Updated: Mar 15, 2019

Disclaimer: Below is part two of my three-part series where I recount my experience with HELLP Syndrome, including reflections on my pregnancy, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and delivery, in an effort to raise awareness of this condition. I am in no way endorsing or discounting any specific lifestyle choices, activities, or methods. All ideas expressed should be perceived as reflections based on my experiences and nothing more. I also suggest reading the first part of this series, linked below.

Behind the Scenes of My HELLP Syndrome Experience

While nibbling my way through cheddar cheese sticks and clementines, I told my husband something that would be, unbeknownst to me at the time, the beginning of a rather epic journey.

“I think I want to do this unmedicated…”

Watching The Business of Being Born was what essentially set the ball in motion, after which my husband, the Austrian Engineer, proclaimed that he 100% supported me because, well, gravity. From his perspective, it made sense to labor in movement and deliver in the squatting position. Not to mention the societal differences surrounding pregnancy, labor, and delivery between Austria and the US. He’s from a culture that embraces the natural. I won’t even get into their maternal (and paternal) leave laws.

For the next few weeks, I researched all I could into unmedicated, natural labors and deliveries. I spoke often with my mother, who labored and delivered unmedicated with two of her three children. I watched videos and read blogs. I began preparing my body physically through yoga and a high protein diet. Through my research and lifestyle changes, my plan began to emerge. I became fascinated by the idea that my body was built for this and, in its primal state, would deliver the baby with or without my conscious support. I wouldn’t need pain medications clouding our first moments together, preventing me from feeling my baby pass through my body and into his or her first breaths. Pain medication was not more important than my baby’s primal need to turn its head in preparation to exit the birth canal, thereby strengthening the muscles required to locate and latch to my breast. I was certain that, with the support of my husband, I could manage the discomfort and welcome our baby as naturally as possible.

We knew we needed help. The Bradley Method seemed to be the best fit for us, so we signed up for a local class series and began our practice.

Despite my growing passion for low-intervention labor and delivery, I knew at my core that I needed to deliver in a hospital. A few years prior, we established ourselves as patients at the University of Michigan. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but I felt a strong need to be there, so much so that I celebrated when we were accepted. I knew, despite the 45 minute drive, that U of M was where I wanted to deliver. The thought of having experts so close in the event of an emergency brought me instant relief when visualizing the birth.

This became tricky, for The Bradley Method teaches birthing with as few interventions as possible, something that often contradicts the common practices of hospitals. In fact, we left one class fired up (well, I left one class fired up) after our instructor lectured for 60 minutes on how horrible hospitals are, pumping our delicate and hormonally charged hearts with horror stories of women being unwillingly passed through the “conveyer belt” with every intervention. On our walk back to the car, I just kept repeating, “But what if there’s an emergency? What if I become high risk? How dare she make us fear the only place that would be equipped to save our lives!” I’m all for women empowering women, but that took it a step too far.

Empowerment should not coincide with tactics of shame and fear.

Despite the rage that fueled our drive home that afternoon, we returned, for we knew that the practices we were learning were powerful. The women in my group were encouraged to eat a high protein diet to strengthen our bodies and our babies. We were to practice a series of daily exercises that included stretches, Kegels, and squats. We had reading assignments that detailed techniques, for myself and my husband. We practiced contractions, with me relaxing every muscle from my shoulders to my toes, and my husband gently touching to check for clinching. As the weeks progressed, we strengthened as a team and in our convictions to do this naturally.

On what, unbeknownst to us, would be our last session at 30 weeks pregnant, we watched a decades-old video of Dr. Bradley teaching the most effective position for a woman to labor in. According to him, women are primal beings and, like other primal beings, need to “nest” prior to delivering. Many mammals form and fluff their beds just before or during labor, positioning themselves in a darkened space and in their sleep position in an effort to minimize fear and adrenaline and maximize the labor-inducing oxytocin. On that walk to the car, my adrenaline was pumping in all the good ways – “If I need to be in a bed and attached to an IV, I’ll have a management technique!” I was READY.

Six days later, we were in the hospital with a diagnosis of HELLP Syndrome. Six days after that, I was being induced.

Of the interventions described to me on The Day of Rage, I had most. I had a hospital gown not of my choosing. I had my blood drawn 24 times. I had two rounds of steroids. I had three forms of induction – prostaglandin gel, the foley bulb, and Pitocin. I had an IV with fluids, magnesium, Pitocin, and antibiotics. I had an oxygen mask. I had compression leg wraps. I had a catheter (NEVER AGAIN). I had an electronic fetal monitor. I had my water broken with the amniotic hook. I had an epidural and 15 minutes later, I had a daughter. I had HELLP Syndrome, and my daughter had a Very Low Birth Weight of just over two pounds. These interventions (except maybe the hospital gown) saved our lives.

