The end of my last blog explained how shocked I felt when I found out I was pregnant. I don’t know if it was the shock or if every first-time mum feels the same. All I know is, I definitely wasn’t prepared for pregnancy, let alone childbirth and then actually working out how to care for this precious bundle of new life.
I don’t think anything can fully prepare you for what I can only describe as a completely overwhelming experience. It has been overwhelming in so many ways, starting from when I first got pregnant, to living life today with a seven month old baby. An experience which I have found both an extremely positive life changing and happy event and at the same time, an incredibly stressful event, which has had negative consequences upon my body.
I’d seen friends and family have children. I’d heard all the horror stories of pregnancy and birth, seen how chaotic life becomes and how impossible it is to get anything done. I’d heard how just getting dressed in the morning in the early days is a massive achievement, all coupled with just how exhausting it can be. However that didn’t set me up for what was to come.
I was completely set on our life not changing too much. I wasn’t naive enough to think it wouldn’t change at all, I just didn’t want life as we knew it to completely transform out of all recognition and totally revolve around a child, with that being all we think and talk about.
Don’t get me wrong, I was desperate and overjoyed to get pregnant however over the years when thinking about having a family, I had always hoped a baby would become part of the family and not the only focus of the family. I’m sure I’m not alone in those feelings. A big part of this was my burning desire to remain active, given that I had only just got back to exercise, I didn’t want to lose it again. Most of all I wanted to keep my own identity and not become lost in being a mum 24/7.
Little did I know just how hard it is to retain your identity. You give up so much when you become a mum. In the first couple of months after having Isaac, I felt like I had surrendered my mind, body and soul to this new life and that my sole existence was to be a feeding machine to this baby.
I guess in the early days that is all part and parcel of having a baby, yet that doesn’t make it any easier to handle when you don’t have a moment to yourself and you can’t remember your former self, physically or mentally!
When I first found out I was pregnant, given my history of chronic pain, I was incredibly worried about the effects that the pregnancy would have on my body. I thought if I slowed down too much and didn’t keep my body strong through doing lots of exercise, then there was a risk of the chronic pain returning. Little did I know that doing too much, would be one of the contributing factors to why my chronic pain did return.
About a month to six weeks after giving birth, I started to experience pain in my pelvis. To start with I was convinced there was a physical reason for the pain, which I naturally linked to the birth. However as time went on and I had been through what I call the ‘process‘ (numerous medical assessments and tests, which pain patients often go through before concluding there is no physical injury, as mentioned in my last blog), I realised that it was actually a second episode of persistent/chronic pain, just in a different area of my body.
There was a whole raft of emotional and stress related factors that contributed to this second episode occurring. All of which accumulated to once again over-sensitise my nervous system, resulting in my brain firing pain signals, when there is no physical injury or damage.
I believe some of these factors stemmed from me doing too much in late pregnancy. I then didn’t give my body enough time to recover after the birth. On top of this, there were numerous other life stressors which all piled on top of each other to send my body into an exhausted and over-sensitised state. My whole journey, from the start of pregnancy through to birth and living life with a new baby was just too overwhelming for my body and mind to cope with.
For any one who has chronic pain, working out what is contributing to your pain can be very tricky and frustrating, as there is often such a myriad of causes. In this instance, for me, it was having a baby. Although the pain didn’t start until after I had given birth there were things during my pregnancy and the birth that absolutely contributed to the pain that I am still experiencing as I write this blog, seven month after giving birth.
I will talk in depth, further on in this blog about each stage of the ‘pregnancy to new mum journey’ and what stresses and factors along that journey contributed to my pain. For those of you who only want a brief summary, the many contributing factors look like this…
- History – would my body stand up to the strains of pregnancy?
- The unknown – what was going to happen? Would the baby be healthy?
- Physical – pushing my body too much to keep up my exercise, as I was worried about putting on weight and not being able to get rid of it after the pregnancy. Not doing my pelvic floor exercises correctly.
- Stress – a late growth scan showing we were having a ‘large’ baby threatened our birth plan.
- Sleep deprivation – from three months of pregnancy I experienced numb hips (part of pelvic pain) when sleeping, meaning I didn’t have a night without uninterrupted sleep for the rest of the pregnancy.
- Fear – I strongly dislike medical environments and medical interventions. I was worried about what would happen during birth.
- Fear – we had planned to have a home water birth, using hypnobirthing practices. However due to a very slow start and erratic contractions, our whole birth plan went to pot and I went to hospital. I ended up having multiple internal examinations, more drugs than intended and an assisted delivery.
- Exhaustion – a long labour of over 50 hours meant I was totally exhausted.
- Trauma (I think this is the case for a large majority of mothers) – due to irregularity of the baby’s heart beat the birth got rather traumatic. Under the influence of an epidural, I was forced to push and had an episiotomy with an assisted delivery. I experienced significant blood loss which the doctors struggled to get under control for quite a while.
First two weeks after the birth
- Exhaustion – I didn’t give myself much time to recover and tried to get out and about walking within a couple of days after birth. We also had lots of visitors and midwives popping in every day so there was little time to rest.
- Stress – breast feeding was difficult and a world of pain to start with (as it is for many women). Isaac dropped weight slightly so the midwives were constantly monitoring us.
- Stress again – the minefield of decisions, choices, information and advice there is out there when you become a parent. You have to make so many decisions, there is no handbook and there are so many opinions on how you should do things.
- Pain – at this point I’m talking about pain that any woman would normally experience post birth.
Two weeks to six months after birth
- Stress – after two weeks Pete went back to work and was working away all week so I was left flying solo with a newborn for a couple of months. I did have family around which was a massive blessing but not the same as a full time husband.
- Exhaustion – flying solo meant I was the only one getting up in the night to a newborn baby with little, if any, time to catch up on sleep during the day.
- Frustration – getting things done around the house was just impossible, there was never enough time in the day and as for doing anything for myself, well that was a joke. I really can’t stand not achieving things or the house being a mess.
- Stress again – a month after birth I started getting pain in my pelvis and despite numerous medical appointments no one could tell me what was happening. I also had to back off any exercise which caused me even more anxiety.
- Stress again and again – Covid 19 hit so we went into isolation, where I was cut off from family, friends and medical support. Oh yes and Peter had just quit his job for a new one, which then fell through due to Covid.
- Stress, again, again and again – all of this resulted in us being worried about money and the future. Statutory maternity leave money doesn’t stretch far!!
Life stressors – the accumulation of a lot of shit
After going through the ‘process’ (numerous medical consultations) which I will come onto, it was later confirmed to me by a Women’s Health Physiotherapist that experiencing the significant life event of giving birth, coupled with all the shit above, was enough stress and emotion to bring on a second episode of chronic pain.
To have this confirmed to me, was in one breath a relief, as I finally knew what was going on and in another, utterly devastating to hear. I was gutted that I had let myself be taken over by chronic pain again, after I having recovered from a six year battle with my first episode.
