Friday, April 17, 2015

The Last Few Weeks aka The Birth of the Twinkies

This is the true story of what I've been through over the past few weeks. I know there have been a lot of curious folks, and I don't blame you at all. I did sort of disappear without warning, but to be fair, I didn't have much warning myself. So, grab yourself a snack, sit back, and listen to the story of how I owe everything to modern medicine and yet never want to be admitted to a hospital again in my entire life. Ever. I'll be adding some gifs to keep you scrolling.
j/k this story is like the story of my LIFE
On March 19, Jack and I went to our regularly scheduled appointment with the high-risk doctor at Inova Alexandria Hospital. I'd been seeing them for months because I have chronic hypertension (but I would have seen them anyway due to the fact that I was pregnant with twins). I was nervous for the appointment because a few weeks prior, we found out the babies weren't growing as fast as they should, which meant they would likely be born early. I'd changed my diet and been crazy about checking my blood pressure, and I was hoping for good news.

Instead, I found that my blood pressure had skyrocketed seemingly overnight, and the babies were still too small. They sent us upstairs to triage for monitoring. It all happened very quickly, but I still wasn't too scared. I thought I might end up on hospital bed rest for a while, which wasn't the best news of all time, but better than anything else I could think of.
Spoiler alert: the news wasn't great.
Turns out, I was right. I was diagnosed with preeclampsia. They admitted me to the maternity ward, and they told me to expect to be there until I needed to deliver. The doctors didn't know when that might be, but they were hoping I'd be staying there for weeks. Frankly, that's what I hoped too. I would be more than happy to use them as a hotel, albeit a strange hotel that fed me okay-ish food and constantly took my vital signs and occasionally slathered my belly in jelly to listen to the twin heartbeats that sounded like wild horses running. I watched princess movies on ABC Family, I brought in clothes from home, and I got ready to settle in for the long haul.

That all changed on Monday, March 23. My liver enzymes tripled overnight, which is the thing the doctors were fearing. After a quick scan of the babies, it was decided that they needed to be delivered via c-section. I was 27 weeks 4 days pregnant. I thought it was too soon. I was terrified. I spent the next few hours crying and worrying.
I joke now, but seriously, lotsa crying.
The first step of the c-section was the magnesium IV drip. The nurse warned me that it would make me feel pretty freaking terrible, especially at the beginning. And it did, believe me. But after the bolus was done, I kept feeling awful. And then, the pain started. Out of nowhere, I had this terrible sharp agonizing pain in my shoulder. I told Jack it felt like a wing or a horn was trying to come out of my shoulder. Looking back, it was honestly the only pain I felt at the hospital that was a 10 on the 1-10 scale. I was especially over it because I was having a c-section, so I felt it was unfair to experience this kind of pain as well!

Finally, they wheeled me in, and it all began. It was strange and bright and somehow both incredibly slow and entirely too fast. Victoria Jane entered the world at 2:43 pm, and her sister Avery Francis followed shortly thereafter at 2:44 pm. I saw them both for a brief moment before they were taken up to the NICU. They weren't officially named for about a week, because I didn't want to name them until I was able to get a good look at them, and my one second, high-on-painkillers moment didn't count.

Why did it take me a week to be able to see my daughters? Well, that's the next part of the story-- the liver part.
Apparently, neither could half of my liver.
I went back to my room to rest and recover while I was still being monitored. My liver enzymes continued to rise. The next day, I got a diagnosis of HELLP syndrome. Honestly, I don't know when I received this diagnosis because no one ever explicitly said it to me. It just happened. My HELLP complication came in the form of a hematoma on my liver-- a 13 cm bleeding gash. This is a very rare complication (I read somewhere that HELLP happens in 2% of pregnancies, and a liver hematoma happens in 1% of those), and it was also the cause of my intense shoulder pain. Something about "referred pain." Suddenly, I became the most well-known patient in the hospital as I met a surgeon, hematologist, nephrologist, infectious disease doctor, and a whole slew of nurses. They wheeled me down to get a CT scan to see how bad the damage was and possibly get a procedure done to stop the bleeding.

The scan showed that the bleeding was isolated to under the cap of the liver? (again, I think, but it was a lot of information all tossed at me while I was on painkillers and entirely confused), but I had the procedure to stop the bleeding. Afterwards, I was taken to ICU instead of back to maternity.

This was possibly the worst part of the entire process.

I definitely needed to be in ICU, but not for as long as I was. After about a day or so, I felt trapped there. I felt like no one listened to me, like no one understood what kind of patient I was. I came from having a c-section, from the maternity ward. They kept treating me like any other ICU patient, and that wasn't the case. There was a constant stream of people coming into my room at any time without warning-- nurses, doctors, hospital administrators. I was being hounded to start using the breast pump to get my breastmilk supply up, but no one would give me the privacy to do it.

