The Journey of Pregnancy and Chronic Pain
My name is Rachel, I’m 30 years old and live in the North East of England. I’m married to my best friend Dave and I’m currently 22 weeks pregnant with our first child. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Trigeminal Neuralgia and I write a blog called What a Pain. I write about all aspects of life with chronic illness, disability discrimination and being chronically ill and pregnant.
When Dave and I first got married we knew we wanted to wait a few years to have children. We were only twenty-five and felt like we had so much time to play with. I was fit and healthy the day we got married but just weeks after our wedding my battle with RA began.
Once we reached thirty, we decided the time was right to start a family. However, the decision to have children was no longer straight forward. Chronic illness threw so much into question and we knew pregnancy, and being a mum, would have a big impact on my health. We had so many things to consider, but ultimately, we decided we still wanted a family, during this time I wrote about how to decide to have children when you’re chronically ill.
We found out I was pregnant when I was only four weeks along. We were so excited but absolutely terrified at the same time. We felt everything I imagine every other first-time parent feels, but we also had some additional fears. How would my health impact on my pregnancy and how would my pregnancy impact my health?
The first week of pregnancy was great, and then it rapidly went downhill when I began suffering with hyperemesis which is an extreme form of vomiting and nausea in pregnancy. The condition landed me in hospital numerous times, and coupled with my RA symptoms, I was barely able to get out of bed. Thankfully my hyperemesis symptoms are now well controlled with medication. Sadly, the same cannot be said for my RA.
I had hoped that my RA would go into remission with pregnancy, as it does for many people, but sadly it wasn’t to be. My pain has improved in some joints but is much worse in my hips and spine. Now I am in my second trimester my bump is beginning to weigh on those joints and I’m under the care of an obstetrician and pregnancy physiotherapist, as well as a midwife and my rheumatologist. Some days it feels like all I do is attend medical appointments, but I understand it is necessary because the nature of my condition.
Being pregnant is tough, your body is undergoing huge changes and frankly it’s exhausting growing a human being. However, when you add chronic pain and fatigue it can be really challenging. It does impact my mental health, and some days I wonder how I’ll get through these next four months. I have been prepared by my medical professionals to expect the last few months to be particularly rough. The bigger this baby gets, the bigger the pressure on my already failing joints. I’ve also been warned that being induced early is likely to be necessary in order to have a natural birth. This is because labouring requires my mobility to be at a good level, so labour needs to be induced before my joint pain renders me immobile. I will be regularly monitored from 30 weeks onwards to see how big the baby is getting, and decisions will be made based on how my pain levels and mobility are.
Having RA has had a huge impact on my pregnancy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I cannot wait to welcome this baby, and the challenges are so worth it. I don’t know what the long-term effects of birth will be on my joints but right now I’m taking it day by day and focusing on the positives. We are so fortunate to be having this baby, and I have an incredible support network around me.
Having a disability doesn’t mean I’ll be any less capable as a mother, it just means we need to plan well. My RA is likely to flare up badly a few weeks after birth and I will need some extra help during that period. Thankfully we have family close by and no shortage of friends to support us should we need it. I also have the most fantastic medical professionals to make sure I have everything I need to manage my symptoms after birth.
Pain and fatigue do impact on pregnancy, it’s sadly unavoidable. However, it isn’t all bad and the baby at the end will be worth every challenging day.
Has chronic pain altered an aspect of your life? How do you adapt things? Let us know in the comments below!