We were incredibly lucky, happy and grateful to have a very gorgeous healthy baby boy and we are very fortunate compared to many people. I’m not sharing my experience for a pity party, I just wanted to share the kind of life events that can trigger chronic pain to help other people who may be experiencing unexplained, persistant pain.
I’d like to add that so far, this second episode hasn’t been any where near as bad as my first episode of chronic pain. Obviously so far it’s duration has been much shorter but the severity and intensity hasn’t been comparable to my first episode and I’m really hoping it stays that way! I also haven’t taken any medication for it.
Could it get as bad? Perhaps. However I feel that because I understand chronic pain and how it works this time around, I am able to manage it better. It’s also affecting a completely different area of my body and is a consequence of a life event rather than a car accident. Although I’m thinking “why me again” it is for a very different reason and not a result of something that was outside of my control and inflicted upon me by someone else.
I will talk in depth about the contributing factors below and in future blogs will let you know how I am trying to manage this episode of chronic pain, whilst navigating the scary world of being a first-time mum.
My pregnancy journey
In my first blog I explained the long journey I went through to get to the point when we could start to try for a baby, then it was wham, bam, thank you mam (but a bit more romantic than that, sorry Pete)! We were pregnant within a month! This was shocking to say the least, a shock that kept with me for about the first six months of pregnancy.
Once we started to tell people that I was pregnant I still looked like a rabbit caught in headlights, it didn’t feel real. I thought I would never be telling people this news about us, consequently it felt like it wasn’t really happening. Something that took me back when telling people, was their delight at our news. Obviously I expected people to be happy but many people seemed totally overjoyed for us. This was of course lovely, especially from family and close friends who had seen us travel the rocky road of the past six years.
What I found overwhelming was the interest from other people, people who I wasn’t even close to, they were soooo excited for us. They literally jumped for joy when I told them our news and would ask me questions every time I saw them. What was really weird was when total strangers would stop me to ask questions and talk about the fact that I was pregnant. I felt like they’d never seen a pregnant woman before! I assume this happens to every mum-to-be.
Some of the things they asked were fairly personal considering they didn’t even know me! I just found it bizarre. I know it’s nice but I’ve never stopped a pregnant lady who I don’t know to ask her when her baby is due, if she knows what the sex is or if she is going to breast feed! What really annoyed me is one stranger even went to touch my bump! Back off! So rude, you don’t even know me! It was just weird.
Before I knew I was pregnant I had contracted bronchitis which knocked me for six. Even trying to walk a really short distance made me completely out of breath and I had zero energy. The doctor had prescribed me antibiotics. Because I was worried about taking antibiotics when there was a minute possibility I could be pregnant and my period was a couple of days late, I took a pregnancy test just to put my mind at rest.
I didn’t think for one moment that the test would come back positive. The doctor said I had probably got the bronchitis because the baby had drained everything from me, giving me nothing left to fight off the infection.
The bronchitis took me six to eight weeks to get over, I was totally drained of all energy, thanks to both the bronchitis and the pregnancy. During this period I was unable to do any exercise, whenever I tried it made the bronchitis worse. This drove me absolutely bonkers as I was so determined to remain active and fit during the pregnancy to try to minimise the risk of my pain returning and also to reduce any weight gain.
The plus side was, I was able to do a lot of baking to help console myself, although that probably didn’t help with my worries of getting fatter! Luckily Pete has always been able to consume a huge amount of cake without putting on any weight. It makes me so jealous! I try to restrict myself to a few slices of the cakes I bake and let him polish the rest off. Yet depending on what the cake is, I’m not always that restrained.
The one thing I was able to do during this time, to help my pregnant body was my pelvic floor exercises. When I’m told I need to do something to strengthen my body I will do it religiously. On the very rare occasion I forgot, I would beat myself up and do extra to make up for it. Yes, I’m that weird!
I would do my pelvic floor exercises everyday in the car on my way to and from work, without fail. I have an hour commute, which gave me quite a bit of time to do my short and longer squeezes. It became a habit to do when I got in the car. So much so, even at weekends I would always do them when I was driving around. From the early days of pregnancy I thought I was nailing my pelvic floor exercises.
It wasn’t until after birth I found out the vital importance of making sure that you fully relax your pelvic floor muscles after contracting them. The fact that I wasn’t aware of this, meant I wasn’t doing it. But how I wish I had known as neglecting to relax my muscles, significantly contributed to the pelvic pain I experienced post birth.
As soon as I was well enough to start exercise again, around the end of May when I was roughly two months pregnant, I returned to running, spinning, walking and strengthening exercises. Due to my time off exercise and the fact that I hadn’t run much since Christmas due to shin splints, I started the Couch to 5K Programme again to slowly build up my running.
I gradually built up the length of time I spent walking the dog and spinning on a bike. After a month or two I was able to walk for about an hour and a half to two hours at a decent pace and spin for forty minutes with a decent resistance.
I would also do a series of squats, step ups and other various strengthening exercises, five times a week, to keep my glutes strong in order to support my growing bump. I was quite lucky that my bump didn’t get too big until late on in my pregnancy so I was able to exercise, feeling fairly unaffected, for quite a few months.
I got to the end of August (five months pregnant) when I started to feel the effects of a bump when running and suddenly felt the embarrassment of possibly needing a wee. I kept running regularly but just tried to slow my pace down a bit. That worked for a little while until the urgency increased when I wasn’t even running and the worry of leaking increased so I stopped running at the end of September when I was six months pregnant.
I’m not sure if this pressure on my pelvic floor had any influence on the occurrence of my second pain episode, once I stopped running I generally felt ok. I was going for a wee the normal amount of times for a pregnant lady, which by the end of pregnancy, feels like that’s all you are doing. Very occasionally would I feel more urgency but I think that was due to the baby getting bigger and adding more pressure upon my bladder as he wriggled around.
As spinning is low impact I was able to continue my stints on the bike and as time went on, I adapted it by not standing up and lowering the resistance. I kept spinning until my bump started to get in the way which was around November time, at eleven months pregnant.
When I gave up running I started pilates, with the aim to keep my muscles flexible and strong. I managed to continue the classes until the week before my due date (23rd December 2019). The class I attended was a normal class, not a pregnancy pilates class so I had to adapt or skip a few of the exercises.
The class was taught by Mrs physio friend (who I mentioned in my first blog) who is a Women’s Health Physiotherapist and has also taught pregnancy pilates. I knew I was in safe hands which is why I went to a normal class, not one aimed at pregnant ladies.
I can remember getting to the end of November and feeling massive. The baby seemed to be constantly moving around inside me and digging into my ribs, I was really uncomfortable and knackered all of the time.
The weather was horrible. When the class came around every Tuesday evening and I’d done a full days work, after driving my hour commute home in the dark, it was a hard slog to then turn out again at 7.30pm. However I really enjoyed the class once I was there and I loved the feeling I got afterwards. It helped me feel like I could still move fairly nimbly, despite my huge hippo type belly and still gave me some post-exercise endorphins.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing…
Looking back, knowing what I know now and the pain I have, I sometimes think maybe I should have taken life easier before giving birth. Perhaps I should have stopped spinning or running earlier on or ended my pilates classes a few weeks earlier and learnt to put my feet up and eat more cake. But then I also think that the exercise and endorphins associated with it, was good for my mindfulness, at a time when I had lots of thoughts racing around my brain about the life changing event which was on the horizon.
