Romper

I Had Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction And It Almost Ruined My Pregnancy

Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

Generally, I love being pregnant, and I've felt pretty good during all three of my pregnancies. Of course, there are parts I don't love. The worst part by far is the pelvic pain associated with Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD), the condition that occurs when the joint in the middle of the pubic bone becomes a little too loose.

Before my first pregnancy, I didn't even know there was a joint in the middle of my pubic bone. About midway through my first pregnancy, I started having pain in not only my pubic bone, but also in my sacroiliac joint on one side of my lower back. It hurt to walk, to the point that I was waddling before I was even showing. Every so often I'd take a step that really seemed to wrench the joints.  I could move my leg to a point, and if I moved it further past that point, I'd get shooting pains and I couldn't move it any further. Unless I was lying down or sitting, I was in terrible pain.

My midwives explained to me that all of this pain was due to the hormone relaxin. Relaxin serves an important function: it relaxes the joints in your pelvis so that when it comes time to give birth, joints that are normally rigid and stable have room to flex and make room for baby to descend. I shrugged pelvic joint pain off as something that was bound to happen to all pregnant women, so I didn't do anything to treat it.

By ignoring the pain, I made the condition worse. I continued my usual activities, thinking that there wasn't anything I could really do to improve how I was feeling. I took some pride in how I kept up with my prenatal yoga classmates. I asked the instructor one day if there were any moves I shouldn't do with the intense pain in my pubic bone. She told me not to do anything that hurt. Turns out, that was everything. I couldn't very well spend my entire class in shavasana.

I asked the instructor one day if there were any moves I shouldn't do with the intense pain in my pubic bone. She told me not to do anything that hurt. Turns out, that was everything.

The pain resolved itself after I delivered my baby, so the issue was forgotten until I got pregnant again and it came back. This time, however, I took steps to stay comfortable. The most helpful was going to see a chiropractor. I went every two weeks for an adjustment. The chiropractor made sure my entire spine was aligned, paying special attention to the pelvis. She advised me on what activities to avoid, and told me to keep my knees together and swing both legs out whenever I got out of the car or out of bed. She also said that if something hurt, that I should stop doing it. Being aware of the motions that put stress on that joint, along with getting regular chiropractic adjustments, I was able to mostly keep the pain at bay for that entire pregnancy.

SPD affects one in four pregnant women, mostly in their second and third trimesters. I've read that just because a woman has this problem in one pregnancy, it doesn't mean she will have a recurrence. Unfortunately, with each of my subsequent pregnancies, the pain not only came back, but also started earlier, which meant that during my most recent pregnancy, the pain struck halfway through my first trimester. Even though I knew what to avoid, I could not escape the pain while walking. Going up and down stairs was torture. I had to grit my teeth just to carry a laundry basket. I stopped picking up my toddler. Pushing a grocery cart was nearly impossible. (God bless grocery delivery. I wish I had discovered that sooner.)

I went to see a chiropractor again, and every time, without fail, she'd check on my SPD and say: "Wow, this is way out of whack." She'd show me, holding the tips of her two pointer fingers together, how the two halves of my pubic bone were completely misaligned. I'd get some relief after getting adjusted, but it only ever lasted a few days. And I couldn't afford to go more than once a week or so. It boggled my mind that even with moving very carefully and getting adjusted, the joint would misalign time and time again.

There were days when I felt totally useless. I couldn't even put on pants without groaning in pain.

One of the biggest bummers of having SPD so badly was that I was determined to work out and have an active pregnancy. After my second pregnancy, I had gotten into a routine with workout videos, and I was excited about the prenatal exercise videos I was going to try. But ultimately, so many of the moves were so painful, I found it hard to do much of them at all. I eventually gave up.

I thought I had solved the issue by going to a chiropractor. But by the middle of the pregnancy, I was just walking for exercise, which seemed to help. As a result of not exercising, I'm realizing now just how much strength I lost, particularly in my legs. My midwife encouraged me to continue the walking, since it generally does bring some relief.

You don't realize how much you count on a stable pelvis until it's unstable. I'm sure the same can be said for any injured body part. I remember hurting my knee and thinking, "Nothing can be worse than this." But there were days when I felt totally useless. I couldn't even put on pants without groaning in pain. Forget putting one leg up on the ledge of the tub to shave. Forget lifting children.

For a while, I wore a support belt that's specifically designed for pregnancy, which was essentially a flexible band that I strapped around my midsection. It was intended to help lift the belly and relieve the pressure on my pubic bone. But even with that and my visits to the chiropractor and avoiding painful activities, I was still in pain for most of my last pregnancy. I'd dread the moment at night when I'd want to roll from one side to the other. Even when I kept my knees together and rolled gradually, it still hurt in a way that woke me up and made falling back asleep difficult.

After my third child was born, the pain cleared up in about a week. I consider myself lucky that it resolved itself so quickly. Suddenly I could do all those things I couldn't while I was pregnant, like pushing the pedals in my car without cringing. It's sort of like that feeling when you've got a cold and been congested for a week and suddenly you wake up one day able to breathe and you say: "I will never take breathing through my nose granted again." I am still frolicking in my newfound pain-free abilities.

As someone who generally likes being pregnant, there are a lot of things about it that I miss. But whenever I start to get nostalgic for a month ago, when I had the nice round belly, I try to remind myself that it wasn't all rainbows and sunshine.