December 2015 saw the start of our 4th pregnancy, and hopefully a successful one after 3 losses over the prior 18 months. The pregnancy was great, and what seemed like the following day, I was 40 weeks pregnant with Mathijs.
On the holiday weekend of August 15th, I felt rough. I saw my osteopath for terrible shoulder pain, we went to the hospital with contractions, and then again for the shoulder pain, and we saw another doctor because I had a strong feeling something was wrong. I was impatient to have Mathijs, desperate to be induced early without really knowing why. Each time I was sent home from the hospital. Then, in the evening of August 16th, I had a continuous pain on my right-hand side, over my ribs, and I was sick twice. The pain wasn’t unbearable, but enough to worry me, along with the sickness. We called the doctors and went to hospital by ambulance.
I was told that labour had started but was at the very early stages, and that it was better to stay in overnight. My husband was sent home, we joked that it would be the last time he got a decent night’s sleep and that he should make the most of it. Mathijs was fine. My blood pressure had been high in the ambulance but was normal during the exam, and no other tests were taken.
I don’t remember being transferred to the room on the ward, but I do have a vision of me being sick in that room. My next memory is from the following morning the doctor telling me I needed a c-section and giggling to myself as the nurses struggled to put in my IV as it’s a common problem with me. The nurses didn’t laugh with me, little did I know they were struggling because they were panicking – they had limited time to get me to theatre.
What I didn’t remember was the blood test done early that morning. I didn’t know that at the time of my blood test I had Class 2 HELLP syndrome. I convulsed in the lift on the way to theatre – Eclampsia. By the time I arrived in the operating room, my condition was so serious that they had to choose to either save me or deliver our son. The Mother always wins that argument apparently. So, they did what they could to stop my liver haemorrhaging, and my other organs from failing, and then they delivered Mathijs. It was too late. Mathijs was stillborn and was not able to be revived.
My husband arrived at the hospital an hour or so later to find that his wife was in a coma, and his son stillborn. I can’t imagine how it must feel to hear that news. Luckily some friends are nearby, and they managed to get to the hospital quickly to support him. My mum and stepfather arrived an hour or so later, they were already making the journey over from the UK for the happy event. Unfortunately, the dream of becoming grandparents disappeared quickly when they learnt that not only Mathijs had not survived, but that my life was also on the line.
I was prepared for transfer to a specialist hospital in Paris for treatment on my liver. Two days of torture for my family and friends as they found out that I needed a full liver transplant in order to survive. I was pushed to the top of the transplant list as everyone hoped for a miracle. The miracle happened, a liver was found just in time and I received my new liver on August 19th.
You see it in films all the time. A person wakes up from a coma, hears the news that’ll change their life forever. You never ever think it’ll happen to you. Then one day it does. Your eyes flutter open and someone is asking you if you know where you are. You see the hospital room, different colours from those you remember, and you just know that something catastrophic has happened. That was me, 6 days after we lost our son.
When I was more aware of my surroundings, a doctor explained what had happened. Hellp Syndrome resulting in an emergency full liver transplant, with no chance for Mathijs to survive. I had never heard of Hellp, I barely understood what they were talking about. I accepted the news without truly comprehending what it meant, too ill to really take it in.
My family came in to see me. The sight of my husband blew me away. I just wanted to be held by him, but there were too many wires and tubes. My mum, my sister, my stepfather were all there, followed over the next day by close friends.
My husband spent some time explaining to me what had happened. He had been able to meet Mathijs, to hold him, as had my mum and stepfather. They had had to sort all the paperwork out, arrange the funeral, tell everyone what had happened, all the while worrying about me in a coma, and dealing with the grief themselves. To this day I have no idea how they got through this.
The funeral was held 3 days after I woke up. Not only had I not been able to meet or hold my son, I was also unable to say goodbye as I was too ill. I had carried this little boy for 9 months, felt him move, hiccup, kick. And I never got to hold him, to kiss him, to take in his baby smell.
The fact that I had been transplanted didn’t and still doesn’t faze me at all. It’s just another medical obstacle to get around. Luckily it was the only organ that was so badly affected. My kidneys took a few weeks to get back to normal, and I was so relieved to hear that after a few dialysis sessions which were far from fun. I spent a month in hospital recovering and getting my strength together.
99% of people who suffered the organ failure as I did don’t survive. On numerous occasions I’ve been told how lucky I am. People say how strong I am to have come this far. When I first woke from the coma I couldn’t lift my hand to my face, sit up, let alone walk. I had to use every ounce of force I had just to keep going forwards. I know for a fact that the only reason I am where I am today is because of the force of my friends and family pushing me forwards. I would happily have stayed in that hospital bed, they spurred me forward at each and every obstacle.
I know they are the only reason we survived the medical intrusion in our lives, the trauma we lived through, and the overwhelming grief. The battle to survive is tough in the beginning. The pain never leaves, the gap is never filled. Some days are fine, other days you feel like you have only just heard the news. My heart has felt broken many times over the past years. You learn to live a heart that has been pieced back together so many times, and your life carries on “as normal”, but differently.
We’ve been trying to start our family for 7 years now. It is a tough journey, and we’re not sure when or how we’ll be able to welcome a child into our home. As tough as the Hellp journey was, I’m so happy that I managed to carry our son for 9 months. I would give anything to have been able to hold him, and to see him grow up. But he is still alive in our hearts, and we will never forget him. He holds a very important place in our family, and hopefully he’ll be a big brother some day soon.