Friday, February 7, 2020 started out as planned. I was at work celebrating the 100th day of school with my first graders and Sean was packing up to head out on a weekend fishing trip. Sean was excited to get away because the house was going to be filled with women for Oliver’s baby shower on Saturday!
I had been experiencing some cramping throughout the morning, so I contacted the doctor’s office at lunch to check in. They assured that me that it was okay because there was no bleeding. The nurse recommended I increase my water intake and take Tylenol as needed. I was told to call back if my symptoms worsened or if the Tylenol did not help.
Later that day, I called Sean on my prep hour at 1:35pm to check in before he left town. We talked about how the doctor said everything was okay and we even joked about how it would be crazy if I went into labor while he was out of town.
Fourteen minutes after the call, I was back on the phone with Sean to tell him to turn around. Yep my water broke at school just like in the movies. Excitement and anxiety took over. Somehow Sean beat me to the hospital, and we went up to the 10th floor together.
The nurses welcomed us and we went into a small room. Here the nurse went over a couple of questions and checked to see how much I had dilated. Then came time to check on baby’s heartbeat. Right away we could tell something wasn’t right as the nurse was having difficulty finding Oliver’s. The nurse tried to be reassuring as she went to get a different type of heart rate monitor. Once again, a beat was not found.
Our initial excitement and anxiety transformed into full-blown shock. The nurse went to get the doctor and an ultrasound machine for a final consult. We can only remember bits and pieces from this point until the next day. The doctor admitted me into the hospital and emphasized the importance of having a vaginal delivery in order to prevent infection. That evening, I continued to dilate naturally, and the doctor told Sean everything was progressing appropriately. The doctor was confident that there had been an abruption to the placenta and diagnosed me with preeclampsia. A vaginal delivery became even more important given the risks of a c-section when my blood was not clotting appropriately.
The last thing I remember from that night was asking to use the bathroom. I passed out without exhibiting any warning signs. Sean and the nurse held me up and pulled the emergency help cord. It was a whirlwind from there as HELLP Syndrome took over my body. Countless vomit bags were needed. Padding was placed on my bed rails and an unheard-of amount of magnesium was pumped into my body to prevent seizures. After a blood draw, Sean remembers a team of doctors coming into the room to roll me away for an emergency c-section. Although the doctors weren’t telling Sean much, it was clear to him I was in critical state.
At 11:39pm, Oliver Duane was born still. In the coming days, the team of doctors and nurses would continue to monitor me with numerous blood draws and blood pressure checks. I lost a lot of blood during surgery and required a blood transfusion of three units.
While in recovery at the hospital, baby Oliver was able to stay with us in our room. When we weren’t holding him, he laid in his bassinet on a special cooling mat called a CuddleCot. This allowed for his body to stay at an ideal temperature. This provided such precious time for our family to hold our angel and process what had happened. It also allowed time for our pastor to visit and bless Oliver with his baptism.
Sean and I share this story to honor our beloved Oliver Duane. We truly believe Olli is our angel. As parents, we wanted to raise a child of God – one who is kind, loving, and gracious. We were blessed with a greater adventure than we knew was possible. I have my life because of Oliver. If my water had not broken, I would have never gone to the hospital. It’s unclear as to whether I would be here today. My preeclampsia evolved into HELLP syndrome – a complication of pregnancy characterized by hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and a low platelet count. I had zero warning signs. I went from okay to dizzy to passing out in minutes.
Prior to this traumatic event, we never took a moment to learn about preeclampsia, and let alone HELLP Syndrome. At 34 weeks, I was sure everything was going to continue to be perfect. The only hiccup in my pregnancy was gestational diabetes which was being efficiently managed with a change in my diet. I thought that knowing less about what could go wrong would prevent things from going wrong. Even when my water broke that day, I didn’t even consider what complications might happen with having Olli six weeks early.
The medical team that took care of us was incredible. They were compassionate and treated us like family. They went above and beyond to comfort us. We don’t know how we would have made it through this without our nurses. There are no words to express our gratitude to them. We had an appreciation for nurses before Oliver’s birth, but this has taken our appreciation to a whole new level. Who knew small deeds like picking up bath towels or washing bottles could matter so much? One of our nurses stayed after her shift to give Olli a bath, and another made sure I had an ample supply of chocolate ice cream for my addiction.
This journey has changed us. We see the world differently now, as if we are looking through our angel’s eyes. Our faith has become stronger and our relationships with family and friends have deepened. Work and finances now come second. We want to continue to spread the love and joy Oliver gave us. We are committed to helping other families who are experiencing situations similar to ours. We also want to encourage others to do the same. Ephesians 4:32 reminds us to “Be kind to one another.” We’re sure Olli wouldn’t have it any other way.
Amber and Sean Tostenson
Please consider joining the Preeclampsia Registry. The exact cause of preeclampsia is still unknown and further studies are needed. The Preeclampsia Registry is a “Living Database” bringing together those affected, their family members, and researchers to advance knowledge and discover preventions and treatments for preeclampsia, HELLP syndrome, and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy. It is open to both men and women.