Written by Felicity Manavis, March 2018.
My PGP journey started with discomfort in my hips and thighs. I found it increasingly difficult to stand or walk for long periods of time, and driving to work (1hr) became very painful.
I was sent for a group Physio session where I first heard the term PGP and SPD and I have to admit that I didn’t know what they were and thought I was in the wrong session. Little did I know!
As my pregnancy progressed, so did the discomfort and by 30 weeks I’d been given crutches “for when it gets really bad.” I didn’t use them until I had a car crash at 35 weeks and things went downhill from there, but my real undoing was the emergency caesarean. That floored me: I was in a wheelchair for 3 days, then slowly got back to the crutches. Our daughter wasn’t well and she was transferred to a London hospital. I couldn’t manage the ambulance; the lack of suspension and the length of journey sent me into a panic attack so my husband went with her and I followed in a taxi. I felt every bump, lump and pothole in the road – even though I’d taken the maximum dose of pain killers before setting out.
My PGP was so crippling that the ward sister took pity on us and let us stay in a side room. I think she realised I’d probably have a breakdown if she sent me home on top of everything. Luckily our daughter made a good recovery and we were sent home the following week.
Home was a whole different bag of pain – stairs, saggy sofa, getting over the lip of the bath to have a shower, visitors sitting next to me on the sofa ( I know that sounds weird but it put me off balance and was really painful), car trips to appointments with more bumps, daily injections, tongue-tied baby. I felt like there was very little of my body that was not protesting in some way.
Pain becomes part of your life. It saps you of energy and drains your enthusiasm. Every trip or outing needs to be scrutinised in great detail:what chairs will they have; how long will I be standing; what if I walk too far; how long will I be bedridden for if I do this; is it worth the risk? You start declining invitations and pulling away from group activities. You get fed up of explaining for the 50th time that you can’t drive for 30 minutes, then walk around, then sit on an unfamiliar chair for coffee, then drive home again, all whilst caring for your baby/toddler/child.
Initially I saw a women’s health physio who I was referred to by my GP after my 6 week check. Sadly, she’d never seen anyone as bad as me and was at a bit of a loss as to how to help me. I wasn’t able to do the exercises she gave me, or let her touch me, but she did manage to reduce some of my swelling with an ultrasound machine. I remember when she discharged me she said, “There’s not a lot more I can do for you now. You just have to wait and give yourself time.” I’m glad I ignored her, and I have since seen other women’s health physios who have helped me a great deal, so I don’t want to berate the profession, I just didn’t see a great one at the beginning.
Polly wasn’t a happy baby. Someone suggested cranial osteopathy to help relieve her tummy pains. We went along when she was about 6 weeks old, not expecting much. The osteopath took one look at me hunched over my crutches, unable to sit on the chairs in her treatment room but also struggling to stand, whilst defiantly refusing to leave my baby and said, “I think you need some help too.” It took me a couple more weeks to pluck up the courage to book an appointment and actually go. I was petrified of the pain and making things worse, and if the physio had discharged me then how could this help? I was wrong. There began my journey with a group of wonderful female osteopaths who have become crucial to my emotional and physical well-being. They have guided me through the last two years and every session gets me closer to where I want to be. I am very fortunate to have found such a caring group of professionals who have taken me under their wing and looked after me. They saw how much pain I was in and are always extremely gentle. I have only ever laid on my back and relaxed during sessions and they have backed off whenever I have asked. I continue to see them once a month and always make sure I have a free day afterwards to recover – they are my sanctuary.
By the time Polly was 6 months old, my Mum had had enough. She marched me back to the GP and he agreed that I should be much stronger by then. He referred me to the local pain clinic. I was happy to try anything, and the first thing they did was refer me for an MRI. It showed a significant gap in my symphysis pubis, to which the pain physician exclaimed, “No wonder you’ve been in pain!” They offered me a range of treatment options, including acupuncture, more physio and CBT for chronic pain. I took it all. I went along to the CBT when about 9 months post-partum, utterly unconvinced it would help in any way. I explained my issues – felt uncomfortable talking to a man about it – although he was very kind and didn’t mind my changing chair every 10 minutes. I told him how I longed to take my daughter swimming but I was petrified of slipping and going back to square one. How I was desperate to go to the beach but I’d heard that sand can aggravate pelvic instability because it moves and is by its very nature, unstable. I was worried I’d be in pain during, afterwards, forever. So I didn’t go and felt cheated of experiences with my little girl.
He told me that if I went to the pool and was convinced I was going to slip, I probably would. My body would tense up, and wouldn’t be able to move freely and avert the tumble. I’d be so preoccupied trying not to slip that I would be in a stressful mind-set, therefore not breathe properly and fall. My homework – relax and go to the pool. If I slipped I could blame him! He wouldn’t have to deal with the pain afterwards, I thought. So I put it off and put it off. But one day, after another couple of sessions, I took a deep breath and went.
Did I hate being in a swimsuit? – Yes.
Was it daunting taking my daughter? – Yes.
Did I slip? – Nope.
Was I in a lot of pain afterwards? – Nope, I actually felt better!
I wish I could say this was the start of a magical journey to a pain-free life with lots of swimming and a bikini ready body, but it wasn’t. It was one step forward, a positive step, which built my confidence and helped me get more active again. We even went to the beach.
CBT helped me turn on my inner voice and stop anxiety surrounding my pain and gave me to confidence to give things a go again. I’d lost that somewhere along the pain train and it was liberating to have it back.
I’ve started logging my little achievements and it’s starting to feel like it won’t rule my life forever. A trip to the swimming pool turned into a day trip to the beach, which turned into a holiday on the beach. A five minute walk has slowly developed into thirty minutes and then an hour as I’ve learnt when I can go that bit further and when I need to call it a day.
I still have my bad days and I’m not brave enough to go for baby no.2 yet but I’m more relaxed, happier and in less pain. CBT and osteopathy have been the answer for me. You just need to be brave enough to advocate for yourself and find the right kind of treatment for you.