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Pregnancy & Infant Loss Month: Erica’s Story: A Near-Death Experience with HELLP Syndrome & Losing Baby Grace

This month we have been spotlighting pregnancy and infant loss.  For some expectant parents, complications arise causing the baby to die days after the baby is born.  Sometimes the baby has health issues, but in Erica’s case, she developed a condition that put her in danger causing a chain of events that led to infant loss.

Erica had a typical pregnancy until HELLP syndrome developed.  HELLP stands for hemolysis or rupture of the red blood cells, elevated liver enzyme levels in the blood, and low blood levels of platelets.  HELLP is similar to preeclampsia, toxemia, and pregnancy-induced hypertension and the terms are often used interchangeably.  Erica’s blood pressure climbed to over 240/100, her kidneys failed, and she had an emergency C-section.  Her baby, Grace, lived three days before she died.  The day started normally for Erica as she headed to a work meeting. As the day progressed she noticed something was wrong and headed to the hospital.

“When I finally go tot he hospital, there was a lot of protein in my urine, and my blood pressure was rising.  The doctor said I had the symptoms of HELLP syndrome and I was given two steroid injections to mature the baby’s lungs so we could make it to twenty-seven weeks. To them, twenty-seven weeks was the magic number for my baby’s chance of survival.  I was in some sort of Twilight Zone…  Things got progressively worse, and during the night while I was sleeping the doctor came and said that they were going to have to take the baby right now.  My kidneys had shut down, and my blood platelets were low.  They had a perinatologist come in and explain to me the prognosis for a twenty-four-week-old fetus… All of a sudden the mood in the room changed… They had a priest come in and give me the Sacrament of the Sick, which is something they do if they think you might not make it.  I realized that I was really, really ill.  I sensed that at twenty-four weeks, they didn’t expect the baby to live, but what was now clear was that they weren’t sure if I was going to live…

“She’s alive, Erica.”  It was my partner, Kevin.  She had been baptized, and he saw it.  he said he heard her cry.  It was amazing.  She was under one pound. They wouldn’t let me go to her.  They said I was too ill… That was very tough.  How can you say that to a mother?  Part of my recovery was to see her.  When I did see her, it blew me away, she was so small, yet so perfect.  This was the baby I was carrying.

Over the next few days, I vacillated between wanting to see her so much and not wanting to see her at all because there was nothing I could do.  I felt like my body had failed her.  I wanted to hold her but I couldn’t.  She was on every drug known to humankind.  She had IVs everywhere and she was on a ventilator.  She had chest bleed, brain bleeds, everything.  She was on the extreme end of viability.

By the third night, they said things weren’t looking so good.  She couldn’t produce any urine.  And I didn’t want to act selfishly.  Is she in pain?  I wondered.  I knew what it felt like as a grown woman with IVs and everything and it felt like hell.  We had  to make some rapid adjustments…  But now all we wanted to do was to make this child as comfortable as possible.  My dad gave me a music box and I put it on top of her isolette.  There’s just so little you can do.  We just wanted her to know that so many people were praying for her.

They called and said that I should come down because she was going… They started unhooking her and they wrapped her up and let me hold her.  It was the first time I got to hold her.  It was the first time I got to see her without all the tubes and stuff.  She had a perfectly round head.  She was still warm.  I thought she looked like Kevin and she looked like she was smiling a little bit.  Kevin go to hold her for a while…

It’s one of those experiences you don’t ever think will happen to you.  We know it does happen, but we don’t expect that it will happen to us.  The experience of losing her was really intense.  Your hopes are gone.  Your plans for being a mother are gone.  You go from an expectant mother to a person in mourning.

I remember being rolled out of the hospital, not pregnant anymore, my child’s body was in the morgue, but my life had changed.  Everything about it had changed.  My baby never left the hospital with me.

For Erica, there were those who didn’t understand she is still a mother.  “Just because she only lived four days doesn’t mean I am not  a real mother or parent… People who experience a loss still have the totality of experiences of any other parent.  People say stuff and they really don’t think.”

Although it is a very hard task, asking parents who have suffered an infant loss what they need from you is important.  They may say nothing the first time or two, but gently go back and keep checking.  Just knowing they have your support and your ear and that someone notices their loss can go a long way.

Erica’s full story is featured The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy (Amistad/Harper Collins).

Learn more about HELLP at The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Read Lela Rochon’s story of Pregnancy and Infant Loss here.

Read Phyllis’ story of Pregnancy and Infant Loss here.

Read about coping: There’s No “Just Getting Over It” & 8 Other Things You Need To Know After Pregnancy And Infant Loss.
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  1. […] Read Erica’s Story: A Near-Death Experience With HELLP Syndrome & Losing Baby Grace.  Read about coping: There’s No “Just Getting Over It” & 8 Other Things You Need To Know After Pregnancy And Infant Loss. […]

  2. […] Read Erica’s Story: A Near-Death Experience With HELLP Syndrome & Losing Baby Grace. Read about coping: There’s No “Just Getting Over It” & 8 Other Things You Need To Know After Pregnancy And Infant Loss. […]



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