There are other things I did, which probably would have been better not to do so close to my due date such as lengthy daily dog walks, trawling Christmas markets, painting, cleaning and gardening. Like many expectant parents end up doing, we were decorating and renovating the house leading right up to the pregnancy to try to get it finally finished, after five years of doing the house up.
I can remember planting tulip and daffodil bulbs a couple of days before my due date. I remember the effort involved to get my shoes on, let alone negotiating my bump to be able to bend down to dig the soil. It was bugging me so much seeing the packets of bulbs sit on the side, not being planted. I knew they would never get done if the baby did come on it’s due date or earlier. After I had planted them I did regret it slightly. It was just one of the many times I probably pushed my self just a little bit too far!
Overall I was lucky to have a fairly straight forward pregnancy. I remember getting through each week and thinking thank goodness that’s another week gone and everything seems healthy. In the early days the time seemed to drag, especially when we still couldn’t tell people. Then all of a sudden you feel like you have a massive bump and you are ready to pop. Even up to the last month I was counting my blessings that both the baby and I seemed healthy and my chronic pain hadn’t returned.
Our birth plan
I say birth plan very loosely, I don’t think I actually wrote a plan until a week before my due date. We knew what we wanted and it seemed pretty simple, a home water birth, using hypnobirthing practices. I’m sure most of my friends thought I was completely bonkers, wanting to birth at home. To be honest, I was surprised myself. I had never even considered it until we started our hypnobirthing classes.
After years of hearing my friends birthing stories, I had thought if I ever got pregnant, one thing I was sure of was that I would use hypnobirthing during labour. Some people think it’s a bit ‘hippy’, I think it’s the ‘hypno’ part of the name which creates that perception. I’ve never heard anyone who has used hypnobirthing say a bad thing about it. If it helped, even in a small way, then I was up for it.
We did our classes with Bloom Hypnobirthing who I can highly recommend. Charlotte came to our house to do our classes. We hadn’t yet been to our NCT classes. I know doing both hypnobirthing and NCT classes seems slightly over-kill. The idea was to use the NCT classes to meet other couples, in the hope we would make some friends to hangout with once I’d had the baby so for the social side of things, not purely for the information.
After doing both classes, I felt totally justified in our decision. We met some great couples and even though the classes covered very similar content, they were completely different in the way the information was delivered.
For me, who hates medical environments I’m so glad I did the hypnobirthing classes. Otherwise I would have been scared stiff about giving birth, due to how the information was delivered in the NCT classes. As it was, I had to remove myself several times from the NCT classes, due to feeling faint when we were talking about the gory details of giving birth.
I won’t go into full blown details about hypnobirthing. I just wanted to say that the classes and the principles of it massively boosted my confidence and state of mind about giving birth. The explanations of the birthing process and how the body is naturally capable to give birth and how correct breathing helps to aid the birth, completely made sense to me.
Until our first session the thought of birthing at home hadn’t even crossed my mind but I think Charlotte soon realised how worried I was about the whole birthing process and how I hated the thought of being in hospital. I think the fact that I couldn’t even watch a birthing video gave it away.
It wasn’t until Charlotte started to talk about animals giving birth, that I really started to think how hospital is an odd place to give birth. Most animals will take themselves off somewhere quiet and peaceful, where they feel safe to give birth on their own. So why as humans do we then think its a great idea to give birth in a completely strange, somewhat alien environment surrounded by strangers, who are looking at you in your most personal and vulnerable state and still expect to give birth naturally.
With my dislike for medical environments and the fact that I can often feel faint when just talking about medical things, it made perfect sense to me when Charlotte talked about the option of a home birth, to seriously consider it.
After further discussions with Pete and discussing our doubts and questions with Charlotte, over the next few weeks we agreed to try for a home water birth. We were totally realistic that we may not get our wishes for a home birth granted but we at least wanted to give it a go.
If it didn’t happen, the hynpobirhting had given me new found confidence and a positive state of mind about giving birth. I would still put this into practice, along with the breathing techniques and visualisations, if I ended up giving birth in hospital.
Why is this relevant to chronic pain I hear you ask? Read on and you’ll find out.
A late growth scan
I had my last midwife appointment on the 18th December. On measuring the bump, the midwife was concerned that her measurement was plotting smaller than it should be on the growth chart. Therefore she arranged for me to go to the hospital for a scan, to double check everything was OK. I was pretty confident it was fine so the next day I went to the scan on my own. Pete was working and I didn’t think it warranted him taking time off to accompany me.
I was laying on the bed with jelly over my bump when to my surprise the sonographer announced that the baby was actually measuring big, with a predicted weight of 8lb 14oz. This weight meant it was now classed as a large baby. So I’d gone from thinking the baby was smaller than it should be, to being told it was a large baby. The sonographer then said due to the size, they would need to do some more checks.
I was slightly peeved by this news and got further frustrated when I was left sitting in another room for over half an hour. A nurse finally appeared to ask me to take a urine test and measured my blood pressure twice as the first reading was unusually high. These tests had all been done the day before and the results were in my notes so I was thinking, is this really necessary! There was a lot of coming and going by the nurses who told me nothing, the whole thing took over an hour, I was then told I needed to see a consultant.
I sat for a further half an hour on my own not knowing what was going on whilst waiting for the consultant. Meanwhile Pete was texting me asking what on earth was going on as he hadn’t heard from me. When the consultant arrived he explained that the predicted weight of the baby meant it was classified as a large baby and therefore there was an increased risk of the baby’s shoulder getting stuck on the way out. The consultant explained that I had three options;
- Be induced in the next 24 hours
- Wait to the due date (in four days time) then be induced if I hadn’t gone into labour naturally
- Have an elected cesarean
This couldn’t be further from our birth plan if we tried. I didn’t want to take any of those options. Even if I was overdue, I felt very strongly about waiting for the baby to come naturally. When I raised the fact that I was hoping for a home water birth, the consultant advised against it. His reason being that should the shoulder get stuck, then I may need extra medical support. He also said that he doubted the community midwives would support me to have a home birth.
The news that I may not be able to have my planned birth and not having Pete with me for support sent an emotional, heavily pregnant me into floods of tears. I think the poor doctor felt quite guilty about making me cry. I totally realised that he was following medical research and hospital procedures, but what he didn’t understand was my desire to have a home water birth, so I could avoid giving birth in a medical environment.
After I had calmed down slightly the slightly sheepish looking doctor took a sympathetic approach and chatted through all the options in more detail. I couldn’t make a decision without Pete there, although I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be keen on any of the three options. I came home quite upset and stressed and at a loss as to what decision to make.
