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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 RhuematoidArthritis.net 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!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • KristenMW16
    8 months ago

    Thank you so much for posting! My mom has RA (and so do I), and for the past year or two she has been assuring me that when I get pregnant my symptoms will go away. I have been so excited to experience relief during pregnancy. Well, now I am 10 weeks pregnant, and my RA symptoms are flaring like crazy. I woke up in the middle of the night tonight flustered and frustrated, wondering why my symptoms hadn’t improved. I even felt so anxious to think that maybe my pregnancy wasn’t going well because my symptoms weren’t improving. Reading through your experience and the statistics you quoted really calmed my mind and helped me realize I’m not alone. Your piece helped me create more realistic expectations. I hope you know how powerful and helpful this was for me.

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    8 months ago

    I’m so glad you found this helpful – I know that dealing with RA while pregnant can be a lonely and difficult experience! The initial report about pregnancy remission from about 30 years ago (probably where your mom and her doctors got the info) suggested that 70-75% of RA patients achieve remission while pregnant – but studies from 2008 and later have dropped this number to 48%. I flared badly during my second pregnancy – and I think it was even harder to handle because I didn’t expect to!

    If you’d like to connect with some other mamas who have been in your shoes please check out Mamas Facing Forward! https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/mamas-facing-forward-a-community-to-help-mamas-facing-chronic-illnesses-move-forward/

    Best of luck with your pregnancy!

  • elisa
    6 years ago

    So sorry to hear that you didn’t go into remission this time around. Being pregnant isn’t the easiest, so coupling it with RA must be really tough. At least You will have an amazing gift at the end of the journey :). Sending happy wishes your way.

  • elisa
    6 years ago

    Honestly I felt great when I went into pregnancy remission. I think no matter what pregnancy is different for each person. It wasn’t until 3rd trimester that I was uncomfortable and much more uncomfortable my second time then my first. I might have one more child and I look forward to the magical second trimester. I think I’d even go nuts and allow myself to eat gluten. But it’s funny. My family said the same thing about having lots of children to avoid my RA. If only pregnancy sent us into forever remission!

  • Mariah Z. Leach moderator author
    6 years ago

    Hi Elisa –

    That’s awesome that you felt great when you went into pregnancy remission! I felt pretty great the first time I was pregnant too – but this time around I am haven’t had any remission and so I am struggling a lot more. So I think it is important to keep in mind that just because you had remission with one pregnancy doesn’t mean it would necessarily happen with another. Because, like you said, pregnancy is different for each person – but also each pregnancy is different too! Best of luck to you and your family!

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