DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor or a physical therapist. I am simply sharing my story and what has worked for me personally. Please consult with a medical professional before seeking treatment.
This is my postpartum chronic pain story. The last few years have honestly been a blur raising two under two. And with my first pregnancy, it was a dream looking back. I didn’t have morning sickness or pain after birth. I could carry Savannah around on one hip or wear her in the baby carrier without a second thought.
But, introducing another pregnancy so soon (13-ish months to be exact), and my body didn’t know what to do. I use to be a marathon runner, working out multiple hours a day. I’ve always considered myself healthy and strong. The pain I was about to endure was even harder than training for a marathon. I’d rather run another marathon. At least the preparation for that was less than 9 months and it ends when the race is over. With having a baby, they (all the medical professionals) don’t really tell you about the 4th trimester, or the next year for that matter. You are suppose to recover and heal your body, feed your newborn every two hours, and chase a toddler. How in the world?? And many of us do it without family nearby.
LEADING UP TO THE PAIN
Around the 6-7 month mark during my pregnancy with Owen, I decided to start Physical Therapy (PT). After suffering upper back pain for a month or so, I was ready for some relief. I would wake up in the middle of the night screaming with shooting pains in my upper right back and shoulder area. It was a lingering pain when it wasn’t shooting pains. No stretches would help it and I was afraid to try much, thinking it may make it worse. My OB would tell me it’s because I’m pregnant. But I knew better. I know my body and this was beyond the normal range of pain. It was worse than labor with Savannah, or at least in close range. Dan would help as much as he could. He would massage my back, rub oils on it, and tell me it will be ok. Not sure he knew how much that meant.
I started PT and worked on strengthening the muscles around my back. An assessment determined that all the surrounding muscles were weak and with the growing pressure from carrying a baby, it intensified the pain. A slight rubbing against my tricep was a crazy amount of pain. They couldn’t even touch the muscle. That is how tense the muscles were that were suppose to be supporting me and my back. I diligently attended PT twice a week up until I went into labor. It did improve immensely and I could finally sleep again without waking up to screaming pain. I knew that PT worked because even as my belly grew larger, the pain was better.
After giving birth to Owen, things weren’t too bad at first. Really, it’s a little bit of a blur. I hesitate to write this but if I’m being totally honest, I still have a lot of guilt. I didn’t bond with Owen right away and having pain while caring for two babies is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Owen would be crying and I was in so much pain that we would both start crying. How could I care for him when I needed so much care myself? I told myself different things that he was thinking, all of which now I realize are not true by any means.
After my six week checkup, I was ‘cleared’ to work out again. Don’t get me started on how much of a joke postpartum care is here in the U.S. The doctor basically asks how you are. No physical checkup, maybe asks a question to determine how your mental health is, and then sends you on your way. I rushed back to my Fit4Mom class (which is a mommy lifesaver), and began working out again. During my first week back, I did a plank. And wow did it hurt. I can still remember exactly where I did that plank. I thought I was just out of shape by how bad it felt in my back. Then the lower back pain started soon after that.
How could I care for him when I needed so much care myself?
- Couldn’t roll over in bed to nurse
- Couldn’t use my abdominal muscles to get out of bed
- Painful to sit on the floor
- Painful to sit too long in a chair
- When walking down the stairs, the down motion hurt my hip and sometimes my leg almost gave out
- Painful to lay on my side
- Painful to bend over
- Muscle tightness in my groin
- Painful transitional movements (sit to stand)
- Painful during long car rides
- Painful to sit without proper posture and low back support
- Painful to lift my kids (especially to put in cribs)
- Painful to be on my feet too long doing household chores (dishes, laundry, vacuuming, etc.)
Daily life was a real struggle. If you notice, all the symptoms are basically the job requirements for motherhood. I felt defeated, depressed, and was still battling being uncomfortable in my own skin physically. I couldn’t move my body properly and I felt like a blob. (HAHA, but the best way to describe it) I remember nursing Owen in a dressing room one day and I looked over in the mirror and felt like a hunchback curled over in pain.
