I was 29 years old when I became pregnant - the specifics of the situation are a story for another time, but at that time, I was, by all accounts, a fairly healthy and very active person. I was a police officer, I raced BMX on the weekends, I rode a motorcycle regularly and went horseback riding every Sunday morning. I had a lot of "little accidents" and bruised easily plus I suffered with an unusually weak immune system, and I had lots of small things that seemed odd for someone my age - but I never would have dreamed that I would one day be completely disabled because of something I'd had all along.
It wouldn't be fair to say that being pregnant CAUSED me to become disabled, but had I not become pregnant, it's impossible to know if i would have ever been seriously affected by the Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, especially to the extent that I am now. I may have gone through life just being sick more than the average person, being unable to tolerate the heat, and having an unusual number of "little issues" here and there with my health.
I didn't want to have a baby- I had never wanted kids, but all of that is an entirely separate story. Regardless, by the time I was nine months pregnant, my best friend was doing the best he good to take care of me as the swelling (of my legs and feet) had gotten so bad I could barely walk and all I wanted was the baby O-U-T. When we had gone to the hospital to have the baby, my birth plan was a scheduled c-section but my baby plan was open ended... I was fairly sure my son would be headed to an adoption agency as my life-plan had never included children and I had no intention of being a single parent.
During my pregnancy, I had moved to my home state of NJ to be with family - and with my best friend who I came home every other month or so to see during the ten years I'd lived in Florida. How we didn't know that we'd one day end up married neither of us can figure out in retrospect... and even though we never technically dated (about a week before our son's birth we discussed that by entering a relationship we were basically acknowledging that we were planning to get married - hell, hadn't what we'd been doing all that time we'd spent together over 14 years essentially been dating without the kissing and whatnot? Anyway, he is Kaedin's father, and he had been his daddy since our son was the size of a lima-bean growing in my belly even if we didn't actually know we'd choose in the end to become his parents.
Justin also had never wanted kids, I was dead-set against them, and despite our being the best friends for fourteen years, it wasn't until I moved home pregnant and in crisis that we fell in love... right there between the morning sickness and my ever-expanding mid-section, somehow it happened. The first time he told me that he thought I was beautiful was a slightly sideways comment about how pregnant women can be really beautiful. I got what he was throwing out there... neither of us had ever been the mushy type - after all, we had been platonic besties for over a decade, but somehow it worked.
And as it turned out, he is the most amazing father in the world - like I said, he was, even before we knew we'd be parenting the little munchkin. He was incredibly supportive, from foot rubs and staying up all night with me when I was feeling really awful to emotionally supporting me through the entire crisis that had caused the pregnancy in the first place. But my amazing husband (he's my husband now, he wasn't yet then) isn't what this blog is about... this is all about how my pregnancy caused me to become disabled.
Despite his best effort to keep me smiling and get me comfortable, even all of the foot-rubs, and back-rubs (Not to mention and how amazing to go from scared, alone and pregnant to having the most wonderful man in the world supporting you through a rough pregnancy ALL all the emotional trauma to boot), I was still getting more and more uncomfortable.
He would hold his hand on my ever-expanding belly to feel those insane kicks (and the hiccups my son had for almost an entire month before he was born!) and it was truly amazing to know how loved we both were - but still, I was in a LOT of pain by the time the 9-month mark rolled around. I hadn't gained much weight throughout the entire pregnancy (in retrospect, thank god for that!) - but all the sudden at eight months, it looked like I'd swallowed a basketball.
Due to the traumatic nature of my pregnancy, sadly, there are few pictures the documented the journey, so you'll have to take my word for it, but at seven months along, I was still getting the side-eye whenever I'd park in the "expectant mothers" spot, and yet less than a month later, right around Christmas, everyone (including myself) was quite positive I would burst at any moment, possibly with twins! So when the day finally came (and yes, we made the decision to keep our son and bring him home while daddy was holding him in the middle of my tubal-ligation... the big emotional mess of a decision I'd made as a kick-back from the trauma of the pregnancy in the first place...) - I thought that all that back pain, leg pain, etc would finally end.
I went home on pain-killers - for about ten days after my c-section and during that time felt pretty great. Of course, much it it was probably the fact that I was now engaged and in love with both of my amazing men... I remarkably feeling well for someone who had just had a human being ripped from their abdomen and I was actually up walking around quite a bit just hours after our son was born.
I had remembered the horror stories from my sister in law who couldn't walk for days afterwards, but none of that was the case. In all reality - had my digestive system responded better to the dilaudid, I probably could have gone home that next day, but instead we got snowed in and spent six blissful days with nurses and catered meals and we all snuggled together and slept in my hospital bed. (It's a pretty weird way to start a marriage, by the way... his family was all "So... you're not coming home after work because you're at the hospital with your new baby.... um....)... but again, THAT is a whole other story. :-)
Our First Family Photo (1/24/11): I was crying. Right before this photo was taken, my then fiance brought the baby over for my first look and said to me, "I think we need a car seat." Until that point, we hadn't decided that we would be parenting vs. my placing the baby for adoption as I'd been planning through my pregnancy, so this picture is incredibly special to us. I was so incredibly blown away that my best friend had fallen in love with our son so completely before I'd even had a chance to lay eyes on him.
The problem wasn't my body wasn't the c-section or the recovery afterwards, what actually "upset" my faulty collagen had started long before the surgery as my body was moving through the stages of pregnancy and preparing for labor. All the low-back pain and hip problems I'd been writing off as pregnancy-related weren't actually -they were foreshadowing.
