When I was 31, I met with an orthopedic surgeon who told me that if I wanted a family I should start soon because my back pain would only get worse with age. And since pregnancy is hard on the body, the sooner the better. He was a compassionate man and a responsible surgeon who, in spite of my nearly debilitating pain, didn’t think my x-rays warranted cutting me open. But even still, his recommendation that I hurry up and start a family scared me into thinking I was destined for a life of managing my chronic low back pain.
I still had other things I wanted to do in my life before starting a family, so against the surgeon’s recommendation my husband and I waited. Three and a half years later, we got pregnant. My back pain was still a major health issue but had marginally improved with a consistent Pilates and yoga practice and daily MFR self-treatment. But in the back of my head I heard the surgeon’s warning and the stories of other pregnant women suffering from back pain. I held my breath waiting for it to get worse.
And yet, the opposite happened. As the weeks went on, and I grew in size (and circumference!), my back pain started to improve. I wasn’t pain free, but I also wasn’t wincing while I washed dishes or put groceries in the trunk of my car. My midwife told me it was common for women who’ve had chronic back pain to feel better during pregnancy because the body releases a hormone called Relaxin. As the name implies, it relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis in preparation for childbirth. I remember thinking, “Cool!” and then, “Darn,” at the logical thought that this would just be a temporary hiatus from my pain.
I was wrong.
In September 2015, at 42 weeks pregnant and with the lowest level of back pain I’d had in 5 years, I gave birth to a healthy whopping 9 pound baby girl.
Once again, I waited for that gnarly back pain to return. But it only kept improving. I started asking myself what changed? What was I doing differently? Especially since I no longer had the time for a consistent Pilates, yoga, or myofascial self-treatment practice. I knew it wasn’t just because I’d had a baby. Or was it?
A few months ago, I stumbled upon a quote that got me thinking about this turn of events. How I’ve gone from being someone whose back pain was the first thing she thought of when she got out of bed in the morning, to someone who now only occasionally feels encumbered by it. The quote went something like this: If you want to change your life, then you have to change something you do every day. Meaning, it’s the small daily habits (often unconscious to us) that have the biggest influence on our well-being.
Becoming a mom changed my life in more ways than I can think of. But the biggest way is how it got me out of my head and into my body. Before my daughter, I was in my head about everything. All. Day. Long. And especially about my pain. I researched, analyzed, mulled over the details of my pain’s trajectory. I certainly learned a lot, but it didn’t help my back pain much.
As a mom, the first years of your child’s life are so physically demanding. The holding, the feeding, the changing, the walking (especially if that’s the only way your baby sleeps, which it was for us), the keeping them safe. I had no resources left to think, only to feel the stress and fatigue, where I was holding it and how best to let it go. How to shift my own weight evenly to support hers. How to feel the muscles in my own chest tightening as she cried, and begin to wonder about them. What I was feeling in my body started to become the source of information on how I was managing, coping, and feeling about everything in my life. As my awareness grew, my back pain began to disappear.
My daughter is 21 months now, and though I’m not pain-free, I have a much more positive outlook on my healing journey. Before my daughter, I was lost in a sea of confusion, frustration and despair about my back pain. Having to care for her brought me back home to myself in a way I never could have “thought” :-). I can never repay her for that.
Now that I’m making my way to the other side of my pain, I understand what people mean when they say healing journeys are not linear paths. They are full of surprises, along with gratitude and forgiveness – mostly of ourselves. Nothing that happens on this journey is lost. Everything I’ve tried and learned got me to where I am today, especially my experiences with Pilates, yoga, and JFB-MFR. I have no doubt that even the time spent in my head about my pain was a necessary part of the journey for me. I had no idea that becoming a mom would bring me to this place of awareness, where I’ve begun to feel my way through life rather than think through it. I still have a long way to go, but now I actually believe a pain free life is possible. John Barnes says, “Without awareness, there is no choice.” After 6 years of back pain, I finally know what that means. And I am so, so thankful.