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Stephen

Age at interview: 41
Brief Outline: My wife developed HELLP syndrome 8 months (38 weeks) into her first pregnancy. I tried to support her throughout, including during the emergency c-section. I looked online for more information about high blood pressure problems in pregnancy.
Background: My name is Stephen, I am 41 years old and an analyst. My wife, Mairi, also took part in the Healthtalk study about high blood pressure in pregnancy. We have two sons, aged 7 and 5. I identify as being White British.

More about me...

Finding out about high blood pressure problems in pregnancy

My wife (Mairi) developed HELLP syndrome in her first pregnancy. The pregnancy went well overall but Mairi suffered with morning sickness throughout. I was worried when she had some pain at 8 months (38 weeks) and we went to hospital. Mairi stayed in hospital for four days in total. I tried to stay with her for much of this time and to offer support throughout. I had quite a pragmatic approach to Mairi being diagnosed with HELLP syndrome. I hadn’t known much about high blood pressure problems in pregnancy before and I found it helped to look up some information online. The main message I needed about the situation was that Mairi was ill and would become better once our baby was born. I’ve since spoken a bit to work colleagues about what happened and found out that others I know have also had blood pressure problems during their pregnancies.

Supporting Mairi in hospital

I tried to stay with Mairi as much as possible. I think that partners often play an important role not only supporting the pregnant woman but also keeping the wider family updated. I relayed information to Mairi’s parents and my own parents who were worried about the situation. However, I don’t think the hospital environment was well-equipped for male partners staying for long periods of time. For example, the men’s toilet was outside of the labour ward and so I had to be buzzed back in by the nurses. There was a lot of waiting and just hanging about whilst Mairi was being monitored. There was nowhere for me to sit and I got into trouble for resting on the bed with Mairi. 

Being there for the birth

In contrast to the boredom of waiting around, everything became really intense when Mairi was told she would need an emergency c-section. I went into the operating theatre with her and was relieved that a screen was put up. I hadn’t known in advance that our baby, Alex, would be taken away for a little while after being born, so there was a moment of panic. I was especially worried because the umbilical cord had been around our baby’s neck. I was relieved when Alex was brought back to us and I was able to hold him. I was absolutely broken by the time Mairi was sent to the Intensive Care Unit after giving birth. As she recovered, Mairi and I were keen for her to come home and she was discharged a few days later. 

Making decisions and getting enough information

There were a number of decisions which had to be made whilst Mairi was unwell. I found it useful to have the framework of BRAN (Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, Nothing) to work out whether the right course of action was being taken for Mairi and Alex’s benefit. I learnt about this framework at an antenatal education workshop I had attended – they talked about it in a section on ‘if things start going wrong’. It was explained that partners might need to make decisions on behalf of the pregnant women. Most of the medical staff were good, with the right balance between levity and seriousness. However, I found that some were reluctant to explain to us what was happening. I knew Mairi was having lots of tests taken, but I didn’t know why. It wasn’t until after Mairi had been discharged that we really understood how serious the situation was. In some ways, I think it was good that we didn’t know at the time.

Having another baby

Mairi and I met with a consultant some months later to get more information. In particular, we wanted advice on whether it was safe to have another baby in the future. This debrief meeting was helpful and it took place at the right time for us to review what had happened. Mairi conceived a year later and she had no problems with high blood pressure in the second pregnancy.
 

Stephen didn’t know much about high blood pressure conditions when his wife developed HELLP syndrome. In telling people about what happened, he has since learnt about others who have had problems in pregnancy.

Stephen didn’t know much about high blood pressure conditions when his wife developed HELLP syndrome. In telling people about what happened, he has since learnt about others who have had problems in pregnancy.

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As I said to you that, you know I wasn’t really that au fait with pre-eclampsia full stop.

Yeah sure.

And then you’ve…you know so it's a sort of assumed knowledge and then you’ve got a variant or whatever you know and so just sort of filling in some of the back story really, the bits that you didn’t have. 

And then, you know you get that classic situation where you’ve had something happen to you and it's like, 'Oh so and so's sister had it and she was really poorly and then…oh and blah blah blah,' and then suddenly everybody's coming out the woodwork, because you know like people keep it to themselves until there's a common thread of, you know like other people having had it so.
 

Stephen went into theatre with his wife, Mairi. He was relieved when a screen was put up so that he didn’t see the operation as it happened.

Stephen went into theatre with his wife, Mairi. He was relieved when a screen was put up so that he didn’t see the operation as it happened.

