I had just bought an adorable maternity swimsuit, after several miscarriages I was relieved to be out of the nerve wracking first trimester, and my severe morning sickness had finally subsided. My baby bump was big enough to be obvious so not so big to be uncomfortable. I was 17 weeks pregnant, and I was ready to glow like a goddess and enjoy the golden age of my second trimester.
I was working in a kitchen, and one night I was draining a big pot of pasta, when I felt a sudden surge of pain radiate from my pelvis up into my abdomen. I tried to keep working through it, but the pain was persistent and made me nervous after all the difficulties I had getting and staying pregnant. As I was sitting my office trying to collect myself, one of the women who lived at the facility where I worked came in and said "Jillian, you do what you need to do to take care of that baby, don't worry about us. Go home and rest." I had no idea it would be the last time I saw or talked to her, and the last night I would work at the job I loved. My husband came and picked me up from work, and after a quick phone consult with my midwife, she said I should take a bath, then rest laying on my left side (which I would come to learn is the answer to basically all pregnancy ailments.) The pain increased over the next 24 hours, and the decision was made that I needed to go to the Emergency Department so I could be seen immediately by labor and delivery at our local hospital.
After several hours of hanging out and listening to other women on the floor in throes of labor, receiving an ultrasound, and being assured that all was well with my baby, and I was sent on my way with the advice that I should head to the maternity store in the mall to buy a support belt. The diagnosis was that my pain was due to the loosening of joints that comes with the pregnancy hormone relaxin, which was exacerbated by the heavy lifting at work, and overall shouldn't be too big of an issue, but I should definitely take some time off work to let my injury heal, and head to see my physical therapist (PT) ASAP. I went home and googled around, and all I could find was that Pelvic Girdle Pain was extremely common in pregnancy, and was sometimes known was SPD (Symphysis Pubis Disorder.) Everything I read said this was normal and not a big deal, but the articles seemed to point to it being an issue that usually occurred much later in pregnancy.
My husband and I headed to the mall and I painfully waddled my way to the maternity store. I bought the recommended support belt and headed home. At this point the pain was constantly throbbing and searing, and had concentrated around my pubic bone. I went to see my PT a few days later. She shook her head sadly and knowingly when she was given the rundown of what was happening with me. "I'm sorry. I could have told you this would happen" she sighed. This was because I had been seen by her previously for injuries related to my hypermobility syndrome. You might be hypermobile if you have dislocated joints multiple times in your life, have frequent joint pain and injuries, and experience a significantly greater range of motion and flexibility than most people. I had been told as a child by a doctor that I had "loosey goosey disease." The issue was that my joints, already being overly loose and mobile, had become too loose to hold themselves together with the addition of the pregnancy hormones. My symphysis pubis, or pubic bone, was coming detached from itself, and causing me a great deal of pain in the process.
By the time I made it to my PT, my mobility was quickly disappearing. She recognized the severity of my condition, and impressed upon me that if I kept walking, I would fully separate my pubic bone from itself and could be permanently disabled. Hypermobility outside of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is not an area that non-specialized medical professionals are often familiar with, which is why the nurses who saw me at the hospital visit didn't catch the full extent of what was happening with my body. I was given orders to go get some forearm crutches (regular under the arm crutches could have caused my shoulders to dislocate), wear a much sturdier support belt than the one recommended by the hospital, and my PT made a phone call to request to put me on the top of a waiting list to see a physical therapist specializing in pelvic issues.
I spent the next two months on "activity restriction" and using crutches to get around the house and if I had to go out. I was in significant chronic pain, and the only relief I could find was in the bath. My husband eventually started measuring my pain level by how many baths I needed to get through the day. A three bath day meant I really wasn't doing well, and it was unfortunately a common occurrence. It did make me grateful we had chosen a soaking tub when we renovated our bathroom the fall before. My pharmaceutical pain relief options in pregnancy were acetaminophen (Tylenol) which did nothing for my pain, or opioids, which make me vomit. I tried acupuncture at the recommendation of my midwife, and while it definitely made me feel something sort of tingly and strange, it didn't relieve any of my pain. So, baths and resting were my best options. There were a few things that helped me get through this super frustrating time *This list contains affiliate links, for more information check this out.*:
1) Keeping everything I needed on the bed, to minimize any need to get up, other than to go to the bathroom. My husband would leave a case of water bottles on the bed to make sure I stayed hydrated, and I set up a biweekly subscription to these Orgain Chocolate Fudge Protein Shakes because they don't need to be refrigerated, have a decent nutritional profile, and didn't trigger any of my pregnancy food aversions. We made sure both my phone and the laptop could stay plugged in as well.
2) This weird pillow was the only way I could get comfortable a lot of days. I was able to configure it into a lot of different positions: cradling my back and under my knees partially sitting up, laying on my side, I even used it to create a nest around my belly so I could lay on my front when I just couldn't get comfortable. It was seriously a lifesaver and a necessity for me to get through long days stuck in bed without putting myself in even more pain than I was already in.
3) I did tons or reading and research. I read birth stories and baby care books. I worked on my registry. I read reviews of products all over the internet, and watched videos of people folding up strollers and ecstatic births on YouTube. Doing all this helped me focus on the short term nature of my health issues, and served as a reminder of the miraculous reason I was even going through all of this.
4) I streamed all the shows I had ever wanted to watch but didn't have time for, without any sense of guilt or shame. I watched seven seasons of Doctor Who. (I generally would have to take a break and watch the entirety of a different series every time a Doctor or companion changed in order to give myself time to recover emotionally. I remember Joss Whedon's Dollhouse being surprisingly good, but I might have just been bored.) If you have to be on bed rest, you may as well find ways to enjoy it.
5) We had friends come stay with us in our second bedroom for a month. They were visiting and looking for a short term rental, and we traded with them for cleaning and help around the house while I was laid up. It was so great having someone around to do the dishes and stuff. (Thanks Brooke & Jeff, love you guys!) Any help you can get and random company to come by and say hi is so needed and appreciated when you are stuck in the house.
With the help of the specialist PT, and a lot of work on my part doing my assigned exercises at home, I was able to walk safely without my crutches by around 32 weeks. The exercises helped strengthen the surrounding muscles so my hips could hold themselves together more effectively. The day I went into labor I walked 1.5 miles round trip when I started getting frustrated with my spaced out contractions and wanted to get things moving. I saw the PT for a couple months after my son was born, but because the relaxin stays in your system throughout breastfeeding (but not to the same extent as during pregnancy) I was not able to squat without some pain until very recently, about a month after we fully weaned. I was warned I would need to take at least three years between pregnancies (thankfully we weren't planning on another anyway) in order to give my body time to fully heal, and that it was very likely this would happen again in the case of another pregnancy. I do partially credit my overly relaxed joints with the (relatively) easy and low pain birth I had, and honestly I wouldn't ever dream of trading the amazing birth I had for an easier pregnancy. This is true even in the face of the fact that I lost my job due to maxing out my FMLA leave before I even had my baby. My son had a joyful entry into this world and that's the most I could ask for as an end result of all my pain and waiting.
Did you struggle with pelvic girdle pain or SPD during pregnancy? I would be interested in hearing about other people's experiences since my previous searches yielded very little information, so leave a comment below so others struggling who might find this article can find some answers and solidarity.
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