Conditions that threaten women’s lives in childbirth & pregnancy

Helen

Female
Age at interview: 31
Age at diagnosis: 31

Brief outline: Helen had a very straightforward pregnancy. However, at her 32 week GP appointment her blood pressure was found to be high. Her blood pressure was monitored over 5 days, then HELLP syndrome diagnosed. Her son was delivered by emergency caesarean and spent 3 weeks in the neo-natal unit.

Background: Helen is a physiotherapist. She has one son and lives with her partner. This was her first pregnancy. White Australian.

Audio & video

Helen’s first pregnancy was going smoothly. She was exercising well and keeping healthy. Her care was a mixture of hospital and GP appointments. However at 32 weeks she started to feel increasingly uncomfortable, and found sleeping very difficult. At a routine GP appointment (on a Thursday) her blood pressure was found to be high, but she had none of the other usual symptoms for pre-eclampsia. Her blood pressure was monitored closely in the hospital for the first couple of days but because she was border-line they were unsure about whether to put her on the medication. 
 
Doctors decided against admitting her to hospital over the weekend but when she went back for further tests on the Monday they decided that they would keep her in over night to monitor her and try and make a decision about the medication. Blood tests overnight revealed that her liver was failing, so she was woken on Tuesday morning to the news that her baby was going to be delivered that day by emergency caesarean. She was able to text her partner to tell him the news and he rushed to hospital. After a morning of further tests and visits from lots of doctors, her son was delivered in the early afternoon, at 32 weeks, 6 days. 
 
Both she and her partner (Michael - Interview11) described receiving a lot of information that morning, but not really taking it in, almost information overload. Their son was well, but too tiny to suck so sent to the neo-natal unit where he stayed for 3 weeks. Helen was able to hold him for a few minutes before he was taken away. She had to stay in a high dependency unit (HDU) for 2 days while they stabilised her blood pressure and liver, and then another week on the post-labour ward. She was initially on the general ward but the staff were soon able to give her a side room, so she wasn’t surrounded by new mothers with their babies, which she really appreciated. Helen went upstairs to visit her son regularly, giving him cuddles, changing his nappy and helping with feeds. She was able to establish breastfeeding eventually, expressing in the early weeks before he was strong enough to suckle. She also needed a nipple shield to help, which they were still using at 14 weeks, at the time of the interview. Helen was discharged a couple of weeks before her son, so she visited daily during that time. Since he has been home he has made good progress, feeding well and putting on weight well. They are planning a trip home to Australia and then several months travelling in the United States 10 days after the interview. 
 

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