Being a New Mom with RA
I entered the prospect of motherhood with a lot of hope and excitement, but also some trepidation. While this mix of emotions is a universal experience for mothers-to-be, having rheumatoid arthritis adds some additional worries. Infant care is very physically demanding, so I worried whether I would be able to handle the additional strain on my body that a baby would create.
I had reason to be worried. I babysat throughout college, and a year or two after my RA diagnosis, when I was in my early twenties, I was watching a six-month old baby. One night, that sweet little guy was having a rough time, and no matter how much I fed him, burped him, and changed his diapers, he continued to cry and cry. The only thing that helped was to hold him against my chest and bounce him as I walked around the house. If he was moving he was okay, but as soon as I laid him down in his crib, he would begin sobbing. This went on for hours, and my fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders began to hurt more and more. Once his parents returned and I went home, it was my turn to cry. I wept not only because of the pain I was in, but because I thought I wouldn’t be able to have a baby of my own one day, that it would just be too physically taxing.
However, as time went on my desire to have a child grew stronger, and I decided I would not let RA stand in the way of my dream of motherhood becoming a reality. In spite of my fears, I got pregnant and gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
I was fortunate that I did not have a major flare after delivery, as is the case with some women with RA. However, that is not to say I was comfortable. My body was recovering from the wounds and exertion of childbirth, and the regular aches and pains of arthritis didn’t help. My baby was colicky, so she required more care and allowed me less sleep than some newborns. The sleep deprivation was one of the most difficult challenges for both my physical and mental health. I have never been a great sleeper (my daughter takes after me), and the achiness of arthritis makes it that much harder to fall asleep. So even when I was able to finally get my daughter to sleep, to my supreme frustration I found that I wasn’t always able to fall asleep, in spite of being more exhausted than I’d ever been before. Luckily my doctor was able to prescribe Trazadone, and assured me it would be safe during breastfeeding. Trazadone was originally designed as an anti-depressant, but my doctor explained that its effectiveness in combatting depression was not as pronounced as its side effect of drowsiness. Unlike other sleep medications I’ve tried, Trazadone eases me into sleep without making me groggy and out-of-it, which is perfect for a mother who must wake up every two hours to feed a hungry infant.
As my baby was colicky and did cry a lot, we ended up abandoning the crib. She needed the comfort of having me nearby in order to fall asleep, and I found that lifting her out of the crib each time she cried was too taxing for me. Initially we had her in the bed with us, however, I found that picking her up and taking her to the nursery for diaper changes and feedings added additional strain on all of my joints. We had a day bed in the nursery, and I found it was far easier to sleep there. I put my daughter on the side against the wall, so that she couldn’t roll off, and I slept next to her. That way, when she needed to be comforted I could pat her and even nurse her without getting up, and I could bring a diaper and a changing pad to the bed and change her without having to lift her up onto the changing table. When she needed motion in order to calm down, I could pick her up and walk the three feet to the glider, versus having to walk down the hallway. I did end up purchasing an expensive memory foam topper for the day bed, as my joints ached from sleeping on a mattress inferior to that in my bedroom. The memory foam made the day bed comfortable enough to sleep on, and I ended up spending a portion of my days and the entirety of my nights in the nursery. While this setup was far from what I had envisioned while I was pregnant, it was what I needed to make it through those first few colicky months of motherhood.
This is just one example of the modifications I’ve made in my plans and to my home since becoming a mother. I have found that what most people say about parenthood, that it is both the best and the hardest thing you’ll ever do, has been true. Being a mom with RA has added a few additional challenges. While all mothers struggle with the sleep deprivation of tending to their newborns multiple times a night, most don’t struggle to lift their babies out of the crib. However, while RA has made motherhood more challenging, I have found utilizing some creative problem-solving skills usually leads to a work-around that achieves the same result through a slightly different method. For me, motherhood with RA has definitely been the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it has not been impossible, and the joy and fulfillment that comes from spending time with my wee ones has certainly been the best experience of my life.