I Followed the Bradley Method (and had a high-intervention birth)

I had an epidural, yet I also followed the Bradley Method. I followed the Bradley Method when I ate a balanced, high protein diet, logging my points nightly to ensure my success. I followed the Bradley Method when I practiced relaxation techniques with my husband and birthing coach, lying on my side and concentrating on each muscle. I followed the Bradley Method when I did my daily squats and Kegel exercises. I followed the Bradley Method when I developed my low-intervention birth plan. I followed the Bradley Method when I visualized and role-played my contractions and delivery. I followed the Bradley Method when I communicated my likes and dislikes regarding support to my husband. I followed the Bradley Method when I practiced yoga on the cold hospital floor, careful not to tear out my IV. I followed the Bradley Method when I labored for 17 hours, on three forms of induction, with no pain medication.

I requested an epidural shortly after hour 17 while at 5cm with contractions coming every 15 seconds. 20 minutes later, her frail 2lb body was screaming in my arms.

I had an epidural (and Pitocin. And fetal monitoring. And frequent cervical checks. And a catheter. You get the picture.), yet I also followed the Bradley Method. If I allow myself to feel regret, then I project negativity upon the story that gave me two extra months with my little girl. If I allow myself to feel disappointment, then I minimize the strength I exhibited during those 17 hours, her delivery with a hypercoiled cord wrapped around her neck, and my emotional and physical recovery. If I allow myself to feel shame, then I give those judging my circumstances power over my experiences, my successes, my heart.

I may not have anticipated a high-intervention labor and delivery with an epidural, but I also didn’t anticipate my placenta failing simultaneously with the development of a life-threatening condition. The Bradley Method strengthened my instincts and trust in myself, which in turn gave me the confidence needed to face down these beasts with optimism and hope.

To read the final part of this series, follow the link below.

10 Things I Learned from Planning an Unmedicated Birth (and not having one)

Updated: Mar 15, 2019

Disclaimer: Below is part one of a three-part series where I recount my experience with HELLP Syndrome, including reflections on my pregnancy, in an effort to bring awareness to this condition that few know of and little is known about. I am in no way endorsing or discounting any specific lifestyle choices, activities, or methods. All ideas expressed should be perceived as reflections based on my experiences and nothing more. I also suggest following THIS LINK for more detailed information on HELLP Syndrome, as the intention of this article is not to educate, but rather to raise awareness.

I did everything right.

When the ER doctor entered our cold, brightly lit room at 2AM, blood test results in hand, and proceeded to explain why he was convinced I had this condition called HELLP Syndrome, my concern for my baby almost instantly transitioned to the deafening thought that


The morning after we discovered I was expecting, I woke up early so I could wrap my mind around what we had learned late the evening before. I was happy, so very happy. I packed my lunch that morning with special attention to food groups. I hesitantly (but intentionally) chose tea instead of coffee (I still don’t know how I did this for 7 months). I retrieved the extra water bottles that I had placed in the refrigerator the night before and grabbed one more from the pantry for good measure. I kissed my gent goodbye, put on my favorite playlist, and drove to school with a mildly disbelieving flutter in my heart. I was pregnant with my first baby.

As the weeks progressed, I printed food plan menus organized by trimester. I signed up for prenatal yoga at the brick walled, tall windowed, lavender scented studio in our quaint little downtown, anxious to connect with my baby in such a charming environment. I bought the right nail polish. I embraced my grey hair. I switched to natural toothpaste. I did my Kegels and squats. I signed us up for our Bradley Method classes. I read the books. I faithfully gagged down fish oil EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. I wrote my birth plan.


Behind the Scenes of My HELLP Syndrome Experience

30 weeks and 6 days into my pregnancy, my sister and her fiancé came over to spend the night with us. We watched the movie Me Without You, something we had wanted to do since reading the book together a few weeks prior on our summer weekend trip to the lake. We assembled the bouquets for her upcoming wedding after I made one of my favorite pregnancy dinners: crispy baked chicken thighs with carrots and warm rolls. The Bradley Method had me tracking my high protein diet in a spreadsheet, so I was excited to log my protein points for the evening. (I told you, I did EVERYTHING!)

As the movie was ending and we were working on our final bouquet, I began to feel what I thought to be a piece of chicken, maybe even a small bone, that didn’t quite make its way down. The pressure was centralized in my upper abdomen, just below my chest. I sat up straighter and breathed deeper. I attempted to wash it down with water. Nothing worked. We all said goodnight and I began to get ready for bed, beginning to think it could be heartburn. I had never experienced heartburn before but knew it was common in pregnancy. At this point, the pain was sharp. I couldn’t lean backwards because the pain would radiate into my back. I couldn’t lean forwards because it would make it difficult to breathe. I began to panic. At the urging my husband, I called triage and asked for advice on managing heartburn. She heard my labored breathing and suggested I get into the nearest ER (my delivering hospital was 45 minutes away, the closest hospital was only 10).

