mama’s got curves part II: scoliosis surgery, birth, and the postpartum.
One of my most popular posts that continually receives hits is mama’s got curves part 1: scoliosis surgery and pregnancy. There isn’t a lot of information out there about Harrington rods, spinal surgery, pregnancy and natural delivery, which is why I wanted to write about it.
My surgery took place in 2000, when I was just 16. Today, I’m 26, and have had a successful pregnancy with no complications, with a very wonderful, natural childbirth (and carried a large and long 9.3 lb baby to term).
That being said, my pregnancy didn’t come without it’s aches and pains, as most do. But I think my body was beat up pretty badly at certain points in my pregnancy simply due to the three titanium rods screwed onto my spine.
My spine used to look like this with severe scoliosis that progressed incredibly fast over 6 months:
Now it looks like this:
I was concerned going into the pregnancy that things would go south, and I’d end up in a wheelchair or something strange. Of course, the body can take far more than we dish out sometimes, and mine did just that. It compensated, of course, and once the relaxin kicked in, my bones were all over the place. Halfway through the pregnancy was the worst, because there wasn’t enough relaxin to really open things up, but just enough to cause some major shifting in my hips, pelvis and SI joint. I couldn’t walk for a few days, couldn’t walk without excruciating pain for a few weeks, and finally could walk, but hated to for a good three weeks. Chiropractic saved my body. Without it, and prenatal massage, I wouldn’t have made it off the couch at 25 weeks.
I was also worried about the immense pressure and weight of a full term baby pressing against my spine. Since my vertebrae are fused together, my spine didn’t curve to allow baby some room.
As this article, “A pregnant woman’s spine is her flexible friend” points out:
“A pregnant woman’s lower spine has a hidden flexibility which shifts her centre of gravity backwards so she does not topple forwards due to the weight of her baby, researchers have found.
An analysis of the female backbone has shown how the spinal curvature of a woman becomes more pronounced when pregnant. This ensures the weight of the developing foetus is placed directly over the pelvis and reduces pain and fatigue for the woman’s back muscles.”
Of course reading articles like that while pregnant, did not boost my confidence in my body’s ability to carry a baby without pain. And when I found out Florence was going to be big, I worried yet again.
But alas, it wasn’t until the last 2-3 weeks that I really felt her weight bearing down on me. My pelvis opened wide and clicked like crazy. It hurt so bad, I have to admit it was one of the worst parts of being pregnant. It still hurts today, 2 weeks into the postpartum. The pelvic bones just feel bruised and used. It’s like they took a big yawn and then stayed there, locked and creaking. Not a nice feeling, but I’m confident that as the relaxin leaves my body, so too will my bones regain their strength.
I didn’t topple forward, but I didn’t have the ability to lean back and just let my body carry the baby. There was always a heavy weight pulling me forward, straining every muscle in my body. My knees went crazy, my lower back seized often, and it really took some effort to walk around the block.
Enough complaining though. I will happily carry another baby one day, and not think twice about the rods on my spine. Giving birth really gave me a confidence boost. I never suffered from back labor (which I naively assumed would occur, given my spinal situation), and never felt the need for pain relief.
I eventually forgot about the whole scoliosis issue, until the midwives sent me in for a consult with an anesthesiologist. All he said was: “If you need an epidural, it will have to be done by a senior anesthesiologist, and will most likely be a little risky. Your success rate is about 60%, so we may have to try it again. Or it may not work at all.”
I casually mentioned that I didn’t think I would need an epidural, or rather, didn’t want one, and as a doula, was well aware of the issues with epidurals. I was afraid of offending him, since he injected epidurals for a living, and he was rather intimidating. He scoffed and said, “Most women think that, but be aware, about 80% get an epidural in the end at BC Women’s. I’d like to see the percentage of doulas that beg for an epidural when it’s their turn to birth a baby.”
Would you like to see me roll my eyes? Keep on talking sir. Thanks for the vote of confidence.
I eventually discovered that someone with Harrington rods doesn’t need to be put under general anesthetic for a C-section, unless it’s for an emergency section (and in that case any woman would automatically be put under). I was greatly relieved, although the thought of a C-section will always terrify me, especially while being awake. Women who have to go through that are heroes. We all are. Birth, however it happens, is a miracle, a feat, a magical journey that changes you.
So, as I continue to venture into the postpartum, I’m thankful to report that things are going smoothly. At first I couldn’t sit on my tailbone without heaps of pain, and my back was so strained I couldn’t bend over to pick up Florence, which happens very regularly of course.
I purchased a postpartum abdomen belt, for tucking my uterus back into it’s little pre pregnancy home, and also for back support. And let’s be honest, to hem in all that weird postpartum softness. I am not used to carrying extra weight (by the end of my pregnancy I had gained 70 “pounds”), and was mortified when I touched my belly a few days after giving birth and realized it moved. Like jello. Hello, not the end of the world, but I sure had to get over my body image issues, and fast. I lost 30 pounds in water, baby and placenta weight in the first week. And that’s the last time I weigh myself in a long, long while (considering we don’t own a scale).
The Abdomend Hem-It-In Belt was pretty awesome for the first week and a half postpartum. It’s mostly used for C-section recovery, but also very helpful for your average vaginal delivery. But as my bones changed and the level of relaxin changed, I felt the belt putting unnecessary pressure on my back, so I stopped wearing it. I would recommend it for the immediate postpartum though! Many cultures practice postpartum belly binding, using heat compresses, and wraps. It can be very soothing.
Since I’m comfortable posting big belly shots of myself pregnant, I figured it can’t hurt to post a postpartum picture. It’s a sensitive time for women. However, the way the body recovers is such a miracle to me. It’s a wonder how water just melts away, and swelling goes down, and food tastes incredible, and heartburn settles. There is nothing quite like the sleep deprived, overwhelmingly beautiful postpartum period.