I felt alone. Even when Dan was home to help me he was on a different schedule so we only had an hour or so a day of time that overlapped before he would leave for work. I cried in pain many days. So many hard days. So many hours spent googling how to heal. Bought all the things, read all the articles. Through all of this I never once gave up, as hard as it was. I had two babies to take care of.
After several months of waiting the pain out, I finally went back to PT. I was diagnosed with SI Joint Dysfunction. I had never heard of this and through all my google searches, this never occurred to me. During pregnancy and with the hormone changes during breastfeeding, the joints loosen, allowing too much movement. The sacroiliac joint connects the hip bones (iliac crests) to the sacrum, the triangular bone between the lumbar spine and the tailbone (coccyx). The primary function of the sacroiliac joints is to absorb shock between the upper body and the pelvis and legs. (Read more here)
When I left my first PT session for the day, of course, I googled and read all about SI Joint Dysfunction. And the symptoms were a perfect match for me. It described what I had been feeling perfectly. It was a relief in a sense because I was going in the right direction figuring out how to fix it. Another glimpse of hope.
PT was tremendous for me. A lot of the stretches and strengthening I learned there, I continue daily. I attended PT for about 4 months going twice a week and in November 2018, I was able to continue to exercise on my own and graduate PT! That was a huge accomplishment for me. I went from not being able to do any exercises on my belly to leaving PT confident I could do that and more. During my initial assessment, they checked my mobility. I remember thinking that I couldn’t even bend my body. I think my therapist knew early on what the issue was. She was amazing with me throughout this entire process. Not only could I tell she knew what she was doing, but being a mother herself, she could relate to some of the pain I was feeling. We did a pelvic reset exercise that helped relieve pain and tightness in my groin. My pelvis continually misaligns with all the hormonal changes. Doing physical therapy is sustainable and strengthens the muscles instead of temporarily fixing the problem. It was instrumental in my healing process. Waking up at 6am twice a week to get there was a lot of commitment, with an incredible end goal in mind.
After seeing an orthopedic doctor and getting X-rays and exams done, it was pretty much determined the pain was caused by childbirth and muscle weakness. The doctor was convinced it would get easier when I stopped breastfeeding and as I built my muscle strength back. With that news, I began doing gentle yoga almost every day. A lot of the concepts of yoga are consistent with PT. But this way I could focus on doing a workout I enjoyed, while healing my body. I shared some of my sources and other things I tried to ease the back pain here.
The yoga series I found on Amazon Prime video by Lindsey Samper was life changing. YES!! This is the one thing of all the things that I believe pushed me over the edge of healing. It has lengthened my body and allowed me to move again. It has eased a lot of the pain. Having weak muscles gives you a lot of referred pain too and since yoga is total body, this is so important for maintenance too.
ONE YEAR LATER
As I’m writing this after Owen’s first birthday, it is making me wish I had the energy to journal all along to keep the details fresh. But I could barely survive, let alone journal. One year later the pain averages about a 2-3 now. (Compared to 9-10 before)
My daily life is still very intentional. Every movement I make I think about. When I bend over, I use my legs instead of my back. When I breastfeed, I use pillows to take any strain off of my back. I teach my toddler to go up and down the stairs by herself. I carry my baby in the front to keep my body symmetrical. I listen to my body when exercising and don’t do anything that causes pain. I do yoga 5-6 times a week.
I have so much hope. I know that this entire story of Owen and having two kids under two was God’s plan. He has so much in mind for me and the future. I will continue to work hard and focus on what matters. I have used this experience for God’s glory and opened an Etsy shop where a portion of all sales buys massages for moms. I am so thankful to be in a better place. Not completely healed, but I keep moving in the right direction.
Thank you to all my support. My family, friends, and my community of followers. Each and every comment you make I take dearly. My husband is my rock through all of this and I know I wouldn’t be here without him.
If you are in a tough season, take it one day at a time. And ask for help. I promise there is hope!
Thank you for taking the time to read this,
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.- Jeremiah 29:11