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.
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 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.