We arrived at the hospital around midnight and they immediately began testing. They took blood. They did an ultrasound. They monitored the baby.

I remember trying to keep my eyes closed as I sat, shivering, at the edge of the crinkly paper. The fluorescents were harsh and the room was cold. We were silent, concentrating on the gentle thump of the baby’s heart.

A few hours and pokes later, the doctor told us calmly that he suspected HELLP Syndrome and we needed to drive immediately to our delivering hospital. We were allowed to stop for gas but not clothes. I still had my IV, and it was the middle of the night.

Desperate for answers, my husband researched HELLP Syndrome on some medical sites. After reading that the mortality rate could be as high as 25% while pumping gas (something I found out a few weeks later), he remained silent the rest of the drive, his hand nervously squeezing mine as I tried to breathe through the pain.

When we arrived at our hospital, they had a dimly lit room ready for us. The nurse had pushed two chairs together for my husband and covered us with warm blankets. They brought us juice with chopped ice and changed out my IV. These comforts, although tiny, were like a warm, reassuring embrace. I instantly felt safe.

They ran a series of tests, some repeated and some new. My heart was good. My blood pressure was relatively low. The baby’s heart rate was steady. The problem, they agreed, was seen in my blood and urine.

Simply put, my urine had high levels of protein. My liver enzymes were elevated. My platelet count was low. Although my blood pressure was low and my pain was centralized and not in the right quadrant, as is common, it was determined that I had HELLP Syndrome, a complex and life-threatening pregnancy complication that is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. We had never heard of it prior to that night.

After encouraging us to sleep for a few hours in triage, they relocated us to our room, where we would remain until our baby’s arrival. For the next 5 days, my blood was tested and baby was monitored routinely. My team of doctors and specialists, specializing in my care and the baby’s, weaved in and out to update and prepare us for what was ahead, including what to expect from a preterm delivery. I can still feel the elderly neonatologist’s hand on ankle as he described the typical appearance of a preemie. They gave me two rounds of steroids to develop our baby’s lungs, which temporarily improved my levels. My pain came and went. My levels rose and fell. We were in limbo.

The day before her arrival, they began discussing discharge. Although I had a diagnosis of HELLP Syndrome and our baby’s size was believed to be in the 3rd percentile (down from the 90th just 8 weeks prior), there were inconsistencies with my condition that had them resting on about 20% doubt. My liver enzyme levels and platelet counts were not dramatically worsening, my blood pressure was within normal ranges, and my abdominal pain was centralized, not in my right quadrant (where the liver is located), and had begun tapering off all together.

My family was optimistic and relieved to hear doctors discussing this possibility during their visit that day, especially because my baby shower was two days away (of course).

I remember remaining quiet during their discussion. My heart started to beat a little faster and, as soon as they exited the room, I turned to my husband and let out a tearful, “I don’t want to go home.” I knew something was wrong.

The thought of going home after a week of irregularities, uncertainty, fear, confusion, grief, and physical pain just didn’t sit right with me. To calm me down and help ease my mind, my family took me on a walk around the hospital and to go get lunch in the cafeteria. Not long after, my abdominal pain returned. They ran additional tests and determined we should stay another night. We fell asleep, thankful to still be within the hospital walls.

Late that evening, we were woken by two doctors with a simple message – it was time. My latest blood results arrived, indicating concerning liver enzyme levels and platelet counts. The pain I had felt earlier was likely another physical indicator. They would begin induction immediately.

My labor went as well as expected. I had a natural delivery in the OR with 15+ people on hand and, at 4:46 PM the following day, our 2lb 11oz little girl entered the world with a healthy set of lungs to a room full of welcoming smiles and applauding hands.

I remained on a magnesium drip for 24 hours after her arrival to prevent seizures, unable to visit her in the NICU. We were able to bring her home 28 days later, weighing 3lb 14 oz. She was a fighter long before she came, as we later realized.

The Placental Analysis later confirmed that its size was small, in the 5th percentile. The umbilical cord was hypercoiled, causing decreased amounts of oxygen in the cord blood. This partially explains her Very Low Birth Weight, which was far below her projected 3rd percentile. She wasn’t getting the oxygen she needed and thus her growth was stunted. Additionally, areas were found indicating blood clotting, an interruption in blood supply to the placenta, and advanced maturation. It was explained to me that when these issues started to occur, my placenta released factors to try to improve blood supply to itself. These factors ultimately led to HELLP Syndrome.