Previous to this, thanks to the hypnobirthing, I had felt quite calm about giving birth however this had thrown all of my plans and confidence out of the window. I couldn’t forget what the doctor had told me, it was a scary thought that there was an increased risk of the baby’s shoulder getting stuck. The fact that I would now have to go into hospital was filling me with dread and causing me stress.
Pete and I talked through the options, we were both set on not forcing the baby to come until it was ready (something we decided months ago when doing hypnobirthing classes) unless it was absolutely necessary. We agreed there was a risk that something could happen during the birth whatever size the baby was and wherever we had it. Giving birth at the hospital didn’t guarantee I would get medical support any quicker, than if I was at home with a midwife giving one to one support and calling for an ambulance.
We weren’t so dead set on a home birth that I would refuse to go into hospital if I was in labour and I was told it was necessary. Neither were we naive enough to think that we would definitely get our home birth yet if we could, then that’s what we wanted.
We talked to the midwife team who talked a lot of sense around the whole scenario and confirmed they were still happy to support us to have the baby at home. After a lot of stress and many more discussions between ourselves, our family and the lady who delivered our hypnobirthing classes, we decided we would stick with our initial plan and try for a home water birth using hypnobirthing.
The arrival of Isaac Noah Morgan
The baby (we didn’t know which sex we were having at the time) was due on the 23rd December 2019. I was worried that we would be spending Christmas in hospital, a hospital Christmas dinner really wasn’t appealing! Luckily that didn’t happen and Christmas came and went without any sign of an arrival.
At 2am on the 28th December I was woken by pain and what I assumed, was my waters breaking. As we were home birthing, we were told to phone the midwife team as soon as anything happened, to give them the heads-up with them being short staffed over Christmas, especially during the night.
The calming, friendly voice of the midwife at the end of the phone told us to get back in touch when the contractions were more regular. If nothing happened within twenty four hours I would have to go into hospital, due to a heightened risk of infection as my waters had broken.
I managed to get back to sleep for a couple of hours before being woken by the jolt of further contractions. We were timing them on an app but they were still really irregular. I wanted to avoid going into hospital at all costs so I started walking around the house, as I’d been told by many people that this can help bring on contractions.
By the time we reached late evening I was getting weary from all the walking around and despite my best efforts, the contractions were still all over the place, although they had increased in intensity. We phoned the midwife team who suggested I take myself off to hospital to get things checked. I had hoped the community midwife would come to our home however they were unable to. They did promise that we should still be able to return home to have the birth we had planned.
With great hesitation I agreed and went off to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. After a few checks , the midwife confirmed I was in early labour. Due to the fear of it, I refused an internal examination so they couldn’t tell how far dilated I was, so the midwife sent me back home to get some sleep.
We got home at 2am on the 29th “to get some sleep”, that was an absolute joke! I was having strong contractions every five to ten minutes and I was meant to be able to sleep. I couldn’t stay laying on the bed let alone sleep. I was up and down like a yo-yo, laying over the side of the bed or on the bedroom floor, adopting the most unflattering and unlady-like poses moaning and groaning. There was no way this baby was going to let me sleep.
After a few more hours the pain was too much, we contacted the midwife team again. After going through the timings on the app, as the contractions were still not consistently close together, the midwife concluded I was still in early labour. Unable to send a midwife with enough gas and air to last the whole birth, and because I had already been in labour for over 24 hours, they recommended that I went into hospital.
In an attempt to ease our disappointment of this news, the midwife phoned the Midwife Led Unit at the hospital, in the hope that a birthing pool would be available. We were in luck, we were told to wait another hour and then head in, by which time they should have a space. At about 7.30am on the 29th we headed up the A11 again. I remember trying to distract myself from the discomfort of the contractions by admiring the fiery glow of the stunning sunrise, which was starting to light up the sky as we drove back to hospital, where this time we stayed!
There is a lot of detail in the next stages, some very gory so to save some of my dignity and your time, I will do a brief summary.
On arrival I was persuaded by a nice midwife to have an examination on the condition I could have continual use of gas and air. OH MY GOD I LOVE GAS AND AIR!!! When I was in full labour and really got into the gas and air, it was the best (and the only) high I have ever had. The midwife told me I was 6cm dilated and that my waters hadn’t actually broken, they hoped getting me into the pool may resolve that.
A few hours went by, I eventually got in the Midwife Led Unit where I got in the birthing pool with the gas and air in hand, by which time I was pretty much floating in the clouds. I was in a very happy place for a while until the midwife said my contractions were getting less regular and they needed to examine me.
I was no further dilated so they broke my waters and told me to walk around the ward to help bring the contractions on. This was the biggest joke ever, there was water absolutely everywhere and it was still coming out of me. I couldn’t walk around the room without slipping over, let alone get out onto the ward. Shortly after the contractions started to get really painful so I was given Pethidine in the hope it would help me get some rest and also move things on.
The drugs gave me a rest bite but I was totally knackered. Due to the amount of time I had been in labour, they wanted to get this baby moving. At this point they talked through our options, which was for me to have a cesarean or try an oxytocin drip. I really didn’t want a cesarean and didn’t see the need to, as the baby wasn’t in any distress so I opted for oxytocin.
After two hours on the oxytocin to my great relief I was 9.5cm dilated, However as I wasn’t fully dilated they were still pushing me to opt for a cesarean, to the point that the surgeon or anesthetist (I’m not sure which) came in and started to prep me for having one. The contractions were getting more painful and I was getting more and more tired yet I really didn’t want a cesarean due to the recovery time involved so I asked to have a bit longer on the oxytocin.
The doctors were concerned that myself and the baby were getting worn out but agreed to give me longer on the oxytocin and suggested I could have an epidural. I was really nervous about this option due to it being administered in the spine, which would normally make me pass out just talking about it. I wasn’t sure it was the right choice for me or the baby, however Pete and I saw it as the best choice out of a range of crap options so we went for it.
In actual fact, I was really grateful we did. It stopped me feeling the pain of what was to come and once I got the levels correct, (I was able to administer it myself via the drip) to my relief I could still feel my legs.
The epidural had kicked in, I was fully dilated and the midwife told me to start pushing. Given that I couldn’t feel the contractions due to the epidural this was pretty tricky. I had been following hypnobirthing, where you have to focus on breathing the baby down, forced pushing is frowned upon. I was starting to put our training into action, breathing and using visualisations, when the baby’s heart beat took a dip and the midwife hit the panic alarm.
A whole team of doctors and midwives flooded into the room. After they analysed the heart beat and contractions I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to push with everything that I had to get this baby out.
I couldn’t feel anything below my waist so the midwife had to talk me through it, they monitored my contractions and told me when to push. It was like hell on earth, I was pushing with everything I had with my legs/feet in stirrups, a bright light shining down on me and people rushing around me. It was traumatic to say the least, I’m sure many women can resonate with this. In the end, I had an episiotomy and they used a suction cup to pull the baby out.
At 5.50am on 30th December, over 50 hours from when I went into labour, a gorgeous healthy baby boy (much to my husband’s delight), came into our life. Sheer joy and elation took over as our little boy was handed to me.