The problem began to show itself in the weeks after the birth when the low-back pain from the pregnancy (it had crept up right around the eighth month) had never gone away... by early summer it had gotten so bad I was at my GP asking for pain medication and MRI and x-rays. Disappointing and confused by "minor arthritic change" being the only notable thing, I couldn't understand why my pain was only getting worse. And spreading. It seemed like my knees, my ankles, my shoulders... one at a time, every joint in my body was starting to slip out of place, to sit funny - I'd dislocate a hip during sex (sorry for the TMI, but I promise, no one was more traumatized than we were!) - I'd step down a step only to find that my ankle had slipped out of place and end up in a heap on the ground.... something was very wrong and it wasn't related to my now months-gone pregnancy. By now my son was standing on his own, and I was becoming less and less able to stand on my own, even sitting up for long periods was excruciating. While he was having tummy time, all I could do was lay flat on my back on a heating pad, taking twice the recommended dosage of Advil and nothing was helping.
Finally, almost a year after my son's birth- after various referrals and two orthopedists who told me that nothing was horribly wrong with my back, I saw an orthopedist who was able to give me some REAL answers. (For the record, my husband had already come to the right conclusion) But for me, this was a real specialist, who I really trusted, who could explain what no one else had figured out: I have Ehlers-Danlos Sydrome, Type III. Otherwise known as Hyper Mobility Syndrome, it's a genetic condition that causes faulty collagen, which is otherwise known as the glue that holds us all together. So here I was, feeling as if I was coming apart at the seams... and I really WAS! As upsetting as it is to have a genetic disorder and no hope for a cure - everyone I know who has been diagnosed to this day is just glad that they finally have answers.
Being told that it's not real, that it's all in your head - it's demeaning, it's downright abusive. To have doctor after doctor treat you as if you are a head-case while your body is being racked with such severe pain that your quality of life is becoming non existent, you just don't understand what that's like until you're living it. I was just glad to have something I could go home and Google, to read about, to learn about, to learn to cope. The first stage of accepting this condition is knowing you have it - so at least I had that.
And for the record, I really have to thank my orthopedist Dr. Levy from Sprains Strains and Fractures in Cherry Hill, NJ because he's an amazing person and he really may well have saved my life, because up until the point where I started getting proper treatment for this incredibly painful condition, it was not looking good for me.
I spent the first few days after the diagnosis in tears- at first I was terrified I had Type 4 (Vascular EDS, which is often deadly) - I do not, I have type III. But still -this has no cure. It's a lifetime of pain. The dislocations will never go away, they will never stop - surgery won't help. This is a condition you manage and learn to live with - but it's not something that you can change because it's faulty genetics. And worse... I could have passed it to my son. But now you know the end of the story, and you didn't really find out HOW I went from being a healthy happy 130 lb police officer to a 185 lb disabled woman with a three year old son... so let me explain how pregnancy (and later, an inept moron of a doctor at Virtua Hospital in Voorhees) destroyed my body...
(but first let me say... even had I known that this would be the outcome... we wouldn't trade our son for the world.)
HOW PREGNANCY CAUSES EDS SYMPTOMS TO GO AWRY ...
The relaxin hormone floods a woman's body at the end of pregnancy to prepare her hips and pelvis for birth - unfortunately that hormone loosens up ALL your joints, not just your hips and pelvis. A healthy women's body will slowly tighten back up, and her lax joints from pregnancy hormones will slowly go back into their normal place after labor as the healthy collagen does it's job after the pregnancy is over.
Unfortunately, my defective collagen couldn't help my body go back to where everything belonged. The pregnancy set me up for a lifetime of joint dislocations each and every time I move, even ever-so-slightly, the wrong way. If I reach for something in front of my, my shoulder can drop out of the socket. When I roll over in my sleep, my hip often slides in and out of socket more times than you flip your pillow to get to the cool side.
Every joint in my body regularly dislocates, except oddly, my elbows, which seem to have remained free from the effects of my hyper-mobility. Everything else in my body is affected; my jaw broke during surgery to pull my wisdom teeth, my fingers dislocate from typing, writing with a pencil is physically painful, my wrists snap from picking up my cell phone to look at my text messages, toes slide out of socket and are so cramped and painful the only way to put them back in place is to get on my feet and apply pressure to them with my whole body to "re-set" them into place, my ankles drop if I try to run (that's a joke - trust me, there's no running going on here!), my knees dislocate from staying bent on an airplane or at a movie, and more than anything, my hips.
My hips are why I walk funny - they are why I'm in horrible pain as i type this blog, they are why I can't sleep, why my back is constantly a huge tangle of painful knots.
My hips are the bane of my existence... That's what the collagen disorder, EDS Type-III is, after-all. As a child, they put these awful bar-shoes on my feet to try to stop me from "toe-ing in" as they called it. Doctors told my parents not to worry and that I'd "outgrow it" and not one specialist was concerned that I can rotate my feet well over 180 degrees inward, even walking with my feet facing forward and backward at once. Here's a photo to illustrate. And here's one that shows what I can do standing up...
It's quite typical for woman (and their doctors) to only put together all the puzzle-pieces of a lifetime of "little things" together after a pregnancy, when all the damage done by the relaxin begins to cause chronic pain. And that's what happened to me.
Life at 34, as a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend... with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, nothing is easy..but it *IS* worth it.