It would have been so easy for me to hop on Facebook quickly to ask for some sage wisdom on heartburn. I could have tried different Pinterest-found remedies, just as I had done weeks prior for nausea. I could have altered my diet. The only check they routinely did at my prenatal visits was for blood pressure, which would have likely continued to show no signs of irregularity. That’s what makes HELLP Syndrome so easy to miss – the signs aren’t always so clear, and how it manifests can vary from woman to woman.

I realize that my experience is not the typical HELLP Syndrome experience, if there is such a thing. I also realize that we have much to be thankful for. We caught it early, and our daughter is healthy. This, however, in no way alleviates the pain and fear we experienced. On a very primal level, I grieve knowing that my body failed to provide her with the home and basic human needs she required. I grieve knowing that I will not be able to give her the siblings I so deeply would have loved to. I grieve with a full heart, though, for her birth story is one of faith and fight.

To read Part 2 of this series, follow the link below.

I Followed the Bradley Method and Had a High-Intervention Birth

I most definitely did not set out to write a book. A book. Seriously? Nope.

Except, yep. I’m writing a book. A novel. A middle grade literary novel, actually. My reasoning, tangled in years of teaching little minds, is as complex as I hope the novel to be. Yikes.

You see, years ago I taught a very special group of 2nd graders. These little humans, teeny tiny on the outside with great big hearts on the inside, were primarily reading below the 50th percentile. For many of them, books were associated with failure, which meant avoidance. Novels were a novelty – something to admire but never attempt. Students would want to check out the thickest novel from the library because that’s what they understood – lots of words = tough book, and tough book = cool. They didn’t yet grasp the idea that even the thinnest book could be the deepest, and it is often depth, not width, that makes a book truly special, and it was my job to teach them this. Best. Job. Ever.

We analyzed and dissected our way through 2nd grade alongside wiley wolves, timid lions, sneaky pigs, courageous princesses, and forgiving sisters. By the end of the year, they weren’t simply readers. They were READERS, you know what I mean? They craved the written word, not only because they could finally engage with it, but because they grew to understand its power. It gave them confidence, and that gave them courage.

Two years later, I had the honor of teaching those same little humans as 4th graders. My heart. They had grown as readers. They had grown as learners. They had grown to see themselves differently within their own separate worlds. No longer were they the itty bitty littles that were unable to connect with words in print. Now, they were teeny tiny big people that made dirty jokes, crushed on one another, used sarcasm (WHAT?!), and desperately desired responsibility, freedom, and choice. Oh, MY HEART.

Once upon a time my goals were to grow their confidence, their fluency, and their comprehension (among many other things, of course). Now, my goals shifted to providing new perspectives, strengthening their critical thinking, developing their speaking and listening skills, and engaging them in higher text complexities. Despite the time gap, I knew my kids. I knew their collective love for literature – a love I once helped instill. I knew that one of the best ways to reach them, in multiple facets, was through literature.

Months of reading and dissecting and discussing and debating went by and, by February, I was pregnant with my first little nugget. Maybe it was the hormones, or maybe it was my little Cheesers (as I so affectionately referred to my students), but something sparked in me that never quite died out.

I want to write a book, but not just any book. I want to write a book that I would want to read and analyze with those kids. Relevant and rich with the kind of depth and complexity that both hooks them in and helps shape their growing minds. I know the power that these novels can have in the lives of kids. I want to help harness that power, drawing on my own experiences, to create something special. A passion project, if you will, in honor of my students. All of my students. But then I packed up my classroom, quit my job to be home with my baby, went into labor 9 weeks early, and returned to an entirely different reality.

So, one fall afternoon while my 4 pound little bean napped in her swing, I sat down and cried as a deep longing for my classroom and students swept over me. I looked at her, peacefully rocking back and forth to music that still makes me all gooey inside, and that same little spark shook me back into myself. I not only could do this, I needed to.

Once the researching, brainstorming, color coding, and plotting began, it didn’t stop. Apparently I’m what’s called a “Plotting Pantser”…I like having a rough outline that guides my ideas and ensures I’m hitting my more intentional techniques, but I write by the seat of my pants, never quite sure what my characters will say or do.

Plotting Pantser. Pretty accurate! I have no idea what will come of this novel, but I do know how I want to get there, and more importantly, WHY.

  • Grey Pinterest Icon
  • Grey Instagram Icon
  • Grey Facebook Icon
  • Grey Twitter Icon

  tiny roots co.  |  all rights reserved

© Tiny Roots Co.
betsy wintersteller 
© Tiny Roots Co.