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The Inflamed Mommy – Managing Arthritis with Mommyhood

The doctors always warned me that inflammatory arthritis tends to act up after the birth of a child. Yet I was optimistic – it hadn’t bothered me since my first trimester, and had completely dissipated for the rest of my pregnancy.  Then, it happened.  I was in the throes of new motherhood with my chubby thriving 4 month old, and my ankle began to swell.  It ultimately reached about twice its size by the time he was 8 months old.  I was in constant pain and even sitting on the floor with him was out of the question due to the angle of my ankle.  I was miserable and yet terrified to medicate with anything other than Advil for fear that I would need to stop nursing him.

I had to wait 4 months to see a rheumatologist due to their backlog and the fact I was outside the 2 year window for re-visiting without a new referral.  I even sat in the emergency department one day (when it was quiet) to try and expedite things; the doctors that day could not confidently advise me on a drug I could use while nursing so I had to wait for the rheumatologist who specialized in postpartum flare-ups.

How it all began

I’ve had arthritis since I was in high school.  At the beginning of grade 9, I was continuing to pursue my competitive figure skating career and was excelling in my grade 9 gym class.  Mid-year, I had terrible pain and back spasms in my sacroiliac joint (base of my spine basically) that made it hard to walk.  Walking to my next class became a challenge that I would dread.  A few years and several inflamed joints later, it turned out I had an auto-immune disease. It’s an area we still don’t know that much about – case in point my diagnosis oscillates between psoriatic arthritis and spondyloarthropathy.  My eyes occasionally get inflamed as well.

It ended pretty much any hope I had ever had for any athletic endeavor.  My new reality was learning to listen to my body and to give it balance, along with the medications I was prescribed… because that’s what survival required.  I was a teenager and this was a tough lesson for someone so young to learn.  Still, to this day, if I overdo it in a workout I know I could be in pain for months.  I have to be a really good listener for this body.

Even arthritis clouds have silver lining

And yet, being an arthritis manager gives me fortitude.  I’m incredibly grateful to be able to walk down my street pain-free and be present enough to notice the movement of the leaves in the Spring breeze.  I’ve watched my brother suffer with the same issues to an extent beyond my own.  It has consistently matured me beyond my years.  My friends always seem to comment on how “healthy” I am and how early I go to bed…. but I’m not sure if they understood until recently that I feel as though I have no choice.  Pain is an effective motivator.

I feel like I missed out on a few months of my son’s life in some ways – living in the moment of pain instead of being present to enjoy his sweet giggles and new discoveries.  Looking back I should have maintained my relationship with my rheumatologist, but hindsight is 20/20.  I’m always hopeful that this is the year it burns out for good.

Where we are now

Soon after I saw the rheumatologist, my flare up went away.  I’m back to being able to do gentle exercise and enjoy my life pretty much pain-free again.  In December I created my startup, Villagemommy.com.  We help new moms find and meet the other moms near them for playdates & friendship.  It’s going well.  I laugh when I hear people say “oh, you can either have your health, your family or your startup.”  That kind of self-sacrifice isn’t available to us all.

I have a nasty varicose vein on my ankle as a result of it being inflamed so long, but it’s a reminder of my triumph over my condition as well as some lessons learned the hard way.  Always address inflammation and have the supports in place to get to it fast.

I know I’m more fortunate than many.  I manage arthritis, not the other way around.  I know there are lots of other mommies out there who manage auto-immune or other conditions along with being a mom.  What are your coping strategies?

Please share in the comments!  Let this start the conversation.