mama’s got curves part II: scoliosis surgery, birth, and the postpartum.

March 23, 2012, Michaela Evanow, 31 Comments

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.

39 weeks pregnant and feeling…it.

2 weeks, 2 days postpartum and feeling…good!

31 Comments

  • Reply Magda A August 2, 2016 at 2:08 AM

    Thank you for sharing this. I had my surgery at age 16, 20 years ago, and just had my fifth baby (all natural births; first one at a birthing center, the rest at home) and was looking for advice on reducing postpartum back pain. I had forgotten about chiro and massage! I wish someone had told me about belly bands earlier, as they make life so much better!

    • Reply Michaela Evanow August 3, 2016 at 5:17 PM

      So encouraging to hear! Well done, mama!

  • Reply Heather Thompson August 1, 2016 at 5:10 PM

    Hey! I’m 19 an wore a brace for a few years too! I don’t think my curve was very big I can’t remember the size of it but my boyfriend and I obviously want to have kids in the future but I’m terrified of passing this onto my children as it was horrible as you know wearing a brace no one in my family had it (that we know of) an my little sister has a tiny curve that they don’t think will grow any bigger so treatment isn’t needed… How old is your daughter now an does she have it? Sorry to be personal ahaha

  • Reply Sophie May 27, 2016 at 8:34 AM

    Thank you for your blog. I have scoliosis and had corrective surgery (including harrington rods etc) about 15 years ago. My partner and I want to start trying for a baby in the next 12 months or so. I have been too scared even to see a doctor in case they tell me something I dont want to hear. It’s really comforting to discover that pregnancy and birth can be ‘normal’ for women who have this condition (and that we are not earmarked for a C section automatically for example). Google just seems to present all the problems and its so refreshing to actually get the perspective of someone who has been through it and will be honest and upfront about the experience. Thanks again!

  • Reply Jena March 16, 2016 at 8:28 AM

    Thank you so much for posting this. I’m 25, also a doula, and had Harrington Rods inserted in 2006 when I was 15. My husband and I are trying to conceived and I’ve been worried about what pregnancy and birth would look like for me. I worried that I would end up in bed rest for months and have to have a C Section. Your post (and the comments from others) give me a renewed confidence in my body and in this crazy spine of mine. One question I have for you is regarding chiropractic care. I was under the impression that it wasn’t safe with the rods, but I’m hoping I’m misinformed? What types of adjustments are they able to make? Do the rods interfere? Thanks again!

    • Reply Michaela Evanow April 29, 2016 at 5:46 PM

      Hi Jena, I couldn’t live without chiro! You have to find one that is comfortable and experienced with them. They do change the type of chiro they do. My chiro has saved me so many times from pain. With pregnancy it was an absolute necessity, along with massage.

  • Reply Cathy March 4, 2016 at 4:02 AM

    I enjoyed reading your post but had a different experience. I have had a Harrington rod since 1975 and when I was pregnant twice in the 1990s I had no back pain at all during either pregnancy. My only problem was during the birth when the anesthesiogist refused to give me an epidural because he said it was against hospital policy when you had prior back surgery. In general I would sometimes go for long periods of time Without even thinking about scoliodis – until I get in front of those three way mirrors in a store dressing room

  • Reply Courtney April 8, 2015 at 1:31 PM

    I am giving a presentation on scoliosis and what it is like to live with it. I came across your website while looking for info/ photos. I too have Herrington Rods. Mine were inserted in 1986 when I was 12. I am now 40. I have successfully birthed 8 babies, three at home. I have to agree with you the worst pain is the Sciatica that is so bad during pregnancy! I have yet to ever have an epidural, but often think if the Lord blesses us with any more babies that I might try. I am always so cautious of people messing with my back.

