Postpartum Pain Can Be Severe & It's Time We Start Believing New Moms When They Say They're Suffering
When I was pregnant with my second child I was rear-ended by another driver. At the hospital, the nurse asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1 to 10. I said "9" and she said, "I'm sure it's not that bad." It was. When I asked her if I could have something — anything — to help, she said, "I have two patients here: you and your baby. Medication isn't good for your baby." This moment is forever embedded in my brain, because it's just one of many times I've learned that people don't take moms seriously about their pain. Later, I learned the car accident resulted in a torn a muscle in my back. It still causes me pain, almost six years later.
Then there was the time I was enduring hour 16 of excruciating back labor, and, as a result, begged for an epidural. The on-call midwife asked, "Are you sure? You don't want to give up, now. There are risks for your baby." Yes, I was sure, but her words made me feel so guilty. At a time when I should have felt supported I was made to feel like the act of trying to reduce the amount of pain I was in diminished my value as a mom.
Over the years, I've learned that not only do people not take my pain seriously, but as a mom I'm supposed to quietly power through. And to make matters often worse, after having a baby the spotlight immediately shifts away from you to your baby. Despite the fact that you are left feeling like utter sh*t, you are then expected to nurse and care for a tiny person on no sleep, food, and after hours upon hours of the worst pain ever. It feels like you are no longer a patient, and your pain doesn't matter, once you become a mom.
In so many ways, the cultural decision, of sorts, to ignore women's, and postpartum women's, pain is messed up and misogynistic. I mean, no one would ever hand a man a baby after a medical procedure and say, "here you go" or "time to get to work." According to a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, this practice of so-called "baby-friendly" hospitals, designed to promote breastfeeding, is actually resulting in baby deaths from accidental falls and suffocation. It's unconscionable and heartbreaking that moms are losing babies because we collectively minimize their pain and needs after childbirth.
Then, once we get home it, not only are we expected to "bounce back" immediately after childbirth, but our kids are supposed to come first. So I breastfed my babies through the pain of engorgement, shallow latch, bleeding nipples, pumping blisters, mastitis, thrush, and plugged ducts. I was often in so much pain that I couldn't wear a shirt, but also, ironically, couldn't stand the air touching my nipples. I took pain medications as prescribed, put boob-shaped ice packs in my bra, and bought every kind of nipple cream on the market. I was also less-than-surprised to learn that in breastfeeding supply company Lansinoh's survey of over 13,000 new moms, 21 percent of them said the hardest part of breastfeeding was pain.
Unfortunately, in my experience, mom-pain doesn't stop there. When my daughter was 5-months-old, my wrist became so sore and swollen that I couldn't write, work, or drive. I was referred to an orthopedic surgeon who laughed and said, "This kind of tendonitis happens to a lot of new moms. It's so common in new moms that we call it, 'mommy wrist or mommy thumb.'" I wasn't laughing, though.
I took the steroid shot he gave me "like a mom" and didn't even cry, despite the pain being so bad it took my breath away.
I took the steroid shot he gave me "like a mom" and didn't even cry, despite the pain being so bad it took my breath away. Still, I couldn't get over the fact that a medical professional had just minimized my — and thousands of other moms' — pain by making a joke and giving our condition a cutesy name. WTF? He also gave me instructions to avoid re-occurrence by not doing the same thing. Which made me wonder out loud, "What am I supposed to do? Not hold my baby?" He stared at me and said, "Of course not."
It turns out I am not alone in having my pain questioned and dismissed by medical providers. One study published in the Journal of Law Medicine & Ethics showed that while women report feeling pain more often and more intensely than men, they are treated "less aggressively." This didn't surprise me at all. Another study reported by HuffPost showed that emergency departments make women wait 16 minutes longer for pain medications. The same article reports that women of color might even face more barriers to having their pain treated seriously.
My first instinct was to minimize my pain to make him feel better and because I thought he wasn't taking me seriously.
According to an Institute of Medicine report about chronic pain, 60 percent of moms report severe pain in childbirth, and it doesn't stop there, either. A year later, 18 percent of moms who had C-sections and 10 percent of moms who had vaginal deliveries report that they still feel persistent pain.
After a long year, I recently — finally — saw a Physical Therapist for my pelvic pain, hip pain, and incontinence issues. As you might imagine, discussing these things with a male provider was pretty humiliating. Worse, though, was his response when I rated my pain a 9 out of 10. He immediately asked, "Are you sure?" That damn question. I hate that damn question. My first instinct was to minimize my pain to make him feel better and because I thought he wasn't taking me seriously. Instead, though, I said, "Yes, I'm sure." As a result, things finally got real.
I honestly don't know if my pain will ever go away.
Motherhood hurts and no one is listening. Over time, you start to accept that you have to live with pain and power through. It's really hard to feel like a good mom, though, when you have to lie on the couch with a heating pad or ice pack instead of playing on the floor with your baby. It's hard to feel like you're capable when you're taking pain medications and sleeping aids that make you feel numb and disengaged. The alternative though, well, hurts too much to imagine.
I honestly don't know if my pain will ever go away. I do know that it's time we started taking moms seriously about their pain. It's real. And, yes, I'm sure.
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