Thankfully I was flooded by euphoria, as I was loosing a lot of blood and they were struggling to get it under control. Just as it was starting to take too long to stop the flow, after some pretty brutal packing and good stitching, the doctor managed to stop the bleed, just as panic was setting in. I had lost a litre and a half of blood but the whole time I had distracted myself with having my baby in my arms, staring in amazement at this tiny little miracle, who was going to transform our life as we knew it.
The whole birth was nothing like we had planned. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that I often think back to the birth and think how the hell did I do that!! It’s only recently that I’ve started to feel less traumatised by it. After speaking to other women, experiencing significant trauma from childbirth is much more common than I realised. I guess this is why the N&N hospital really pushed the Birth Reflections counseling service they offer for mothers to talk about their birth experience.
I have no doubt that going through the stress of birthing in hospital, undergoing various medical interventions and the trauma of the birth, are amongst the many stress factors which contributed to the return of my chronic pain.
The early days of newborn life
After a few hours in the Delivery Suite we were transferred to Blakney Ward where we both underwent various tests and slowly as the day went on all of my catheters were removed. The biggest task was to get the knack of breast feeding, I never imagined there being so much to it. Although he latched on very quickly after being put on my chest when he was first born, as the day went on and I was given more advice from various midwives, getting it right seemed to get trickier.
I had a visit from the hospital’s physiotherapist who went through three simple exercises for me to do on a daily basis to help my diastasis recti (the separation of my abdominal muscles) which I believe most pregnant woman experience unless they are incredibly lucky not to.
We were desperate to get off the noisy uncomfortable ward to get back to the comfort of our own home. We really didn’t want to wait until the next day so we pleaded with the midwives to discharge us. After semi mastering breast feeding and managing to satisfy the midwives that he was feeding ok, whilst they stood over us watching, we were eventually discharged at 1 am on 31st December (New Year’s Eve).
After days of hospital food and no sleep, we said sod it and went home via a McDonalds drive-thru. Something we very rarely do and not the best life lesson to teach to your new born child but desperate times called for desperate measures!
The next few weeks were a bit of a whirl wind. I won’t go into every detail, just things that I think could have contributed to the second episode of chronic pain occurring. Like all mothers with a new born, I was in a misty haze of sleep deprivation and exhaustion, I don’t think I really realised or acknowledged quite how knackered I was.
I remember moving around the house and picking up Isaac (it took us quite a few days to name him but we got there!) to feed him and Pete saying “you’re shaking”. I had uncontrollable shakes on and off for quite a few days after the birth and I kept getting dizzy. It felt like the ground would suddenly move underneath me.
I think it was the aftershock of giving birth and the blood loss. I didn’t really think much of it, I had a baby to think about and sleep wasn’t an option day or night. We had visitors coming round every day and midwives coming in most days so I just kept going.
I was fully consumed by trying to perfect breast feeding. I thought I had conquered it in the hospital then as soon as I got home I started getting very sore when trying to feed him. I’m talking cracked and bleeding nipples, a toe curling experience every time I tried to feed.
I never predicted breastfeeding being so, so difficult. 99% of the mums I know have struggled to get to grips with it in the early days, for many not just with their first child. The midwives tried to help by adjusting my feeding position or technique. Each midwife had a slightly different take on it and would give their own tips. Getting it just right was a military operation and pretty stressful. All I wanted to be able to do was satisfy my hungry, crying baby and not have boobs that felt like they were getting shot to pieces.
In the end I opted for silicone nipple guards just to make it bearable for Isaac to feed off me. They were a god send and decreased the pain but were not a long term solution. I was extremely close to giving up breast feeding and then one of the many visiting midwives thought there was a possibility Isaac may have a slight tongue tie.
We managed to get an urgent referral to a clinician who specialised in tongue tie. We had to pay for a private appointment otherwise there was a three week waiting list. I’m extremely glad we paid, as Isaac in fact had a significant tongue tie. I never realised this was such a common thing in babies, so many seem to suffer from it. Once the tie was cut, it took about five days to make a difference to his feeding. From then on with each day, it got so much easier for both of us. I could feed without the guards within eight days and by day ten, feeding was pain free. What a relief that was!!!
I was still unsure if my feeding technique was correct so I went to a free Breastfeeding Support Cafe at Rowan House. This is an invaluable source of support to new mums who wish to breastfeed. It gives you the chance to meet and chat with other mums and you can also seek specialist support from International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC). It really helped me and was a great opportunity to get out for a great coffee and slice of cake at the same time from the cafe at Rowan House.
Unfortunately throughout this time Isaac had dropped a bit of weight not a dangerous amount at all but the midwives seemed quite concerned and put a lot of pressure on me to get as much food as I could into him. I had to start expressing so I could top him up with extra milk from a bottle as well as breast feeding.
Anyone who has done it, will know that the combination of breastfeeding and expressing is an exhausting process. You feel just like a dairy cow. I didn’t mind giving him the bottle, we always wanted him to take a bottle as well as the breast, the issue was producing enough milk.
After feeling like I was spending all day either breast feeding or expressing, one of my friends suggested I got a Haakaa breast pump which can just sit on the other breast and collect the let down whilst you feed. I have to say (and I’m not getting paid to do so) that it was really good at increasing my milk supply and it stopped me from having to express so much milk as I managed to get collect enough in the Haakaa.
You may be sat there thinking “What the hell has this got to do with chronic pain?” When you’re a mum and you want to do the very best for your baby, feeding is one of the fundamental parts of that. If you feel that you aren’t doing your best or what you want to do and you have strangers constantly checking up on you to make sure you are doing the right thing, it can be very stressful. The last thing I wanted was to have to go back into hospital because he lost too much weight.
I didn’t realise at the time but I was holding a lot of stress in my body, when trying to get him in the correct position to feed. Despite using feeding pillows, I would subconsciously hold one of my legs up on my toes to help hold Isaac in the correct position. When feeding a newborn you can be feeding for a very long time each day. Holding this strain in my legs didn’t do me any favours towards the tension I was holding in my thighs and pelvis.
The midwives were coming round each day to weigh our boy. This would always set our dog (Hugo) off barking. He’d also often negotiate the unknowing midwives in order to get through the door and run upstairs, where he would eat anything he found. Meaning if Isaac or I were trying to get some sleep or trying to get the knack of feeding, we wouldn’t be for long.
The same went for when we had visitors, in the early days we had at least one set a day, if not more. Don’t get me wrong I absolutely loved seeing family and friends and I really wanted them to visit. Despite being warned in our NCT classes about having too many visitors in the early days, I didn’t really realise at the time that these interruptions were causing me stress. It also meant that I wasn’t getting any rest.
It sounds strange but I could feel this stress being held in my thighs. They were highly sensitised and would and still do, give a tingly/achy feeling when I’m stressed. I’m not saying the stress from feeding and visitors was the defining cause of my pelvic pain, it was just one of many contributing causes of stress at the time, which escalated to bring the pain on.
