Monday, 27 August 2012

The Idiot’s Guide to the Pregnancy From Hell

A few days ago I posted this – Having Children: 50 Reasons Not To!

For some time, I’d wanted to talk about the nightmare that was my pregnancy, but I was unsure how to go about it. I didn’t really want to describe the horrific experience in details – not least because I didn’t care to re-examine it that closely as I am about to embark on round 2. The other reasons were because it’s not a story I usually share with women who intend to, but have not yet had, children, due to its horrific nature.

No joke...
When my friend shared a post with me, a tongue in cheek reasons not to have children, and I joked I could find 50 reasons before pregnancy even ended, I thought I had the answer – I could do my own slightly light-hearted, slightly serious list. The list included some obviously funny items, and some far more serious ones. 

Many people took the list in the way it was intended – light-heartedly highlighting the fact that pregnancy is not as glowingly glamorous as some books would have us believe, that for some of us, mere inconveniences pale by comparison, and it is, indeed, a cruel, hard slog, and comes with some serious, sometimes life-threatening, and sometimes life-changing, side-effects. 

One person, however, apparently taking the title literally, declared the post ‘idiotic’. For those who don’t know, blog titles serve two purposes – to elicit interest, and for SEO. For these reasons, they can’t always be taken at face value, and sometimes have only a tenuous connection to the post. 

I confess I found this declaration distressing – my pregnancy was the most horrific experience of my life. For those of you who read my guest post for @RachelintheOC, you know I survived an emotionally torturous divorce from my first husband, who suffered from multiple personalities, so to say my pregnancy topped that is, well, saying something! 

This person stated to me that ‘none of those reasons is sufficient to not have children’. To clarify – I wasn’t suggesting any one of them was enough to deter me. To be clear – I had all these symptoms. Some of them are mere inconveniences – except when lumped on top of the deadly 1-2 combo of symphisis pubis dysfunction and pregnancy related carpal tunnel syndrome. Then they become extra straws loaded on the camel’s back after that final straw that already broke it’s back. It’s amazing how distressing it can be that one can’t wear one’s favourite heels when one is already borderline pre-natal depression. It might seem silly to the balanced mind – indeed it seems silly now – but at the time it wasn’t. I even made my husband take our wedding photos down because I ‘didn’t know that woman’ in them.

Secondly, this person stated she wouldn’t give up her child for anything. I’m not suggesting I would give up my daughter – because what is the only thing worse than suffering through the pregnancy from hell for a child?

Suffering through the pregnancy from hell – for nothing.

That may sound insensitive, but I say that in all emotional seriousness. My mental state was so bad towards the end of my pregnancy that I was afraid the baby would be stillborn or suffer some other deadly complication. I had suffered through so much, endured the unendurable because there was no alternative, and was at incredibly high risk of pre-natal depression, and therefore also post-natal depression, that the idea was insufferable. I also suffered from a condition that meant I had a lot of amniotic fluid – so while books were telling me I should feel the baby move at every specified interval, I could go days without feeling the baby move. No wonder I was anxious. If it had happened, I don’t know I would have had the strength to try again. 

What my pregnancy did do, though, was make my husband and I seriously reconsider whether we wanted anymore children. My husband wanted 3, maybe 4, children – until about halfway through my pregnancy when he revised down to 1. It is no exaggeration to say my pregnancy put so much strain on my marriage that divorce was not outside the realms of possibility. My first pregnancy was horrific – how could we survive a second one - knowing what was coming?

You can say ‘every pregnancy is different’, but the reality is, some pregnancy conditions, once you have them once, are more likely to recur the second time. Symphisis pubis dysfunction (SPD) is one – my OB informed me I would almost certainly get it again, and earlier. The more pregnancies I have, the greater the probability the problems will become permanent. I might as well take this opportunity to announce I am pregnant – I’m 11 weeks pregnant, due 22nd March, and I already have early symptoms of SPD. I didn’t have this condition until 18 weeks last time, and this morning I felt the first touch of despair as I contemplated the next 29 weeks ahead of me.

You probably don’t know what SPD is or what it means in real terms, so I will explain now, in more detail, the crippling, debilitating nature of my pregnancy. If you are a childless woman planning to have children in the future, you might like to stop reading now. If you are a childless woman never intending to have children, you might like to keep reading – there’s probably something in here you can use as vindication to the people who question your decision!

Sufferers of SPD experience pain in the lower back, hips, groin, lower abdomen, and legs. The severity of the pain can range from mild discomfort to extreme and prolonged suffering, and I was at the extreme and prolonged end of this scale. It becomes difficult to climb stairs because of the severity of the pain – it’s not pain you can push through. The body responds defensively, and either recoils from the pain, or the hips just collapse under the pressure. Either way, you’re likely to fall, and once you start falling, you can’t recover, because the hips can’t respond. Our house was only accessible by stairs and some days I couldn’t leave the house if my husband wasn’t there to help me. SPD sufferers also have pain when carrying out weight bearing activities (think about that in the context of pregnancy…), difficulties carrying out everyday activities, and difficulties standing. In a nutshell, it hurts to stand, sit, lie and walk. It hurts a lot.

She looks like her back sure hurts...
Now think about how you get out of bed – you tend to roll, pushing with one leg. Forget. It. If you have SPD, attempting this will leave you sobbing in a heap. For a while, I used my hands to drag myself out of bed. Since I was sleeping with 5 pillows – one between the knees, one under the belly, one under my head, and two behind my back – to keep my pelvis neutral, this was a somewhat difficult exercise. Sure hubby would help, but I couldn’t wake him up every 2.5 hours to do so. Because I would sleep 1.5 hours, wake with a numb hip and needing the toilet. It was then a 1 hour exercise to get up, go to the toilet, rearrange the pillows so I could turn over, get back in bed, and fall back asleep. I kid you not.