Plus, ICU is very loud. The nurses' station is in the middle of all the rooms, and we had sliding doors and curtains, but that didn't keep the sound out. During a shift change, I couldn't sleep because it was so loud. I heard other patients screaming in agony for help, constantly pushing their Call buttons. It was an awful experience. This is what I never want to go through ever again.

There was also a truly agonizing ordeal with another CT scan where my nurses got my bed stuck in an elevator and decided the best plan would be to SHAKE MY BED WITH ME IN IT to get me out. Yes, shake the girl with the excruciating liver pain. Brilliant plan. But I digress.
Finally, after almost a week, I was transferred out of ICU (but NOT back to maternity/postpartum for some reason) after way too long, and finally finally finally I was able to go see my girls. I was apparently so excited about this that doctors called the NICU to check on me because my heart rate increased so much! They were so small and delicate, but they're my girls and I adore them. They are my fighting warrior ladies, so strong despite their size, and I love to stare at them while they wiggle and wave and live.

I stayed in this new not-postpartum department for a few days, but it wasn't the best place for me either. I was still constantly interrupted by any number of people, and I still couldn't consistently pump. The nurses told me to put up a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door to alert them and others that I was pumping, but many doctors ignored it. One morning, no less than 20 different people came into my room before noon. I had to wear a heart monitor for reasons no one could adequately explain. I still felt very trapped.

Finally, my on-call OB came to check in on me, and she went through all of the things I needed to be concentrating on in order to get discharged-- a whole laundry list of things that I'd been trying to do but couldn't thanks to the constant interruptions-- and I lost it. I had an epic meltdown and laid it all out there for this poor doctor who just happened to be assigned to me that day. At this point, I'd been in the hospital for almost 2 weeks with no end in sight. I was exhausted in every possible sense of the word.
All the shambles. So much shambles.
And she saved the day by getting me transferred to postpartum that very night. It took a few hours, but I felt so much better as soon as I got there. I finally felt like someone understood what I really needed. I started getting stronger, where I would walk up and down the hall (albeit very slowly). I was able to pump without interruption and sleep for hours at a time and get to the NICU with less stress. They worked together with me to try to get me back home rather than keeping me trapped there.

After a few false starts and setbacks, I finally got out of the hospital on Friday, April 3, two weeks and one day after I was admitted. This was my very first hospital stay, and I really hope it is my very last. I never want to go through this ever again. I am very thankful for every doctor and nurse who took care of me, for every person who cleaned my rooms and brought me food. I am grateful that I was in the hospital when I was, so the complications were caught in plenty of time. I am so glad that I am alive to tell this story. However, I never want to go through any of that ever, ever again.

I've been home recovering for a while now. My days are spent resting, pumping, and visiting the girls in the NICU. It's not very exciting, and I have my good days and bad days, but mostly I do my best to stay stress-free and try to "enjoy" this as best I can. Hopefully we will be able to bring our girls home soon (whenever it's best for them, of course) and start the new phase of life as Mom, but until then, I need to take care of me.

And speaking of taking care of me, that guy I married? IS A SAINT. He has been beyond amazing from the moment this all began. I didn't even think it was possible to fall more in love with him, but hot damn, I really did. Even though all of this, I must say I am so, so lucky to have married this man. I'm so glad he wore that Ben Folds Five shirt 15 years ago so I decided to become friends with him. It was definitely the best decision I've ever made.
You and me both, Rach.
So... that's my story. I hope you enjoyed it! If you made it all the way here, you deserve a cookie. Also, if you're reading this and looking to do anything to help us out, you can consider checking out our registries on Babies R Us or Target (which is much smaller and apparently nothing is in stock anymore-- SIGH), OR you could just send a message of encouragement. I'm entirely overwhelmed by the response I've gotten from friends and loved ones during this time, and I often don't feel emotionally equipped to handle it all. I can't believe so many people care about us so much. It's amazing. You're all amazing.


  1. Holy Jesus, lady! What an epic story! I'm so sorry for all your miseries and I hope those lovely little girls are getting fatter by the day. The moment will come when you get to take them home, and I hope that's the most glorious occasion ever. Captain America t-shirts for everyone after this! If I can find a couple preemie sized ones, they're coming your way.

  2. I hear you, Jessica, as you tell your amazing saga. What an incredible journey you're on. I'm so happy to hear that most of your health issues have been resolved. I always knew you were strong, and funny and wise. You have your father's gift for relating stories. So happy to learn of Victoria & Avery's progress. God bless Jack for sharing this journey with you. I imagine he must have had many ,many anxious moments. I pray that things will continue on the up-swing for the whole Sheehan family. Can't wait for the day when I'll see you all. In the meantime, continue to get stronger so you'll be ready for the day when you'll all be home together. I love you, my first granddaughter. God Bless you all.

  3. ok I think it ate my previous comment. Essentially: love and hugs, for you and your girls. Please call me if you need anything at any time, I'm just a short drive away! Also, I love those names, as I'm the A part of a V/A twin pair :)