    Anyway just wanted to say Hello…

  • Reply Sally Richardson February 14, 2015 at 12:48 AM

    Hi, I had a spinal fusion in my thoracic vertebrae T7 to T12 in 1995 (curves of 57 and 43 respectively) when I was 17 and basically have had little pain until having children! I am now 36 and have had two beautiful baby girls in 2011 and 2013 who were both delivered by C – section (I think my pelvis was so rotated that they never descended nor did my waters break) with an epidural. It was all successful despite trying both times for a vaginal birth. I made it clear about the location of the rods and fusion well before delivery so that the anesthetist was prepared for my scoliosis and they were both successful but the anesthetic just took longer to take effect and longer to leave the body. I would recommend prior to falling pregnant or during pregnancy to get someone to check out your pelvis to see if its twisted an rotated such that a vaginal birth might be hard….
    In regard to pain I had loads of hip pain during pregnancy particularly at night but nothing much else and I am small and slight frame and carried two babies who were nearing on 8pounds 11. So not small! I never put on weight in my pregnancies but never have my whole life. My real pain has come post second baby I have heaps of pain particularly at night after running around kids all day and particularly in my pelvis and sacrum and running down my leg. I think its referred nerve pain from my L1 supporting the rest of my spine. It flares up just as I get into bed and often when resting. I am in the process of seeing a chiropractor, a scoliosis physio who treats with the scroth method and I am doing exercises daily . I am so sick of this pain but never ever regret having these beautiful children and would go through it again for them. I would like another child however if I can’t relieve this daily pain (which I treat with a heat pack) I won’t have another. I am also in the process of reviewing how I can avoid picking up my children ( a drop side cot I would recommend and even changing nappies on the floor) and carry as little as possible. Since re- educating myself on my back through xrays and seeing professionals again I realize my one big issue was always carrying my babies on my hip that is my weak side- thus encouraging the curve in the lumbar spine. Its easier to carry on this side but just makes my imbalances worse. So always to carry on the side that is productive to easing your curve not increasing it. Carry on front of you and try to hug them etc sitting on the floor so you pick them up less….. Don’t be scared about pregnancy it may cause a bit of pain but its worth it. Get organized to do exercises with a professional early post birth and pelvic floor exercises too….. its helps support your body.

    • Reply Michaela Evanow March 2, 2015 at 9:21 AM

      Hi there, thanks for commenting. This post is old, but I did write it while already pregnant.
      I had two successful, natural, vaginal births. One at home, one in the water at the hospital.

  • Reply courtney garcia January 22, 2015 at 3:57 PM

    I was so happy to find this article! I had a spinal fusion in 1997 at age 12. I am currently 19 wks pregnant with my first & have excruciating back pain & pelvic pain. I have been physical therapy since week 6 & my pt believes I’m having so much pain because my spine is fused till L2 leaving me only a few vertebrae to have flexible. Do you have a maternity support belt you recommend or any other recommendations?

    Thank you for documenting & sharing your pregnancy!

  • Reply Joy June 16, 2014 at 8:09 AM

    Hi, I am in the same situation as you. Titanium rods for scoliosis 1997, just had my first baby in December 2013, vaginal with an epidural (which I was very surprised it worked, but they gave me pitocin and I was in so much pain I had to try). I am just curious how is your back pain now? Right now I am 6 months postpartum, and I have to say I am more achey now than before I got pregnant. I was also a lot more active, exercising several times a week before I got pregnant, and now since being pregnant and having the baby, I only do light walking. I’m sure this has something to do with my pain, but I wonder if it is a permanent thing and possibly a result of my unique back situation. Was wondering how you fared in the long-term. Thanks!
    Joy

    • Reply Michaela Evanow June 16, 2014 at 1:01 PM

      Hi Joy, I’m currently pregnant with my second baby (29 weeks) and the pain this time is way worse. I guess you could say I’m not doing well! Everything that hurt in my first pregnancy is hurting again, but worse. Somedays it’s excruciating. 🙁 However, in the postpartum, I did feel fine. For the first 2 months, I was hurting, but eventually came back to my normal. My issues have been with SI joints and pubic symphasis distasis. My chiropractor has suggested walking as the best form of exercise for me. I walked a lot after my baby, up and down hills, it wasn’t light walking. I never noticed much pain.
      I would suggest seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist. Helped me immensely in the immediate postpartum.

  • Reply Hayley December 5, 2013 at 6:02 PM

    Hi there,
    I have also had spinal fusion surgery at the age of 13, I am now 30 and expecting my first child. Can I ask you how many vertebrae you have had fused? From the xrays its seems very similar to mine( 12 vertebrae from l4 to t4), and I have also had the same information given to me regarding epidural. Im not really keen on the idea of a Caesar under general, but if it has to be, its ok. Just wondered what you used to manage the pain.

  • Reply Raji September 27, 2013 at 8:50 AM

    Hi, your story is truly inspiring and hats off to u..! God Bless u and your family! 🙂
    Am 34 and have a 70 degree untreated curve.am contemplating pregnancy but honestly very scared if my body can take it all 🙁 is my curve likely to increase with pregnancy?

    • Reply Michaela. September 27, 2013 at 1:25 PM

      Hi Raji,
      I have no idea. Will you be having surgery soon? Sounds like you may need it. Might be wise to consider treating your back first before pregnancy…is that possible?

  • Reply Shelly June 17, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    Great, inspiring story! I, too, had a spinal fusion with instrumentation at the age of 15. Now, at 33, I am contemplating pregnancy. However, I am worried about passing on my ‘scoliosis gene.’ Just curious: Have any specialists made a connection between your scoliosis and Florence’s diagnosis? Seems like scoliosis is genetically related to a number of neuromuscular conditions.
    I am encouraged by your story of strength and faith, but nonetheless am wracked with trepidation and anxiety. Thanks, again, for lending your voice to this important dialogue about pregnancy and scoliosis!

