It was a nondescript Tuesday.
Pregnant with an energetic toddler, I had arranged to meet a friend and her little one in town for coffee and cake. It was a simple enough trip. But by the time I arrived I was ghostly pale and shaking from the pain my body was in.
I struggled to climb the steps on the bus as searing pain travelling across my pelvis.
I winced as I hoisted my toddler up on my hip to carry her.
I shook physically and felt like crying as the spasms of pain shot down my pelvic bones and down my back.
By the time I arrived I had tears in my eyes and felt utterly broken as I sat down at the table and tried to say ‘Hello’ to my lovely friend.
I sobbed at my next antenatal appointment telling my midwife about how much pain I was suffering each day and was quickly diagnosed with SPD – symphysis pubis dysfunction.
A fairly common (but news to me) complication of pregnancy where the pelvic joints are put under pressure and are weakened. My GP explained that hormones produced during pregnancy (relaxin) soften ligaments to help your baby pass through your pelvis. The joints become more flexible and lax.
But there can be problems when your pelvic muscles or joints get all out of whack and the gap between the symphysis pubis joint can widen too far, causing excruciating pain on movement and even when sleeping. And that’s what was happening to me.
They say pregnancy isn’t an illness but when you have SPD you feel disabled and debilatated. There’s barely any respite from the pain, even at night.
Everyday tasks became difficult
This was my second pregnancy. I had sailed through my first, remaining active and healthy throughout, with nothing but the usual heaviness as my bump grew.
I was given the advice to not lift anything heavier than a hoover. Problematic as I was the mum to a clingy toddler, who definitely weighed more than my Dyson and demanded to be lifted more than once a day.
I was told to keep active but to take care when moving positions and to not do too much. I was given a very unattractive support belt to wear (which become my best friend) and was taught physio exercises. I was told that if I didn’t take things easy I may very well end up on crutches.
Coping with the pain made me feel distanced from everyday life. I tried to play with my toddler and go about my everyday life but I was not quite there as the constant pain held me back. I felt like I was not being a good mama to my first child.
Anyone heard of SPD?
Because it was a condition that I had never heard, of nobody else seemed to understand it either. And I felt very lonely in my suffering.
I wish I could have said ‘I’ve got SPD’ and everyone would have understood and sympathised and run around to make everything OK. But, instead I suffered in silence.
Sometimes that silence involved quiet tears running down my cheeks as I felt so beaten.
I’ve since found out that one in five women in the UK suffer from some sort of pelvic pain in pregnancy. That’s a fifth of all the pregnant mums-to-be you meet. So why is it not more widely discussed?
If I’d known how common it is, I’d have felt less scared and more prepared. And less alone in my pain and suffering.
Coping with SPD in pregnancy
I coped because I had to. I got through each day dealing with the pain as best I could. But I struggled.
I worried about labour and how I would get through it with SPD. But I also longed for it to put an end to the constant pressure and pain my pelvic bones and joints were under.
When I went into labour I was lucky enough to try a water birth, which helped a little to ease the pain. I was able to birth naturally and used positions that my midwife had advised to make sure I didn’t put my pelvic joints under too much pressure.
I still have a vivid memory of my thighs shaking after delivering my baby. And the relief of getting through it intact.
I was told to take it easy after birth. The post birth hormones, they said, would lull me into a false sense of security and make me feel more supple than I was.
I was so grateful to be free of the pelvic pain that I tried to run before I could walk. I remember going on a walk to the duck pond with my newborn and my toddler and feeling so free and happy to walk again, pain free that I overdid it.
I ended up suffering for it later. The old pains resurfaced and my body complained about the new exertions. Even now (two years later) I get spasms of pain down my pelvis if I exert myself too much.
Pregnancy is not an illness but when you have SPD it certainly feels like one. As mamas-to-be you want to feel strong and empowered and womanly. Having SPD makes you feel weak and distanced and fragile.
SPD is a LOT more than an annoying pain. If you are suffering – get help.
Get one of those bad-boy support belts that help you cope, get physio and get advice on birthing positions.
And, above all – don’t suffer in silence.
Top Tips if you have SPD:
- Try to stay active to avoid the risk of the area seizing up completely.
- Keep your legs together as much as possible. When you get out of bed first roll to one side and ease yourself into sitting position. Use your arms to support your legs and place them on the floor. Then carefully stand up.
- Take stairs one at a time. If you can’t get up stairs at all try going up backwards sitting on each step.
- Stay active, but also get plenty of rest. If you can, get someone else to do the housework – particularly ironing and vacuuming.
- Don’t lift anything heavy if you can avoid it.
- When sitting on the sofa or in a car, roll a towel and place it behind your back at the bottom of your spine for support. Or use a lumbar pillow.
- Avoid pushing heavy things, particularly shopping trolleys or heavy vacuum cleaners.
- Try doing jobs you might normally do standing up (like prepping food or ironing) sitting down.
- If you feel up to having sex, try it kneeling on all fours so you aren’t opening your legs too widely.
- At bedtime, use a pregnancy support pillow or just an ordinary pillow between your knees to keep your pelvis in line.
- Birth balls are great for people suffering with SPD. Buy or borrow one and sit on it as much as possible.
- Ask your midwife to refer you to a physio. They can teach you exercises to keep your core muscles strong. Ask your midwife for a support belt, which really helps.