It’s About Balance: Being A Mom With A Small Child And Chronic Pain

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I had chronic lower back pain before I had my son.

In fact, it was a real worry when I got pregnant. I had to go to the ER due to excruciating back pain where I could hardly move twice. I can’t really describe it to people who don’t know what it’s like except- when I get back spasms it is like the pain you get when you break a bone and you move the injured part. It’s on repeat and you can’t stop it. I woke up once and it felt like someone had hacked into my back with a rusty machete. It’s something I live with and something that has not gone away since I was a mom. I have a toddler who is as rambunctious as a toddler can be. He likes to get into everything and squirm and run. I have had to learn to manage my pain and I have a lot of empathy for people with invisible disabilities.

The hardest part about pain is that you can’t really describe it to people. Only you know what you are feeling and if you don’t have an outwardly physical reason to be in pain, there are people who won’t believe you. There is also this mantra of “toughen up.” I’m a person who is known for having a high pain tolerance. I had to teach myself to listen to my body so I wouldn’t continually hurt myself, especially based on what other people thought. 

There is also this stigma of being drug seeking and that can be another frustrating aspect of this. When I went to the ER last time, I was told I had to take a pregnancy test. When I walked to the bathroom, I asked for a catheter. The attending physician saw me and said: “You have taken x amount of medication and a shot of x medication here and you still walked like that?” Yes! I was in pain. I was not faking it. Did they believe I wanted to be in an ER in so much pain I could hardly move and also worried that I would wet my pants? Did they think I wanted to be on my stomach afraid to move an inch and make my husband move my hospital bed so I would have a better view of Guy’s Grocery Games? Sigh. This is hard enough but I have to manage it with a kid.

Advice for Moms in Pain

  1. Get a group of people you can trust. I am fortunate to have a mother who lives nearby and my husband is really helpful. My son’s daycare is aware when my back acts up and my mom picks up my son. In really bad flare ups, I have had to take my son to a pediatrician with someone else. If you can’t do it by yourself get help. This is really hard but it is worth it.
  2. Part of your village is your care team. Get a team of health professionals you trust. I’ve had both good and bad experiences with physical therapy. If you are with someone you don’t absolutely trust with your body-get someone else. One thing that has been particularly helpful for me is that the practitioner at the spine center is a mom as well. She has been totally understanding of my needs and hasn’t prescribed medications that can sedate me. I was on muscle relaxers for a lot of last winter and my son was acutely aware something wasn’t right. My new physical therapist understands that my body has adapted to being in pain and while I can hide the pain, I am still weak on one side. It’s your health and if you can’t take care of yourself to the best of your ability it affects your kiddo.
  3. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. I suffer from mom guilt a lot. When I get flareups and I can’t do as much as I like with my son, I can wallow in it. But what I’ve discovered is that my son is a lot happier when I’m happier. He wants his mommy well and if she needs to take care of herself and knows when I can’t be as physical. He gets it. It’s really great when I feel better and we can play as we used to and he is so happy. Self-care is this really thin line and once you have kids I feel like there is a “sacrifice off” with some people. No matter what you do there is some other mom who would never be apart from their child as long as you, never trust their partner to make meals or anyone else to touch their kid, etc. I have always been a pretty self-centered person and having a child is pushing me to be better. But I am not going to harm myself or model that behavior in front of my child to appease some random critic. I want my child to know it’s okay to ask for help and to learn how to trust other people. I want him to be able to see the good in other people. 

This is cliche, but it’s a journey. I’m still figuring out how to manage this. However, I have a great team and I am getting more confident in how to handle it. I wish I didn’t have this pain but it is what it is. I know a lot of other people struggle with this.

Do you have chronic pain and small children? How do you handle it?

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Alison Gehred
Alison is an Air Force brat, who was born in Wisconsin (and she still visits there often to see extended family) and lived all over the West before her family settled in the Dayton area. Alison received her BA from Bowling Green State University where she met her husband, best friends who are like family, and worked at her college radio station. If there was a cool band in the mid aughts, chances are Alison played them on her show "My Aim is True." Alison received her MLIS from the University of Wisconsin and moved back to southwest Ohio. She reconnected with her now husband Mark and moved to Columbus a year later. Several years later, she is still working at Nationwide Children's Hospital as a medical librarian and they have a little boy named Rhys and two feisty cats. They are enjoying re-discovering Columbus as parents and enjoy what the city has to offer in the food, music, and art scene. Alison enjoys fashion, cult movies and tv shows, discovering new music and meticulously keeping track of it in various journals, BBC crime dramas, SCIENCE, reading all kinds of books, and cooking. Alison has her own personal blog about her life and things she finds interesting at www.radiancereflected.com. She loves to write and hope you enjoy her vignettes about motherhood and this fair city.