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And anyway when we got to that point and it was like, "Right, you're up at this end." I was thinking, 'Thank goodness for that.' And then… I'm like sort of talking to Mairi but like at the corner of my eye I'm aware of all the stuff going on. But, 'God I don’t want to see that; I don’t want to be able to see that,' and so I was like… so I was getting a bit of a panic on, and then I was thinking… not like the chopping open and all that, and then I was thinking, 'Would it be totally like unreasonable to say something,' given that your wife's lying out here; is going to get chopped open and have, you know all this, to be worrying about your little… whether I see it or not. And then just as I was thinking, 'I'm going to have say something,' somebody just came and put a massive big curtain and I was like, 'Oh thank goodness.'

And then after that it was pretty smooth sailing. 
 

Stephen and his wife, Mairi, were keen for her to be discharged from hospital.Stephen and his wife, Mairi, were keen for her to be discharged from hospital.

Stephen and his wife, Mairi, were keen for her to be discharged from hospital.Stephen and his wife, Mairi, were keen for her to be discharged from hospital.

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Again I mean probably naively again, but we were just like, we're better off at home because it's a nicer place to be and we can just get on with sort of having the baby rather than it being part of a kind of medical situation. So, we were just keen to get home. Mairi wanted to get home. If the doctor said it was OK we'd get discharged – why not?

So, it was very much the sort of driven by us. I don’t think all other things… well definitely all other things being equal, we wouldn’t have been out if we hadn’t wanted to be out. You know we weren't pushed it, and as I said, you know pretty much once you're back in the mainstream and you're like OK. We were in a ward with people who have had a similar birthing experience; you know not all the rest of it that goes with it. How do you get out of here? And the midwife says, "Well, you know you need to be sitting up with your hair washed and brushed and looking like you want to get home." And over the way there was a woman who just… I don’t think that she'd probably been there for about four weeks; she'd not got that yet, you know she was still lolling about. You're never getting of hospital like that you know. So, we were a bit more like that just kind of, you know take the appropriate steps and don’t do anything stupid. But by the same token we'll discharge at our pace if we can and just be deflected from that where it's appropriate by the doctors.
 

Stephen took some time off to look after his wife, Mairi, and their new baby. He had to go back to work whilst Mairi was recovering from a caesarean section.

Stephen took some time off to look after his wife, Mairi, and their new baby. He had to go back to work whilst Mairi was recovering from a caesarean section.

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And the biggest challenge we had was the section rather than anything else because obviously then that limits what you can do. So, I had two weeks off work, paternity and everything, so that got us to a point but you still need more mobility than you had in terms of being able to drive the car and everything.

But then Mairi walked down to the doctors from our old flat; down to the doctors – in the snow because it was like the worst winter that we've ever had – and pushing the pram to see about when she might be allowed… and he said, "You’ve walked like a mile and a half down here pushing a pram; drive next time" you know. It was an empirical test for whether you're capable of that, and that'll do you sort of thing. So… you know and then things started to ease off a little bit and… but yeah it was good though.
 

Stephen needed time off work when his wife was admitted to hospital.

Stephen needed time off work when his wife was admitted to hospital.

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And did you discuss it at work?

Yeah, yeah you know I not… because obviously I was like not off work, not expecting to be on paternity leave; it was like just running into Christmas, so the general thought was at some point in the Christmas period I'll have… we'll have the baby and then I won't come back into the new year. And then so suddenly it was all action but I was ringing in saying, "I've got to go up to the hospital; pick Mairi up because she was unwell last night but…" and then you're ringing in like a bit later saying, "I'm not going to be in at all," or, "I won't be in tomorrow," and then you know. So, like obviously people are aware that this has been something that hasn’t necessarily been unplanned and all that. So, yeah I explained yeah quite freely actually.

I work with like 90% guys to be honest, and so I don’t think they necessarily had a great depth of knowledge about what it was, but you say, "Oh it's like pre-eclampsia." "Oh my sister had that," and you know it's the usual thing. So, yeah but I'm happy to share those things...
 

Stephen, his wife and his mother-in-law had recently talked about their son being quite “clumsy”. He doesn’t think this is related to the circumstances of the pregnancy or birth though.

Stephen, his wife and his mother-in-law had recently talked about their son being quite “clumsy”. He doesn’t think this is related to the circumstances of the pregnancy or birth though.

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And do you think about HELLP as something transient? So, it affected the pregnancy with sort of no long term complications.

Well it's funny because we had a conversation the other week with Mairi's mother and they were saying, "God, Alex is so clumsy, he's all over the shop."

You know he can fall over without even touching anything. And she said, "Do you think it could have anything to do with the, you know just the birth and the circumstances or anything like that?" I says, "No." So, very much in my mind it's something that happened; hasn’t had any long term consequences and was, as you say, transient in that sense. But who knows right, you know I mean I don’t think so but not… if you don’t know, you don’t know, right?
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