Guest post by Claire, one of our volunteers
I had severe PGP during my first pregnancy, but I managed to stay quite positive. Everyone was telling me that the PGP would stop once the baby was born. So this was just a short term problem I had to put up with, right?
Unfortunately, they were wrong. For some women PGP does stop at birth, but for many, if not most, it continues. Sometimes just for a short time, but for some women it lasts months or years without proper treatment.
Coping with a newborn first time round is a big shock and a real challenge for anyone, but when you have PGP it is even more difficult.
I was kept in hospital for a number of days following my son’s birth. Some of the staff were unsupportive regarding my PGP, telling me “there is nothing wrong with your legs”. In my notes they wrote “says she cannot walk”. They stopped bringing food to my bed, presumably thinking that if I got hungry enough I would get up and walk. I didn’t. I felt too vulnerable to confront the staff, so survived on biscuits when my husband wasn’t there to help.
The hospital referred me straight to physio, but I was told they could do nothing until 6 weeks after the birth.
Once home I faced new challenges as I could not get up the stairs. We had to live downstairs and sleep on the sofa bed. My husband filled the watering can with hot water to give me a shower.
By the time my husband went back to work, I was able to get up and down the stairs with help. In the morning, my husband would help me down the stairs and set up everything I needed for the day, leaving my lunch in the fridge. I was then at home on my own all day, caring for the baby and unable to go out. A very kind community midwife used to clear up my kitchen and make me a cup of tea every time she visited. At this stage I was still being told that my PGP was just going to clear up, so we never planned ahead, we were just focussed on surviving each day as it came.
My PGP was improving slowly. There was no chance of managing our big off-road buggy, so we looked on Which? and found the lightest buggy suitable for a newborn. I was soon able to walk round the block or to the cornershop, but I was still very isolated, with no friends of family living nearby. Luckily, I had my NCT group, some of whom lived nearby, and we started going to a baby group at a church within hobbling distance of my house. That was a real sanity saver. But I felt very anxious about going out because I worried about how I would change my baby’s nappy. I couldn’t do it on the floor like others did. Once I found a few places with easily accessible baby changing units, it got easier.
I went back to physio at around six weeks, but was not offered any hands on treatment. It was just practical advice and core strengthening exercises. Just getting to and from the hospital was very difficult. I couldn’t drive so had to walk there. Luckily it was quite close by, but with PGP it was a big struggle.
Eight weeks in, my husband had unavoidable work commitments which meant he would be away for much of the next two weeks. This forced us to make the decision to get a doula, and we wished we had done it sooner. The doula came 2 or 3 times a week for a few months. She would help with laundry, making lunch and looking after the baby while I slept or did my physio exercises. My husband started working from home twice a week, which was such a help.
Around 3 months in, my PGP stopped improving. Other people seemed to be getting back to normal, but I was still really struggling, and sleep deprivation was taking its toll.
One of the lowest points was when I joined a mum and baby yoga group, as I had been advised this could help. It was so demoralising. I started the same week as another new mum. The yoga teacher told the class how brilliantly this lady had done, having a totally natural birth with no pain relief, and how she had got straight back to yoga. Nothing was said about my birth experience – a crash caesarean under general anaesthetic – I wasn’t the image of childbirth that the yoga teacher wanted to promote. I felt like a failure for being in such bad shape physically and for not being able to do half the exercises. But I kept on going, hoping it would fix my PGP and bad back. Looking back, I wish I had just walked out that first time.
Eventually I did recover from PGP, once I had proper manual therapy. Unfortunately this wasn’t until my son was 15 months old.
It’s understandable that medical staff try to reassure women with PGP by telling them it will soon go away, but by not being open about the fact that PGP can continue after birth, they are denying women the chance to prepare for what can be a really tricky time both physically and emotionally.
I hope this blog will help other people struggling with PGP post-birth to realise it is not just them, and that there are ways to cope. The most important thing is to get manual therapy. PGP is treatable!