My age old problem – being pigheaded and not being able to relax
The next contributing factor is no one’s fault but my own. Continuing my inability to take things easy, I was insistent that I had to get out of the house in the first few days after birth. All along I was determined to go against the stereotype that everyone kept mentioning, which was that most new mums don’t get out of their pyjamas all day or leave the house for the first few weeks after giving birth.
I don’t even like going downstairs in my pj’s in the morning let alone spending all day in them. I don’t know why I’m so against it really, it’s stupid. I think hanging around in my pj’s makes me feel like either I’m ill, I’m being lazy or I’m dirty and need a shower. I know, I know I’m really strange!
So within three days of getting home we went to the city to get Isaac some clothes that would actually fit him. The following days I was going out every day for a walk, only a short, slow walk however I still insisted going out everyday. Obviously cake and coffee was often desperately needed during many of these visits. When Isaac was less than a week old we went to the Orangery Tea Rooms Rooms in Ketteringham (pictured below), a really lovely cafe near us which we often frequent. Their scones and cake are delicious!
At the time it felt good to be out and about and I thought I was doing the right thing. Looking back I needed to recognise what I had just been through and not been so dam stubborn. I should have given myself more time to recover. I needed to relax, get more sleep and let people do stuff for me. Instead I was more concerned about getting outside for a walk or getting out and about to make the most of Pete’s two weeks of paternity leave. I think if I’d taken more time to recover after the birth, it may have helped me not be where I am now, with this latest episode of persistent pain.
Two weeks went quickly, it was soon time for Pete’s paternity leave to end and for him to return to work as an electrician. I’m not sure how other ladies generally feel when their partner’s return to work after paternity leave and they are left holding the baby. I found the prospect quite daunting.
I wouldn’t say I was exactly the world’s most natural mum, Pete gets much less stressed than I do. It felt like he was doing a better job than I was so the thought of him not being there during the day wasn’t filling me with joy. I then found out that Pete actually wouldn’t be around day or night. As soon as he returned to work he would be working away all week and wouldn’t come home until the weekend.
As always his employer only gave him a couple of days notice of where he would be working. Pete bless him, didn’t know how to break this news to me. I burst into tears when he told me. As the weekend ticked away, I still felt pretty down about it. All I could keep thinking was that Pete would be heading off on Monday and it would just be Isaac and I, how would I cope?
I know Pete felt awful and didn’t want to leave us. At least I would be getting to see Isaac. It was much worse for Pete who was having to stay in crappy hotels all week and unable to see his two week old son.
This stint of Pete working away went on for some time. We never knew from one week to the next, how long he would be away for. I am however extremely fortunate to have a very supportive family who insist on doing far too much for me. They came round each day to make sure I was fed and watered, helped to clean and gave Isaac hugs.
My mum stayed with me for a couple of nights however as Isaac only needed me in the night for feeding, there wasn’t much she could do other than offer morale support. I would only keep waking her up, so I soon put my big girl pants on and managed on my own at night.
It was stressful and totally knackering not having Pete by my side. Again I didn’t realise it at the time but this was another contributor to the stresses which accumulated to cause my second episode of pain. I thought at the time I can’t complain too much, given what other people cope with. You can easily bark orders or cry on your husband, it’s not quite so easy to do that with your family. I’m sure I probably did bark at them at times.
The whole experience made me very grateful for my family and friends and the support network we have around us. I whole heartily admire single mums, I really don’t know how they manage to bring up children on their own, especially those without any other family around, it must be so so tough.
The process and reoccurrence of persistent pain
With Pete returning to work I had to do more lifting of both Isaac and things around the house and the car seat etc. As the law goes when you are on maternity leave, I was going out to meet up with friends for walks or coffee and cake. I swear it’s the only way to stay sane!
This was also the first time I’d really had to carry Isaac in the sling. Up until now I’d only done a couple of very short practice runs with Pete being there. Although I had been doing gentle walks, walking still wasn’t a breeze and the level of discomfort down below was increasing every time I walked. Carrying Isaac in the sling definitely added to the discomfort however as it was only about three weeks after giving birth I expected some discomfort.
The midwives had all said my episiotomy stitches were healing well so I thought the discomfort was internal bruising and nerves taking a bit longer to settle down. I felt sure it would soon subside so carried on getting out and about, opting to use the pram instead of the sling.
I remember going to the beach at the start of February, I was really excited to get back to the coast. Going for a long beach walk with the dog, was one of our favorite things to do. We set off on the sands of Winterton with Pete carrying Isaac and Hugo running around looking for things to eat. After only a very short distance, things didn’t feel good. I felt a dragging, heavy feeling down below and after a while it felt like I was swollen. I remember saying to Pete, “I’m sure it’s normal at this stage”, so much so we took the obligatory ‘first beach trip’ photos before leaving.
Over the next few weeks it was getting more and more uncomfortable when I was moving about. I can remember trying to walk around the supermarket and having to give up quarter of the way round. It got to the point when just moving around the house induced pain in my pelvis.
One Sunday I was in a lot of discomfort, I felt quite sick and I was really sore where my stitches were. As it was a Sunday, we had to take a trip to the walk in clinic, normally somewhere I would avoid at all costs.
The nurse thought I had an infection, only a very mild infection however she prescribed some antibiotics. I was actually really pleased about this as I thought great, job sorted, once they kick in I will be back on track.
Sadly that wasn’t the case, after a couple of days I wasn’t feeling any better. I went to the doctor, who on examination said it looked like it was all healing and the infection was clearing. She said the pain may be related to the nerves settling down after birth and sent me on my way.
A few days later I started to experience stabbing type pains in my pelvis which extended into my stomach. I also got a lump suddenly appear just above my belly button. This totally freaked me out so I booked an urgent doctors appointment. The doctor said the lump was a hernia however she seemed more concerned with the stabbing pains. She phoned the hospital to try to get me seen by the Obstetricians on the Gynecology ward. By this time I was just over six weeks post birth so they insisted that I would have to go to A&E to be examined first.
Pete was still working away so the thought of going to A&E with Isaac in tow filled me with dread. The obstetricians said to the doctor that they could try me on a different type of antibiotics first to see if that made a difference so I opted for that.
After a few days the pains in my stomach had gone but they were still persistent in my pelvis. After talking to a couple of friends ‘in the know’ they were surprised that the doctor hadn’t swabbed me to check it was definitely an infection. I also started to get a really sore left breast which seemed red and really tender just under my arm pit.
I’d been getting the shakes and feeling awful, for a few evenings. Pete was still working away and I remember waking one night to Isaac crying and when I got up I was shaking uncontrollably, I was freezing cold. I put my PJ’s and a jumper on under my dressing gown, with my hood up and covered myself with a blanket, just to try and warm myself up whilst trying to feed him. I assumed it was a flu type thing, in the morning I felt fairly normal and then it would suddenly start again, normally at night.
I returned to the doctors, more insistent this time that the pelvic pain wasn’t normal or getting any better. I asked the doctor for an internal examination, to rule out a prolapse and also insisted that she took a swab to see if there was still an infection.
