Sarah’s Birth Story
by Sarah Wendler (Pelvic Floor and Women’s Health Physical Therapist)
I’ve always had a passion for helping people, especially women. I feel like women have been short- changed and underserved in many ways, especially during the pre and post partum time period. My love for the empowerment of women was heightened by my own experience during my pre-partum and birth period. Unlike a lot of women, I dn’t struggle with fertility, but my entire pregnancy was the biggest struggle of my life in many ways.
I had a very difficult path during my pre-partum and birth which brought much more change than I ever expected. The reason I’m sharing the story isn’t to gain sympathy, but to relate and educate women to the struggles a lot of us face and increasing our ability to adapt to change and hardships. But also, to please, please share your stories and how you got through them to help and educate others. It’s very easy to feel alone and feel as though no one else can relate or has it as bad as you. I also know how blessed I am overall, and things could have been much worse…(but they also could have been much better!)
In the beginning, I had moderate nausea which was better than I had heard others go through. Then right about 10 weeks, I started getting severe migraines with auras that were completely debilitating. They started out 1-3 times a week, where I can’t see out of my eye, my hand and fingers go completely numb, my head starts throbbing with severe stabbing pain, severe vomiting, and countless other symptoms that last for about 8-12 hours. After that, usually the next two days my neck and head felt like I had been in a car accident with severe whiplash. By the time I was recovered, another one would start. By week 15-20, I was having one about everyday with no recovery days. While all this was happening, I continued to work as a physical therapist, but some days the pain was so bad that I would have to call out sick or go home. For me, I’ve always had flawless attendance and dedication to my work, so this was a major blow on top of everything. I couldn’t figure out why these migraines were happening, other than assuming it was hormonal.
My OB-GYN told me to see a neurologist. She found no neurological signs, but also told me that the physical stress of working on patients could be a factor. She told me just to stop working and file for disability. This was another major blow. Working was all I really had to focus on at the moment. I also thrive on being around people and working with my patients, but at the same time, I couldn’t go on working with the severe pain. I started cutting back my hours around 20 weeks, which slightly helped. Instead of daily migraines, they were every other day. By 24 weeks, despite the cut in hours, I was having the migraines again daily. I had to make the difficult decision to stop working because I couldn’t go on letting my patient down by canceling continuously nor could I work in such misery.
Once I stopped work, and started going to physical therapy 3 times a week. As well as a psychologist to help me handle, these significant changes. The migraines died down to 2-3 times a week. Still debilitating, but much better than prior. He would work on my neck, jaw and upper back mostly, which are key contributors to headaches. After a few weeks, the progress plateaued. He then started to evaluate my left shoulder as most of my headaches and neck pain were on my left. His conclusion was that I had a massive labral tear secondary to tests and severe hypermobility. He theorized that the increased hormonal laxity during pregnancy caused the injury early on after putting significant physical stress on my body while working as a PT. He continued to theorized that the severe lack of support at the shoulder was causing my neck and head to assume all of the stress and work that my shoulder could not support. I couldn’t get an MRI while pregnant to find out, and probably not for weeks after birth due to recovery, but I started to feel hopeful that this could be the reason for my horrible pain, and I wouldn’t have to continue living that way especially with a newborn.
The rest of my pregnancy, I continued being in moderate to severe pain, but at least I had a possible explanation as well as a possible solution which definitely raised my hopes. I started being able to envision pain free days and that helped me focus on being positive and knowing that going through all this pain would be worth it once my beautiful daughter was born. The birth was a little rocky, I had gestational hypertension on my due date which is a sign for preeclampsia so they had to induce me. After 36 hours of labor, my daughter Stella was born. The first few days at the hospital, I noticed no headaches, which was a relief because I was feeling major physical pain during my recovery.
After 2 weeks of recovery, I started getting the migraines once a week, and it became impossible to take care of my daughter when I had one. Thankfully, I have a great support system, but I knew that I was going to have to get my shoulder MRI the second I was cleared from my OB-GYN. Around 2.5 months postpartum, I went to a shoulder orthopedist that a lot of my patients had successful surgeries and recoveries from. He sent me to get an MRI and called me with the results. Sure enough, there was a massive labral cartilage tear and he said my shoulder socket was “hanging by a thread”. He said he strongly recommended a repair as soon as possible. The result was vindicating to some extent because I had finally found a potential solution, and it supported my PT’s theory. Now came the big decision to have shoulder surgery with a breastfeeding newborn.
As an orthopedic PT, I knew that I would be unable to lift her with my left arm until at least 8 weeks after the surgery, which was heartbreaking. I also knew that I couldn’t live with another day of pain, and had to go for it and hope for the best. I set up 8 solid weeks of help from my husband, mom, and dad. They stayed with me all day to help me recover and take care of my daughter. After 8 weeks post surgery, I hadn’t had a single migraine. I was so happy and hopeful that this was likely the solution. My surgery was in January 2018 and I have yet to have another migraine. My shoulder is fully recovered and I went back to work in May 2018.
The main reason in sharing this story again, is to show that all women have something to recover from or significant pain or hardships. This is why we need to spread our stories, get the treatment and recovery we need, as well as ask for help and support. My daughter makes me so happy and I couldn’t imagine life without her. Despite my rough road, I’m so happy I persevered to find my solution to pain to make my daughter’s and my life happier and more pain free. No matter what you are going through there is someone else that can relate. After my experience, I have only become a more empathetic women’s health physical therapist. I hope to be able to help you soon!