    • Reply Michaela. June 18, 2013 at 2:11 PM

      I’ve never heard of the Scoliosis gene. Don’t believe in it! There are no explanations as to why scoliosis hits one person and not another. And no one has ever said anything about my scoliosis and SMA. Not even my surgeon who is now Florence’s orthopaedic surgeon if she ever needs one.
      Don’t be afraid. Motherhood is a huge step though and you so have to be ready for whatever comes your way. Is a lifelong lesson once you start!

      • Reply cristinaalyssa July 25, 2013 at 6:02 AM

        I had Harrington Rod surgery at 12 and was able to lead a normal life including competitive dance and pursuing a Health Science degree that had me active in sports through university. Most people never knew I was different, and that’s how I preferred it! Now in my early 30s, I’m noticing pain, discomfort and daily challenges that I’m not used to, and this has set me on a quest for answers and support.

        Thank you for sharing your story, Michaela. I don’t have any kids yet, but my boyfriend and I often worry about the kind of toll a baby and labour would take on my body, in addition to the normal woes of pregnancy that women complain of.

        I am happy to have found a community of optimistic Scoliosis survivors to link on with, and I look forward to hearing and sharing even more 🙂

  • Reply Chris January 28, 2013 at 9:13 PM

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! I am also in the same boat and was just told I had no hope of having an epidural so definitely was a very emotional day and reading your journey helped!!

    • Reply Michaela. January 28, 2013 at 9:29 PM

      Thanks for writing! Having an epidural often makes labor worse anyway! But as far as C sections go, it can be scary to think of going under.

  • Reply Jennifer June 19, 2012 at 5:07 AM

    Thanks for sharing your story. Glad I found your blog. I look forward to hearing more about your struggles and treatments.

    • Reply Michaela. June 19, 2012 at 10:29 AM

      thanks for stopping by Jennifer!

  • Reply ms jaye June 18, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    omg your story helped me out so much .. I also have a rod in my back & just found out I’m pregnant .. my mom said I’ll never walk again , I hope things work out for me.

    • Reply Michaela. June 18, 2012 at 4:35 PM

      Yes they will. I have a healthy baby girl and had a wonderful, natural birth. Your back won’t hold you back from anything!

  • Reply The Laundry Lady March 29, 2012 at 5:00 PM

    Wow and I thought I had bad back pain during pregnancy and after. In some ways the back pain has been worse than other recovery pains this time around. As far as postpartum weight loss, I have a policy I’ve maintained in both of my pregnancies. I don’t weigh myself until the 6 week postpartum appointment. It takes the body almost that long to work out the various fluid losses plus any weight gain from swelling breast tissues etc. I try to give myself the first 6 weeks to recover, enjoy eating foods I love and maybe take the occasional walk for pleasure rather than hard core exercising. So far, at not quite two weeks postpartum, I’ve yet to gain the strength to walk but I’m pretty much eating whatever I want and I’m not even thinking about my weight.

    • Reply Michaela. March 30, 2012 at 3:28 PM

      how did your birth go?! glad to see you back on here! do you have a blog elsewhere? I can’t seem to get to your blog, but perhaps it’s just because you’ve shut it down.
      My midwife always said, “It takes nine months to grow a baby, and nine months to get your body back to working order.” I like that.

      • Reply The Laundry Lady March 30, 2012 at 3:39 PM

        I blog at http://thelaundryblog.wordpress.com/
        I had a long gap at the end of this pregnancy without many posts but I’m slowly getting going again. The delivery itself wasn’t too bad and was surprising in many ways. But afterwards I had a few unexpected complications that have made recovery a bit harder. I’ll hopefully have a birth story up in the relatively near future. Glad to see that your recovery is progressing well. Enjoy your new little one.

  • Reply Bev. Nash (Grandma) March 23, 2012 at 10:38 PM

    My darling, you are my hero for sure. I know that God is the strength of your life, Your courageous spirit inspires many. You have overcome so many obstacles, trials, and challenges, and are coming out like pure gold. The stamina (grace) we receive through these experiences makes us true Joan of Arcs’. I thank and praise God for the grace all over this time and now how you have been enlarged. Enlarged in the spirit and ability to stand, contend, suffer and come through to great strength and enlargement.. You are amazing! Love the way you love, Mom

  • Reply Mrs Loquacious March 23, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    Am I a hero for undergoing a C-section? I feel more cheated than anything, although at the same time immensely relieved that many of the other “issues” that come with vaginal birthing were ones I avoided.

    As for the jelly belly, mine is flabby and terrible and still bear the marks of having carried baby. However, I’m so busy trying to sleep and survive that frankly, I haven’t had time to mull over body image issues. I’m sure it will come later if the belly doesn’t disappear.

    I’m so glad you are feeling good. *You* are a hero, and with all of the obstacles you faced during the pregnancy, I’m so glad for your “happy ending.” 🙂

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