When I described the symptoms to the doctor again, (this was now the third doctor I’d seen) she thought thrush could be the possible cause. I really didn’t think thrush could cause such pain yet I went with it. She swabbed for the infection and for thrush after she explained that the results for thrush often come back negative even if you have it (makes no sense at all) so she also gave me Canesten to treat it.
I really didn’t want an internal examination as I was so sore however I forced myself to ask for one, as I was so concerned something more was going on. The doctor didn’t seem very keen on doing an examination as I was already in pain. She did a very brief one, at first she thought there may still be a stitch which hadn’t dissolved and then changed her mind. This didn’t fill me with any confidence! She also concluded that there wasn’t a prolapse.
On examining my breast she thought I may have mastitis and referred me to the breast clinic at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&NUH) for a scan to check nothing else was going on. I was basically a walking disaster, which is ironic as I couldn’t actually walk that far!
I felt like absolute crap, on top of feeling completely knackered. I didn’t have Pete to lean on, I wasn’t feeling like the world’s best mum and it was pretty stressful not being able to find out what was going on with my pelvic pain.
I went for the assessment and scan at the breast clinic at the hospital. Even walking the short distance from the car park to the hospital gave me a great deal of pain.
I had the rudest doctor in the world tell me that I had mastitis because I wasn’t getting Isaac to fully drain my breast. He also added that all of the antibiotics I had been taking were not good for Isaac’s health. No shit, I thought! I tried to explain to him without getting really angry, that I couldn’t force my baby to feed if he didn’t want to. I also fully realised that antibiotics weren’t good for him or me but there was little I could do about having an infection.
His bedside manner was astonishing, I didn’t need him patronising me on top of everything else. Anyway, ironically he gave me yet more antibiotics. What I didn’t realise is that mastitis can cause you to experience flu like symptoms, which accounts for the shakes I had been having.
A couple of days later the mastitis had cleared up and all of the swabs for an infection and thrush came back clear so I was non the wiser. By this time I had stopped walking anywhere apart from around the house. It just felt so awful all the time and I felt walking was making it worse.
I was really starting to feel really down about it now. I just wanted to enjoy my maternity leave and time with Isaac. My post baby belly weight was weighing heavily on my mind and what’s more, not being able to do any exercise was not great for my mental health.
Every cause for the pain had been ruled out by the doctors, they didn’t seem to have any answers. I still wasn’t convinced that I hadn’t had a prolapse which the doctor had missed. The other cause I considered could be postural or lack of strength in my muscles.
I got in touch with Mrs physio friend again to get her expert advice. It was difficult for her to diagnose the problem without doing a full assessment, which would have involved an internal examination. With her being a friend that would have been weird for her to carry out so I self-referred to the Women’s Health Physiotherapist team at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
Back in the end of January, before the discomfort in my pelvis had really started I had signed up to Babyfit Postnatal Core Recovery Classes. This was a six week course, to help mummies get back to exercise after birth. It was also a chance to meet other mums and it was all done with your baby beside you.
The course started at the end of February at which point I was still waiting for an appointment date with the hospital physio team. Debbie who takes the Babyfit classes is great and really knows her stuff. She is also brutally honest (in a good way) about all the health implications and complications of having a baby, having experienced it herself.
The classes provide great tools and techniques to help your postnatal body recover and gain strength and fitness. Debbie talked about the importance of taking things slowly and healing from the inside out, to avoid issues such as pelvic floor dysfuntion. All of this was so relevant to what I was going through, I was really pleased I booked on the course. Due to the issues I had been experiencing, Debbie also recommended that I went to see a Women’s Health Physiotherapist so I was relieved when my appointment came through from the hospital.
At the appointment we talked through my symptoms, the pregnancy, birth and I mentioned my past history with pain. The physio examined me standing up and moving. I was significantly stiffer on one side to the other and my pelvis was wonky. She then gave me an internal examination which I was really hesitant about due to the pain I had been in. The physio was really nice about it and it was much less daunting than I expected it to be. When she asked me to tense and relax my pelvic floor muscles, I was taken back when she said that the muscles were overactive. Basically my pelvic floor muscles were too tight and not relaxing down as they should be.
I wasn’t expecting this. I was more worried about having a prolapse, I didn’t even really know that overactive pelvic floor muscles were a thing. I guess the most common, or well known issue after having a baby is having weak pelvic floor muscles, which need strengthening through daily pelvic floor exercises. My issue was the exact opposite of this, the muscles needed relaxing, not strengthening.
Pelvic floor muscles aren’t exactly the easiest muscle in your body to relax, I was thinking how the heck do I mange this. The physio gave me some simple stretching exercises, such as the happy baby pose and hip stretches and told me to concentrate on relaxing my pelvic muscles down using deep ‘belly’ or diaphragmatic breathing. I was to use positive thinking to reassure my brain that there is nothing physically wrong down there and also practice self massage to try to relax the muscles down.
The physio also said to roll my legs with a foam roller as this can help relax some of the leg muscles and therefore ease the muscles around the pelvis. I put all of this advice into practice and was also doing the exercises I’d learnt at Debbie’s first two classes and those from the physio.
I felt immediate relief after the appointment, I was just so pleased there wasn’t a prolapse and that I finally knew what the problem was. It sounded like it would be relatively straight forward to resolve with a bit of relaxing, stretching and time.
Shortly after this we had some good news about Pete’s work. He had secured a new job which meant he was actually going to be home and working hours which were much more suited to family life, in a job he really wanted. This was the best news, him working away was tough for everyone. It would certainly relieve some of the stress of caring for Isaac on my own.
Just as things were looking a bit more positive, just like that COVID-19 descended upon the world!
Lockdown maternity life
Nobody has escaped the clutches of coronavirus, everybody has been impacted by this viscous virus in some shape or form. Whether that be in a negative or devastating way, by loosing loved ones, fighting the virus themselves or loosing their job or business. Other people have had a more positive experience and relished the time to stay at home with their family or have used the time to get crafty or start a new hobby.
In comparison to many of those who had a negative experience of COVID, I really can’t complain. For some it has been an utterly cruel and life altering time. It certainly wasn’t what I expected to happen during my maternity leave. It shaped it into something quite different to the ways I had planned to spend my leave and made me feel like I had been slightly short changed.
COVID definitely added a good dollop of shit to our life. Lockdown had the obvious effects of cutting me off from family and friends. I know everyone was in the same boat but when you have a two and half month old baby, you need all the support you can get, especially when it’s your first gig at being a mum.
I was without the help and support of family and the conversations, laughter and advice from friends. When lockdown restrictions were first implemented, Pete was still working away. I was in lock down with just a young baby for company day and night, all week, oh my god! Looking back I’m really not sure how I did it. I wasn’t even going out for my hour exercise a day as I still wasn’t walking due to my pelvic pain. Holly and Phil had become my new best friends, I’d never seen so much of This Morning before!
Like many folk, my only contact with the outside world was through a window when family came to drop food off or via a Whatsapp or Zoom call. I felt like a caged animal. We are very lucky to have a lovely garden, which was my saving grace and with the good weather we had during lockdown, it made the whole experience more manageable.
