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Steph: Pregnancy with fibromyalgia

This is an emotive subject for me, I feel as though I’ve come almost full circle since having my daughter in 2016. I don’t look at my first pregnancy with fond memories - because I was debilitated by hormonal migraines, and by 16 weeks I was on crutches with a condition called Symphis Pubic Dysfunction where the ligaments in your pelvis become stretchy making walking painful, this condition later saw me in a wheelchair. (Hang in there, there’s a fibromyalgia related point to this, I promise.) At 36 weeks I was diagnosed with preeclampsia, I had to be hospitalised and induced, I had to have my waters broken manually and when my daughter finally arrived she was born withdrawing from antidepressant medication I was taking in pregnancy.

It was after my daughter’s birth that I was officially diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, even though I had suffered with chronic pain for around 12 years prior. I’d had four investigative surgeries and a long struggle, finding little relief and feeling like I was going insane. If you have FMS you’ll likely know diagnosis can be a long and gruelling process. I’m now pregnant with my second child. When I found out I was pregnant the second time I was taking 8x the amount of medication I had been taking in my first pregnancy. So naturally I’ve been worried, it doesn’t help that we’re amidst a global pandemic and getting a doctor’s appointment is nigh on impossible. It feels ominous and nerve wracking because it is, being pregnant with fibromyalgia is difficult. Pregnancy fatigue on top of flare up fatigue will have you lying down more than standing up. Hormonal changes can affect fibromyalgia and I find because I also suffer from PMDD I’m extra sensitive to hormonal fluctuations, so allergies and allodynia have both been present pretty much since conception. Along with mood dips and brain fog of course.

I’ve been weaning off narcotic pain medications like Tramadol and I’ve had to reduce the amount of medication I take for migraine and nerve pain. It’s not been an easy 17 weeks and I would be lying to you if I said your fibromyalgia won’t be affected by your pregnancy and visa versa. Some women do claim to get a reprieve of symptoms during pregnancy but so far that has not been the case for me. That said, I still feel positive and I’m doing everything I can to have a healthy and hopefully more enjoyable pregnancy.

Some tips that I’ve found useful so far are things like: Getting yourself stocked up with safe pain relievers, have a box on hand with your hot water bottle, your ice packs and your paracetamol. I’ve also recently been using an acupressure mat for generalised body pain and acupressure clips for migraines. The likelihood is you’re going to need these things even before you start showing, so it’s important to have them well stocked for the days you don’t feel able to do much. Invest in a pregnancy pillow, even if you’re not pregnant I find these amazing for my sleep and nighttime comfort. They really help me get comfortable to read or watch tv in bed and you’ll likely be doing a lot of that (even more than usual.)

Tell someone close to you, someone you feel able to lean on for support. Of course, it’s likely you might be keeping schtumm in the early days but if you do feel able tell a close friend or family member do that, so they can help lighten the load when necessary. Can you ask someone to do the school run for you? Or drive you to your doctors’ appointments when that fatigue plays up? Sometimes just having someone to talk to can be really beneficial. In my case I told my boss as soon as I found out, I was only 4 weeks pregnant but I knew I would likely need extra support with work, particularly because the reduction in medication means migraine has been present for most of my pregnancy this time. Thankfully my work has been accommodating. I’m working from home which is helpful, but remember your employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for you during your pregnancy (as they do for disabilities) so if you need to change your hours or take time off for appointments don’t be afraid to ask.

If you live with Fibromyalgia you will know that the key to management is often down to pacing ourselves, whether those things are easy or practical is another story all together! During pregnancy this is even more important. Make time for rest, do not beat yourself up for needing time, it’s imperative for your health and wellbeing. Some people use exercise to manage symptoms of FMS and there’s no reason why you can’t continue to do this during pregnancy, in fact it’s encouraged. Gentle exercise that you feel able to do, even if it’s just a short dog walk or a home yoga session, you may find this helps to keep you moving and your pain down. It’s important to note though, that you don’t want to over do it either. Go at your own pace and stop if it feels too painful.

Getting enough rest in the early stages of pregnancy is crucial. Your body is going through endless changes and you will need time to adjust. I recommend resting at every given opportunity whether it means climbing into bed on your lunch break or going to bed straight after dinner, maybe even both. Do it. Pregnancy can have a negative effect on your joints which can make telling the difference between pregnancy symptoms and fibromyalgia symptoms hard, but you know your body best, don’t be fobbed off by other people downplaying your symptoms. It’s so vital you keep yourself as well physically and mentally as you’re able. That means if you need to rely on medication, please try very hard not to beat yourself up. A happy, healthy mum is the very best recipe for a happy and healthy baby.

What I have found this time around is the support available to me seems to be better. I have a mental health midwife helping me manage my concerns. Chronic illnesses like FMS have a naturally detrimental effect on our mental health which pregnancy can exacerbate, so getting the right support is necessary. Don’t be afraid to be honest about your pain and how you feel, nobody is judging you, you’re doing what you need to be able to safely and comfortably house another human being and, in my experience, medical professionals want to encourage that. There are also online support groups available to enable you to meet and talk to other expectant mums who might be having similar experiences.

Whatever you’re feeling during your pregnancy you can guarantee there is a mum out there who’s been through similar. Living with FMS is no walk in the park and neither is being pregnant for everybody, but as an FMS sufferer already you’ll likely find yourself adapting and adjusting as you do in everyday life. It may not be an easy road to travel, but it’s definitely one that’s worth it. 

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