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The RA Pregnancy Chronicles: The Magic R-Word

The RA Pregnancy Chronicles is a series of posts that share my experiences being pregnant while living with RA. This post was written during Week 12 of my second pregnancy.

I’m almost to the end of my first trimester! And as I count the days until I can (hopefully!) say goodbye to the miserable morning sickness I have had this time around, I find my thoughts drifting once again to the magical R-word. For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, the R-word is: “Remission.”

Despite more than five years of living with RA, sometimes the R-word still seems too magical to say/type! But if you’ve ever read anything about RA and pregnancy, you’ll have read some statistic about the possibility of going into remission while pregnant. For example, Arthritis Today Magazine will tell you “approximately 70 percent of women with RA experience an improvement in symptoms beginning in the second trimester and lasting through about the first six weeks after delivery.” And the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society reports “Many women, up to 75%, find that the pain and swelling associated with RA is much improved during pregnancy, usually in the second trimester.”

It sounds so exciting, doesn’t it? The idea that all the pain, fatigue, and suffering of RA could just go away is obviously extremely appealing. In fact, before we had kids my husband and I used to joke about getting me pregnant just to avoid having to deal with my RA. During my first pregnancy, I honestly expected that if I was lucky enough to go into remission it would be like a magical pathway back to my life before the RA diagnosis. I thought I would feel great and be able to do all the things that I used to do, at least for a few short months.

Maybe some of you reading this have dreams or expectations about pregnancy remission. If your expectations are as high as mine were, I truly hate to burst your bubble. I really don’t want to take away anyone’s hope for relief, because sometime hope is all you have to keep you going when things get bad. But although this post may take away some of your hope, maybe it will also save some of you form disappointment. Because when I finally went into remission during the second trimester of my first pregnancy, I found myself feeling moderately disappointed by it.

I think these pregnancy remission statistics can set rather unrealistic expectations for women with RA. This is primarily because these statements generally neglect to point out how difficult it can be for your body just to be pregnant. Your RA fatigue might be reduced, but it may simply be replaced by pregnancy-induced fatigue. You may not have pain or swelling from RA, but you might have pain and swelling all the same from being pregnant. In fact, here is a statistic from I wish I had read the first time around:

About 50% to 60% of women with RA may experience an improvement in symptoms during pregnancy. However, if you are pregnant and have RA, it may be hard to tell whether you have the symptoms of RA or common discomforts associated with pregnancy, including fatigue, swelling of feet, hands, or ankles, pain in joints, shortness of breath, or pain or numbness affecting one or both hands.

My point is this: even when I went into remission during my first pregnancy, I still struggled. And I expect basically the same thing time around. Pregnancy remission is not a magic pass back to my life before RA because there is no such thing. The life I had before getting diagnosed with RA is gone, and there’s no sense clinging to it. It’s better to look forward, not backwards.

And honestly? I know that everything I am going through right now, however unpleasant, is for a very good cause. With one healthy toddler and everything looking good for another healthy baby, forward is actually looking pretty good right now!

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