Pete had handed his notice in to his employer just before lockdown was rumored in the news. At this point he was waiting to hear the start date from his new employer. The longer this took the more uncomfortable we were feeling, as we were watching the country and economy coming to a grinding halt. He finally heard that his new employer had lost funding due to COVID and were unable to take him on.
This was a massive blow for both of us. We had both longed for an opportunity for Pete not to work away all the time, even more so since having Isaac. Just when we thought it was finally going to be possible, it was whipped away from us by this thieving virus. The reality that we would be trying to live off statutory maternity pay, forced Pete to ask his current employer if he could continue to work for them.
Given the current situation, his employer wouldn’t keep him on as a permanent member of staff, though they were happy for Pete to work on a subcontractor basis, which was at least something. However like many other businesses, the work soon dried up as lockdown really kicked in and the economy shrunk overnight.
Pete had gone from working away all the time, to not working at all and being at home all the time. It was such a stark difference. As he was now working as a subcontractor, his employer wouldn’t take him back on the books to furlough him so he was without any income.
This drove my stress levels though the roof. Pete was, as always, incredibly relaxed about the whole situation and said he was going to take the positives from the situation and relish the fact that he could now spend time at home with Isaac and I.
To start with I really couldn’t get over the stress of finances. I remember one night, I was sat in the feeding chair in the middle of the night with Isaac in my arms whilst feeding him and I was in floods of tears, just rocking and sobbing. Worried about money, about coronavirus, about the unstable world we had brought Isaac into. I’m sure everyone had many moments like this during these unprecedented times.
I was constantly uptight and worried about what the coming months held for us. With my employer also furloughing staff and being financially impacted, I was worried sick if I would have a job to go back to after my maternity leave.
Meanwhile whilst this was all going on my pain was getting worse. It wasn’t a constant pain it would come and go, it wasn’t clear what triggered it. Sometimes it was a sharp stabbing pain, at times more of a swollen, throbbing type feeling or burning, it really varied. To look at me you wouldn’t know I was in pain, I looked normal and although it hurt when I walked around, from the outside you wouldn’t have a clue I was in pain.
I had been doing pretty much every stretching or strengthening exercise I had been given by the physio or from the Babyfit classes, and I was rolling my legs twice a day. In the end I was spending over two hours a day doing my stretches and rolling my legs.
I was waking up incredibly stiff, like I had run a half marathon the day before. My legs were black and blue from bruises where I had been rolling them, I assumed this was because my muscles were so tight. At times it seemed to give some immediate relief to the pelvic pain so I kept pursuing the rolling and exercises, hoping that the relief would last for longer.
I had zero time to do anything I enjoyed as all my spare time (when Isaac was napping and after his bedtime) was taken up by doing exercises, which I wouldn’t have minded if things were actually improving. It was a good job we were in lockdown and I didn’t have anywhere to go.
Instead of walking I had tried spinning. When I was actually cycling I didn’t feel much pain, it was always afterwards that I would start to feel it. I would have a week when I thought I was making progress and then the next week I would be back to where I started from again.
I can remember posting this photo on Instagram when I had been spinning for a few weeks. I had very slowly built my exercise time up to sixteen minutes. I had planned to cycle for seventeen minutes that day but because I was actually feeling good, I decided to cycle for twenty minutes, thinking the extra three minutes wouldn’t do any harm.
This was a big mistake!! The next few days I felt like I had gone back to square one again with the amount of pain I was in. It was such a blow to the progress I had made and it put me on a massive downer again.
My remaining Postnatal Recovery Classes had all been cancelled due to COVID. Debbie posted videos of the exercises on Facebook which whilst it was great to have the videos, it wasn’t the same and I couldn’t ask questions face to face. I also had more exercises than I could fit into a day and found it difficult to know which ones to prioritise for my situation.
I also hadn’t been able to see the hospital physio’s as all NHS appointments had been cancelled. I had no idea if I was doing my breathing correctly, let alone the other exercises they had given me.
I had tried everything, nothing had worked and it had become all I could think about. I would go to bed thinking about the pain and I would wake up thinking about it, it was constantly on my mind and was driving me crazy. Nothing made sense, it wasn’t a constant pain but it was present for most of the day. I couldn’t work out what triggered it and the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong.
I had voiced my worries to Pete a few times that I was concerned it could be chronic pain again however I was so unsure. In comparison to my first episode of chronic pain, the level of pain wasn’t anywhere near as high or intense. Yet it was certainly persistent and with Isaac now being five and half months old, it had lasted long enough to be classed as chronic pain.
I had done all I could on my own and I needed help before I sent myself completely crazy. The hospital physiotherapists still weren’t making appointments due to COVID so I reached out to Mrs physio friend who is a Women’s Health Physiotherapist. It was now mid May and the Government had just announced you could meet one person at a socially acceptable distance, luckily this meant I could at least meet Mrs physio friend to discuss things.
If you’ve read my first blog you will know that Mrs physio friend is married to Mr physio friend and therefore knows all about my history of chronic pain. We talked through everything in great detail, including what the hospital physio had said at my initial appointment about my pelvic floor muscles being overactive.
The actual problem – a second episode of chronic pain
The conclusion of this consultation was that the significant life event of my pregnancy, giving birth and being a mum for the first time presented me with a lot of emotions, stresses and physical demands. On top of this other stresses around jobs, money and life in general, had combined to oversensitise my body’s alarm system, causing a second episode of chronic/persistent pain.
There was no physical damage in my pelvic area, everything had healed internally and externally, the problem is my brain. The nerves around my pelvis were oversensitised by the experience of pregnancy, birth and everything that had happened since.
The nerves in my pelvis were reacting to these experiences by being overactive and continually sending messages to my spinal cord. My brain was then interrupting this overload of information as my body being under threat and in danger. My brain would react by sending pain signals, to prevent me from doing things that it thinks are putting me in danger, i.e., moving around. It is the firing of these pain signals by the brain, which is difficult to stop.
My alarm system had become oversensitive to protect me. One of the best ways that Mrs physio friend said to think about what was happening was to compare my nerves to a home alarm system. Normally if you have a home alarm on your house, day to day activities don’t set it off. It is only big things like someone breaking into the house, which would trigger the alarm to go off. On my home (my body) my alarm system (my nerves) had become so hyper sensitive that when a leaf blows past the house, it sets the alarm off.
The answer to overcoming my oversensitive alarm system is to turn the alarm system down, to decrease its sensitivity and therefore decrease the firing of pain signals. Sounds simple, right?! Wrong!!
In future blogs I will talk more in depth about pelvic pain (from my experience of having it, remembering I am not qualified in this field). I will detail how I have been working with Mrs Physio friend to turn down my oversensitive nervous system and the recovery strategies I have been using, on my journey to overcome the pain.
In the mean time, if you are experiencing pelvic pain, please, please, please don’t go through it alone. Make sure you seek professional advice from a Women’s Pelvic Health Physiotherapist.