I did not know it was possible to become temporarily crippled from delivering my child, until it happened to me. Never in my most nightmarish labor and delivery scenario would I have imagined that months after birthing my child, I would be sitting here writing this with severe pelvic pain. I never thought pregnancy could cause a disability (even if just temporary). I never dreamed I would need to go to physical therapy twice a week to recover from childbirth. Yet, here I am.
My condition is a common pregnancy and postpartum complication (some estimate as high as one in three pregnant women). It is not very well known and commonly undiagnosed. It has a complicated name, symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), that means a very simple thing—a woman’s pelvis is separated during pregnancy and/or labor. (Anatomy sidebar: all pelvises are connected in the front by a piece of cartilage called the symphysis pubis located on the pubic bone. This is where the pelvis can separate and/or misalign during pregnancy or labor.) There are varying grades of separation that range from mild to severe. Some women only have it while they are pregnant, and delivering the baby cures them of it. For the other lucky ladies, including myself, labor and delivery actually causes the pelvis separation.
I remember sitting in the hospital bed after delivery and my pelvic bones feeling like someone had used a jack hammer on them in a merciless torture session (I know that sounds dramatic, but that’s exactly how I felt). I could barely get out of the hospital bed due to my bone pain. For three weeks post-delivery, I could barely walk. I thought my inability to walk post-delivery was a normal thing, but later learned it was not. My all-star husband had to lift my legs in and out of the bed and the car. He had to help me sit and stand. I could only manage to walk up and down our stairs at a very slow pace and with many tears, so I only went upstairs when I had to go to bed. Even then, my husband sometimes had to carry me up the stairs because the pain was just too much to bear. I finally felt moderately better at 4 weeks postpartum and went very slowly on a two mile walk. I limped the entire next day. That’s when I realized something must be wrong.
I am a very active person and even exercised all throughout pregnancy, so debilitating pain while doing something as simple as a little stroll around the block was very heartbreaking. Feeling like I was crippled was even more emotional with my crazy postpartum hormones raging inside of me. If I sat on the couch all day, I felt alright. But, if I did simple housework choose, like dishes or laundry, my pelvis would throb in crippling pain. If I went on a walk, my pelvis hurt. If I bounced my baby around and walked around the house, my pelvic was in pain. It wasn’t the kind of pain I could push through, either. All of my pelvic bones felt like they were recovering from being broken and were severely bruised.
At my 6 week postpartum checkup, I was given a physical therapy prescription, since I was still having pelvic pain. My physical therapist evaluated me and diagnosed me with SPD, which I was relatively unfamiliar with. (An orthopedic surgeon confirmed a few days later with an evaluation and x-ray.) It took me awhile to process the diagnosis, as I was initially stunned when my therapist told me this. Eager to recover as quickly as possible, I diligently did (and am still doing) all the home exercises I was prescribed and go to PT twice a week.
Ten month Postpartum Update: The recovery process is still to be continued, but I have come a long way. I am still unable to resume my regular workout routines, including running and lifting heavy weights. But, after going to physical therapy twice a week for several months and continuing a home program, I have gotten much better. Ten months postpartum, I am able to do household chores without being in pain, lift small weights, and go on longer walks than I have been in the past.
I don’t have all the answers. But, I want to share my story to bring awareness of SPD. I want other women to be empowered with the knowledge of what SPD is. That way, they can make the decision for themselves whether to get evaluated by their doctor and/or a specialist before labor to reduce their risk of SPD or seek medical help postpartum. I want to help bring greater awareness of SPD and ways to prevent it so no woman will have to unnecessarily endure it and suffer in silence.
My journey with postpartum pelvic pain is one reason I founded Mothergood with a few of my friends. It’s a shame that we, as mothers, are not properly equipped with knowledge about our bodies during all aspects of motherhood—from pregnancy to postpartum to day-to-day life as a mother. Especially for common conditions, such as this, women should be empowered with knowledge so that they may identify issues and how to seek the appropriate care for healing. If I can help just one mother with my story, this effort was worthwhile.
*This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to replace medical care. As always, check with your doctor to discuss your feelings when pregnant to make sure the feelings you are having are normal and not antenatal depression.