure and simply said “You are not going to like this.” My blood pressure was 190/106. She recommended I just go to the hospital, any hospital to be evaluated immediately. She loaded sweet Sammy into his car seat while saying “Don’t be surprised if they admit you.”

We decided to go to the closest hospital with an OB unit. This was not the hospital where I delivered but at this point I was rapidly feeling worse. After being triaged, I came to the realization that my weight was 5 pounds MORE than when I delivered. I.WAS.SWOLLEN.

My mom and mother in law were at the hospital by this time and my mother in law told my husband “You get back there and get some answers or you are going to have a dead wife.” She was right. After numerous tests, the PA in the ER came in and explained what was going on.

I remember exactly what he said “I spoke with your OB and the OB team that we have here. You have something called HELLP syndrome, we are going to need to admit you.” I was relieved. Finally, I know what is going on. But what in the hell is HELLP? I was sent to the Critical Care Unit where I met the first OB who cared for me. There was a lot said but all I could focus on was the pounding in my head. I sent my husband and newborn boy home, feeling defeated as I explained how he would have to have give him bottle. I was too sick to nurse him at that point. That night was spent in and out of sleep and in an extreme amount of pain. Every single part of my body hurt.

The next morning was spent with a lot of visits from a lot of different people, nurses, lactation consultants, Doctors. My husband came with the baby and I nursed him when I could. At one point I was asked to get up to urinate. I didn’t have to, I didn’t feel good and the last thing I wanted to do was get out of bed to use that cold bedside commode.

My nurse was relentless, and I eventually consented. Except. I did not have to urinate, and I didn’t. Fast forward a few hours. I had again, sent my husband home with the baby to get some rest. But this night was different. I was dozing off to sleep when I heard this noise…. A crackling noise coming from my lungs. The moment I realized that my lungs sounded like rice krispies, my monitor started blaring. (that was good for the headache) My nurse walked in and applied oxygen to my nose. I immediately called my husband back to the hospital and I can distinctly remember saying to my nurse “I feel like I am dying!!!” I had to encourage myself to breathe while waiting for my husband to arrive. I was drowning in my own fluid. Literally.

At that point we asked to be transferred to a larger hospital that we felt would be better equipped to care for my deteriorating condition. The doctor agreed, and I was sent by ambulance. The next few days were filled with tests, scans and a lot of pain. My headache faded, blood pressure lowered and swelling resolved (mostly) I was sent to a step-down unit and left to recover for the next few days before being discharged.

With Sammy being my third pregnancy, I had only heard the term preeclampsia. I had NEVER heard the term HELLP and I had never thought that this could even happen post-partum. In pregnancy and in birth so much emphasis is put on the baby, and the baby’s health. But I am here to tell you that moms matter too. This CAN happen and DOES happen. It happened to me and my passion is to raise awareness, so no other mother is caught off guard. No other family will have to face the terrifying fact that mommy may die. In 2016 nearly 700 women lost their lives in pregnancy or childbirth. Maternal mortality rates in the United States have been on the rise. This is NOT okay. So, the next time you hear a pregnant woman or post-partum mom say, “I just don’t feel right”, listen to her because Moms Matter Too.

A Fourth Pregnancy

At five days post-partum with my fourth pregnancy, I developed preeclampsia trending towards HELLP as my liver enzymes were elevated 4 days post-partum. Although I still got sick, I felt empowered with the knowledge I had from my first experience. I spent 5 days in the high-risk OB ward but can honestly say that it was a healing experience. I was sick, but things did not spiral out of control. I was respected and listened to by my fabulous OB. Knowledge is power.

A Passion for Awareness

Although it has been nearly 6 years since my near miss, I have finally found my voice. I have always had a passion for awareness for HELLP Syndrome and I attended the Preeclampsia Foundation Summit, Champions for Change in October. Through that experience I was able to connect with like-minded women who empowered my passion for advocacy. I am proud to say that I am now Chair for the Preeclampsia Foundations Promise Walk for Preeclampsia awareness – West Michigan.

We are planning a walk on June 8th in Big Rapids. I have shared my story with Love What Matters.com and they were the first platform really interested in my story. Physically writing out my experience and sharing it with others has been a healing experience.

As women we tend to suffer in silence after a traumatic birth event and I am here to say that NO woman should have to suffer alone. Please help me spread awareness for HELLP syndrome and save mothers everywhere.

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