I had my son in 2008. I was lucky and conceived him with no problem at 34 years old. I’ll never forget: my acupuncturist asked me to chat with him outside the waiting room when we had finished wrapping up my session. As he walked me out to the parking lot, he had a twinkle in his eye and said, “I love telling my patients this: Go home. Today’s the day!” Apparently my pulse, tongue, and all signs pointed to Yes. It turned out that it was a spectacular day to go home and get pregnant, which we did in one go, despite my “advanced maternal age” and whatever other nonsense I had expected would prevent me from getting pregnant without heartache.
Conception was easy, but that pregnancy was as hard as they come. Fast forward to 5 months pregnant, and I was hobbling along, barely making it through my work days with a horrible case of pelvic girdle pain. It was caused, I now believe, by a really dumb pedicure injury I’d brought on myself about 10 years before.
I’ll pause here to let that sink in:
Side-note: may I be the first to advise you that if you’re even feeling in the mood for a little home pampering one quiet Saturday night, and you’re walking back down to the kitchen of your lovely Victorian apartment with a big bowl in one hand and a tea kettle in the other, it’s probably best to skip the fluffy white socks lest you go bumpity-bump down 10 steps and land straight on your sacrum and whack out your right hip in a major way. If you do sustain such a stupid and preventable injury, then for land’s sakes, do seek the help of qualified chiropractor post haste. Seriously. You don’t want that business coming back to haunt you when you’re 30 pounds heavier and your body is in the throes of Relaxin hormone.
Which is exactly what happened to me. By the time I was carrying a significantly-sized human, my body was so utterly misaligned that I had all kinds of weird postural behaviors going on. At that time, I massaged and did skincare usually 11 hours a day, four or five days a week. Usually I felt fantastic doing the work, but as my first pregnancy progressed, I began to hunch, limp, and shift my alignment in ways no human should do. My muscles responded by cramping up with a vengeance. My body was trying to tell me it needed help. Did I listen? Not really.
And so, by 5.5 months pregnant I was limping to the MUNI stop to get to and from work. By 6 months, I was home from work on a self-imposed bed rest that consisted of knitting and reading in bed, totally uncomfortable, and getting up only to fetch a snack or use the bathroom. I still didn’t know what was wrong with me. Doctors assured me the pain was normal. My midwives knew better and suggested pelvic girdle problems; they also advised that I had some powerful inflammation going on and that was contributing to my muscular pain. So I increased my daily fish oil capsules to handfuls and read all I could about symphysis pubis dysfunction, and pelvic girdle pain. At that time there was very little information out there. I found a couple of web sites that came from the UK and Norway, countries that have a tradition of osteopathy, as it turns out.
I spent my days in absolute terror of how painful I imagined childbirth would be.
By 6.5 months I had to crawl to the bathroom, and my sweet husband would leave things like a thermos of soup or a cooler of cheese, veg, and crackers by the bedside. Needless to say, by this point my prenatal nutrition was less than optimal.
At 7 months I awoke one morning to find I could no longer crawl to the loo. My husband and sister made the executive decision to call paramedics and get me to a hospital, where they would figure out what in Hades was going on with my body.
After many tests and a 7 day stay, I was discharged from the hospital with literally no information about what was happening to me. Doctors said my pain was just part of pregnancy. They gave me a prescription for pain killers and fitted me for a spiffy new wheel chair. I felt terrified and out of control. I also couldn’t walk. I had to move out of my third floor San Francisco flat and into my parents’ first-floor house in the suburbs.
Another side-note: Your pregnancy may or may not take a depressing turn if you find yourself riding it out in a rented hospital bed in you old teenage bedroom. Take heart. You’ll get through it.
Eventually I gave birth to a healthy baby. At 37 weeks, it wasn’t the homebirth I’d planned but it was fantastic nonetheless. And though I know there is a lot that we can’t control with birth and pregnancy, I learned a tremendous amount that first, terrible time.
Armed with that knowledge, here’s what I’m doing differently to keep healthy and strong with Baby #2:
- Twice a week weight-training with my fantastic personal trainer. This has been essential for me, because to being strong means being better able to meet the physical changes that come with the increased weight of the baby.
- Once a week ART/chiropractic sessions. Chiropractors assist with keeping the spine and joints aligned properly- something I needed desperately and tried to work on too late when I was pregnant with my son. Active Release Technique is a movement-based massage therapy that actively engages muscles and other soft tissue to increase mobility and decrease pain. It hurts sometimes (the ART) but I’ve found it incredible for keeping me limber and aligned in this pregnancy.
- Once or twice a week I do aqua aerobics. Just me, my dear friend, one other pregnant woman, and a great group of feisty elderly ladies in the pool, getting our Esther Williams on without taxing our joints.
- Prenatal yoga. When I can get to a class, I do. When my time is too tight, I have an easy routine that’s a piece of cake to do at home. Pelvic tilts, cat and cow pose, supported bridge, and long moments spent in a squat are my usual, easy routine. I love a squat because it serves the dual purposes of opening my tired hips and strengthening my low body- great preparation for childbirth itself!
- Belly dance! While I usually take classes with an amazing teacher one or two nights a week, I’ve just been too busy (and frankly, too tired) to make it to anything extra for the past few months. That doesn’t stop me (and usually my kid, too) from busting out an occasional baladi boogie at home. Shimmying makes legs that are strong and powerful, and hip circles and undulations of all kinds feel fantastic for keeping your pelvic floor strong and your low back loose. Plus you have to imagine that the baby is having fun in there.
As a bonus 6th thing, I have a weekly check-in with my own health coach. She supports me in making sure that I’m staying on track with nutrition, exercise and self care. She’s also a wise and patient sounding board on those rare moments that I let my fear get the better of me and I need to hyperventilate about how bad my last pregnancy was and how much I don’t want any of the things I endured then to happen this time around.
So far so fabulous. And that’s it: my top five tips for preventing pain in pregnancy. Of course I still feel tired and heavy sometimes. I often enjoy an afternoon nap or go to bed at 7:30pm. (That would be another bonus tip for you: listen to your body. Rest your body when you are tired.) But when I compare last time- where by 7 months I was unable to so much as walk- to this pregnancy, in which I’m able to walk, work, coach, swim, wrangle a crazy-beast 5-year-old and otherwise have a pretty great life, all at the age of 40 (in a month)… My plan for easy self-care has worked far better than I ever expected! So what did you do to care for yourself and prevent pain in pregnancy? I’d love to hear your best tips for pain-free pregnancy, so please do leave a comment.
Until next time, keep living your delicious life!
Kirsten Quint Fairbanks is health coach and holistic living expert who loves offering real-world holistic coaching for mamas who want to consciously cultivate big lives that get them totally fired up. Kirsten lives happily, works gratefully, dances inexpertly, paints badly, cooks traditionally, and rocks a tiny homeschool in the San Francisco Bay Area. She believes that connection can change your life. Read more about her here.