SPD, also known as PGP is a complication of pregnancy that is thoroughly underestimated and misunderstood. On many occasions midwives – MIDWIVES! – told me that ‘everyone gets aches and pains’ whilst they are pregnant. I guess they just didn’t understand, and at risk of sounding like a angsty teenager not many people do understand or seem to care (woe!).
During both my pregnancies I worked in the same office job for a council in London. My job was 80% at a desk and 20% visiting Children’s Centres around the Borough. This particular council ran a highly ineffective hot-desking system. There were too few desks for the number of people in the department and a lot of people had claimed a hot desk as their own by piling books, papers, dirty cups and photos of their pets, children and favourite TV personalities all over them. Picture ‘you don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps’ crossed with photos of Terry Wogan and you get the idea. The ‘I’m mad me’ brigade had taken residence and were not going to shift for someone with ‘back ache’. They also ran a highly ineffective parking system but more on that later. When I wasn’t pregnant I was more than happy to park my car a couple of miles away and get a bus to the office – it was part of my commute and I really didn’t mind it, the bus stop was also outside a nice caffe nero so that helped. I also didn’t mind the hot desking, it was irritating for sure, but it wasn’t the end of the world. There were a group of us outcasts who mostly ended up sitting together around a corner from the rest of the department.
For the first 18 weeks of my first pregnancy this wasn’t a problem either. Then one day, out of the blue, I was in pain. Not just, as my manager suggested ‘back ache’ but grinding, unbearable, thinking that something was seriously wrong pain. I carried on working as best I could for two weeks, but it got progressively worse and my managers grew progressively more hostile. The previously enjoyable bus journey became a nightmare – every jolt brought tears to my eyes. Stopping for that morning coffee was impossible, adding extra steps to my walk into the office was an absolute no. My midwife said it was ‘probably one of those pelvis things’ and referred me to physio who basically told me there was nothing that they could do and I should rest. Great.
I went to my manager and told her about the situation. This is when it really began to get ugly. I was told that ‘other members of staff just get on with pregnancy without complaining’. I said that it would be really helpful if I could have a desk so that I didn’t have to haul my stuff around the room looking for one and if I could have a temporary permit – for 4 months – so that I could park in the onsite car park, reserved for senior managers. The response was that there were no desks available and it would be a lot of hassle to ask Parking Services for a pass. Door closed. I had no option but to go, in tears after another night of no sleep due to pain, to my GP. He signed me off for two weeks and suggested that I call occupational health for an assessment of the situation at work. I did that and had no response. They could give me an appointment in a few weeks, which I’d have to come into the office for (you know, the office that I can’t park at and getting to on the bus leaves me crying in pain. that one.) Anyway, I did. The conclusion was that there weren’t any desks and the car park was for managers and people with a registered disability so it would probably be best if the GP signed me off for the rest of the pregnancy. Great I hear you say? Not great. Being signed off from work is horrible. I felt like I was a failure – why was my body reacting in this way? Why was my employer so unsympathetic? I could have done 80% of my work from home, health and safety ruled this out. I became very lonely and isolated at home by myself for the next few months. The staff at County General, Chicago did keep me company but it was a thoroughly dark time in all honesty. I felt like a fraud and stupid and a failure even though I was in constant pain that made just getting up to go to the loo very uncomfortable.
When I became pregnant again just 10 months after having my first baby I decided that I would take the situation in hand a bit more. Thank to my very generous Mum I saw an absolutely amazing Osteopath from 12 weeks onwards who said something that made a whole lot of sense. He said that I didn’t actually have classic SPD/PGP but actually an old sports injury that had been exacerbated by weight gain, lack of exercise and the relaxin that is released in pregnancy. It was actually worse this time around though. The unbearable pain started at 14 weeks and by 18 weeks we had gone through the same old process at work and again it was suggested that I was signed off. I am convinced that had I had a parking pass, for a few months, I could have carried on working. So they paid me sick pay for almost 9 months in total just for the sake of a temporary parking permit (or lack thereof). I went swimming to help my core strength and saw the osteopath and the pain was far better managed but by the end it was still absolutely awful. My son’s birth could not come soon enough.
Since having Wilbur a very knowledgable friend offered some good advice: You have to insist on being referred to your hospital’s pain team, they understand pain and will be able to help. Insist on proper physio and ask if they do hydrotherapy. Be as active as you can – without over doing it – it’s important to do things like sit on a gym ball at home to make sure that inactivity doesn’t affect the position of the baby (lying on the sofa a lot probably helped my babies stay back to back).
I still get pelvic pain, especially around certain times in the month and if I have done particularly hard exercise. But it is nothing compared to the pain in pregnancy. I am told that this pain is unlikely to ever go away – but it is manageable. Pelvic pain in pregnancy is real and can cause isolation and depression. I have yet to come across a midwife or doctor who sees it as a genuine concern. It was painful to the point that the memories of that time are traumatic. It should be taken a lot more seriously. I know it doesn’t affect the life chances of the mother or baby but we are more than morbidity rates, aren’t we?
I recommend the Pelvic Partnership for advice and support.