The SPD was bad enough, but then I developed pregnancy-related carpal tunnel. Essentially I had excessive fluid retention (my total weight increased by 50% of my pre-pregnancy weight), including in my arms, which put pressure on my carpal tunnel nerve, producing carpal tunnel syndrome. This creates numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers, sometimes pain, and general weakness. I couldn’t feel my thumb or forefinger, and I had persistent pain in my last two fingers. I lacked strength – I couldn’t even cut meat, turn a doorknob, or carry a glass of water one handed. Or, you guessed it, haul myself out of bed using my hands. I no longer recall how I did get out of bed. Sometimes I didn’t; I was stuck there until my husband could help me.  

I worked through my entire pregnancy. I didn’t have a choice. I am the primary breadwinner for my family. If I didn’t work, we’d have nowhere to live. It’s crippling enough for our finances that I must take 6 months off work following the birth of the baby; there’s no way I could contemplate stopping work early. Quite apart from that, by the time I did go on maternity leave, 3 weeks before my due date, I was in such bad shape, physically, that literally all I could do was watch TV – and work. Thanks to my unorthodox typing style, typing was the one thing that made my hands feel better (although the mouse was a bitch). I couldn’t read, because the fixed position of holding a book open caused my hands to cramp and seize painfully. I could write (by typing) but didn’t because of my near-depression. 

By the last quarter of my pregnancy, it is almost fair to say if I wasn’t shouting and angry, I was crying. For every second of every minute of every hour of every day for at least 6 months I was in severe to extreme pain and discomfort from which there was no relief. 

So that’s my pregnancy, summarised. There is more, of course – reflux, and preeclampsia, and suspected deep vein thrombosis, and anything else I listed in the last post (and probably more I’ve forgotten) but those issues merely added misery on top of an impossibly high pile of misery.

Unless you’ve suffered through a pregnancy like mine, you have no idea what I suffered. The exceptions are if you watched a very close loved one suffer it (a wife, a daughter), or if you fell pregnant after fertility treatments, because that is its own brand of physical and emotional hell, or perhaps if you are a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy. That may sound dramatic, but in all seriousness, the only person I met during my last pregnancy who could relate to how I felt was a chemotherapy patient. That should be some indication of just how debilitating the pregnancy was. 

The people who watched me soldier through that pregnancy often said ‘I don’t know how you do it’ and the short answer was ‘Because I have no choice’. Quite apart from the fact that I would never have aborted a baby for any of the reasons listed in my last post, I was well past the time when that was a choice anyway.  

Those same people are now saying to me ‘I can’t believe you are doing it again, you are so brave’.

Well, there’s always another possibility.

I may just be stupid.

Not so stupid that I’ll be doing this a third time. 

If you missed it, check out my post on the mythical origins of werewolves.

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Christina Majaski said...

I can't imagine going through that. I've heard of horrible pregnancies before and thanked my lucky stars that all I had to deal with was eternal and extreme morning sickness. Hang in there, and congrats again ;)

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Mind you, extreme morning sickness is not to be sneezed at, especially not if it's the kind that lasts 9 months! I had morning sickness fairly badly for 6 weeks in my first pregnancy, and I'm not sure I would have traded 9 months of that for what I had! Just two different kinds of misery I think.

A man said to me this morning 'Pregnancy is the most difficult and under-appreciated job in the world!' What a sweetie :-) Of all the things people have said to me when I was pregnant, that one made me feel best!

Ashley Elizabeth said...

I need to go back to this store... but I think there is a pillow that is made for your situation. It's not really pillow, more like a fluffy contraption. I looked into lots of brands for my back and I think you might be able to find something that would make that easier for you.
I'm way over here, but if you need anything, let me know.
And whatever idiot tried to pretend they know you or what you were hinting at, I'm sorry. This is exactly what they mean when they say to walk a mile in another person's shoes. You just never know.
<3 to you!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks Ashley! If you find details of that pillow, let me know - I'm open to all advice!

Amberr Meadows said...

Some people are just stupid and to be ignored. Especially if they are stupid and have no sense of humor. I know how bad your last pregnancy was, and I hope this one isn't a rough haul. I don't blame you for doing it a 3rd time, and I'd say bravery is more apt for this 2nd pregnancy. Good luck, chica!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks Amberr :-)

Lisa John said...

Ok but few points make sense to me. thanks and let me discuss this with my college. 11 Weeks Pregnant Facts

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greg_doyle said...

for a good pregnancy you must have a detailed and expert recommended pregnancy guide with you. This would ensure you are going on correct path towards having a baby. Visit the RCPG's recommended pregnancy guide

Ciara Ballintyne said...

No pregnancy guide will help or prevent symphisis pubis dysfunction.

Anke van der Kooij said...

Wow, just stumbled on this now, and boy, can I relate. My daughter is 4 years old and my pelvis still has not healed. I remember vividly all the times I fell on the ground with cramps that were worse than the worst contraction pains. I was also incredibly sick for all of the pregnancy.
We have decided not to have a second one: for us the risk is too great I wouldn't recover. But it still hurts to know that I will never bear a baby again.
I hope your pregnancy went very well!

Anke van der Kooij said...

My pregnancy was by far the worst months of my life. But I am grateful every day for my wonderful child!

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