Depression and Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP)
Written by Angelina, May 2018
After the birth of my first child, my Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) did not immediately go away as I had been told it would by numerous healthcare professionals. This was a pretty major blow as I had been looking forward to the birth of my baby so much, not just to see his beautiful face, but also to be free of the constant pain that disturbed both my waking and sleeping moments. Despite seeing a number of different physiotherapists, I wasn’t making any progress as I hadn’t yet found someone who actually knew what they were doing. With each fruitless session that passed, my mood sank a little lower. My baby was not a sleeper and I lived in a first storey flat and had no car. Mobility was a pretty big issue, but I sucked up the pain and just tried to get out as much as I could. Things were pretty bleak. I wasn’t enjoying my baby as social media kept telling me I ought to. My husband would work late and did not come through the door until 7.30, by which point I had endured at least 3 hours of griping. I used to throw the baby at him the minute he came through the door. This isn’t an unusual scene for young parents, but the difference between myself and the other mums at playgroup was that I was in pain all day as well. I could not put the baby in the pram and walk around the neighbourhood to distract him as others could. I could not even jiggle him for more than a minute without the pain becoming too bad.
I became more and more withdrawn. By nature I am a social creature; I like talking and listening to others and usually find it easy to connect with other people, especially women. But I used to sit in the playgroups and feel like a shadow of myself, plastering a grin on in places I thought were appropriate, usually trying to bite back tears as the dichotomy of who I was before and after motherhood stuck in my throat and threatened to choke me. Before pregnancy I would run for miles, getting lost and doing a few extra miles without breaking much of a sweat, but now I could barely make it down the street and had to catch a bus just to go into town half a mile away. Unfortunately, the bus stop was a block away from my house; on bad days this seemed like a marathon. I listened with ears that wanted to seal over to how the other mums were getting back to their exercise routines, and starting to extend their runs. I just wanted to get down the street. I remember one night, my first night out after the birth, myself and several other mums from our NCT group were in the car on the way back home. The analgesic effect of a few glasses of sauvignon blanc had loosened my tongue and I described to the other mums how I fantasised about running sometimes, just letting go and sprinting as fast as I could, how it would feel. A silence fell in the car. I think I had made them feel guilty about talking about their return to health. That wasn’t my intention. I was pleased with them, just sad for me.
When I started work again I had hoped that not lifting a baby all day would improve my condition, but I was very wrong, and things just got worse. I was still breastfeeding and being apart from my baby took its toll. I was so low. In retrospect, I had not been myself since the PGP kicked in. I remember being paranoid that my work colleagues thought I was stupid, and that they didn’t like me. I thought I was weak for not being able to cope with pregnancy like all the other women seemed to. I hated myself for not loving being pregnant. The pain was like a consistent irritating noise that I could phase out to some extent most of the time but was always there driving me mad, causing loss of focus. Thoughts became like helium balloons on strings, slipping from my fingers, and flying up into the sky never to be caught again. Most of the time I struggled for clarity, and as my job was a research scientist it made life very difficult.
I sunk lower and lower. I wasn’t living, I was just existing. Sleep was still an issue, my baby was not playing ball and I was falling apart at the seams. My worst point was trying to get home from a friend’s wedding in London. The Olympics were on at the time and getting a taxi was very difficult, so we got the tube home, which meant a lot of hobbling down and upstairs on my crutches. I was in so much pain and felt so terrible. I was standing on the platform with my husband, tears rolling down my cheeks, and I seriously contemplated jumping in front of the next train. I’d had enough. Enough of the pain, enough of the difficulty, just enough. I thought for a moment of my parents, and thought they’d understand in the end, they’d understand I just wanted it over. I thought of my husband and how he could get over it in the end eventually as well. But then I thought of my boy, five years old with no mum, and how I wanted to see what he would become growing up. I decided then I needed to do something. I went to the doctor for some anti-depressants and made a list of people who I needed to contact to find some help. It wasn’t long after that I found the Pelvic Partnership, who led me to a good physiotherapist and my PGP recovery began. The anti-depressants helped a great deal. I took them for about seven months and came off them with no problem. I was lucky that I got on quite well with the type preferred for breastfeeding mothers.
I had access to good manual therapy in my second pregnancy so the impact of PGP on my life was far less intensive. Unfortunately, I had hyperemesis gravidarum to contend with instead, so I didn’t get the pleasant pregnancy experience and my mental health was strained once again. I didn’t mess around after the birth of my daughter. Six weeks after her birth I was still feeling very low so I went on anti-depressants again, which allowed me to enjoy life as a mum of two. At least this time around I had no problems with physical pain and immobility. I remember long, enjoyable walks in the autumn sunshine with my baby strapped to me in a sling.
PGP is such a difficult thing to contend with, especially when caring for a baby and the isolation that brings. I can’t imagine what it is like to have to care for a toddler as well as a baby when your pelvis is making your life miserable. It’s no wonder so many women with PGP end up with depression. Getting your pelvis back in good working order is so important, as is admitting to yourself that you need the help with your mental health. I would recommend letting your midwife, health visitor or GP know that you are struggling with low mood as soon as you can, as there is help out there. Charities such as Mind and Samaritans are also good. I found talking to PANDAs really helpful, as they specialise in pre and postnatal mental illnesses. Babies are small for such a short time, it’s important to try and enjoy this time as much as you can, without letting social stigma over mental illness get in the way.