“Pregnancy protects you against MS”. “When you are pregnant all your symptoms will disappear and you’ll feel the best you’ve ever felt” (notwithstanding all the delightful symptoms that any normal pregnancy will bring). “I don’t know why women with MS don’t have 9 children” (well, I can think of a few good reasons…). Just a few of the things my Neuro said to me in the early days of my MS. You see, when I was first diagnosed at the age of 28 I was at the stage that a lot of new MSers find themselves in – finally ready to start a family. Then, BAM, “You’ve got MS”- 3 simple words that will turn your whole world around. I remember vividly one of my greatest concerns at that time was that I had missed the boat on the whole having kids thing. I thought I would be too ill, too exhausted, too disabled to ever cope with being pregnant, caring for a baby, playing with a child, taking them to school, doing anything a normal healthy mum could take for granted.
Almost 6 + years on and nearing the end of my 3rd pregnancy I can safely say, “Well, Flip a chip, what a ride!” Pregnancy does not make MS easier, and conversely MS does not make pregnancy easier. The course your MS will take during and after pregnancy is entirely unpredictable. I can clearly categorise all 3 of my pregnancies into 3 very simple and very different headings: The Physically Bad, The Mentally Bad and The On-Top-The-World Good.
THE PHYSICALLY BAD New Year’s Eve 2012 – Over the moon to discover I was expecting my 1st child. Had been off all treatment and medications for a solid 5 months. All MS symptoms same as ever – numb feet, bad balance, painful legs, dodgy walking, fatigue, blurred vision – all of which got progressively worse during the course of the pregnancy to the point where I was using a wheelchair when out and about for the last 3 months of pregnancy and couldn’t tolerate wearing my contact lenses. In spite of all this my mood was high, upbeat, strong, excited and determined. I only had the cats and myself to worry about. I spent my spare time lying down watching films and eating Wotsits. My husband spent many a weekend wheeling me around the city on the hunt for GoGoGorillas and many a bumpy day in the summer hols wheeling me through forests and over rough terrain as we enjoyed days out. It was great. Early September – sprog No 1 arrived, normal-ish delivery – Forceps used due to fatigue at point of pushing. Welcome to the world our beautiful baby boy. Let the madness begin!
THE MENTALLY BAD Summer 2014 – Over the moon to discover I was expecting baby number 2! Came off all treatment and medications (including anti-depressants – Ouch!). MS symptoms same as ever, and as before got progressively worse during course of pregnancy. Almost from the off my mood went off kilter. I was fine on the surface, and there was no question that I was delighted to be pregnant again but oh my goodness did I feel LOW. I had no energy to do anything, everything felt like the biggest effort. On top of this, as anyone who has had more than 1 child will know, I couldn’t rest. I had a very active 1 yr old charging around and demanding all my attention and quite frankly I couldn’t cope. I felt a heavy dark cloud fall upon me and it just wouldn’t lift, if I couldn’t manage this how would I ever manage 2 whole children! Also, no-one tells you how hard it is to put socks on when you’re pregnant, and it was little things like this that was sending me over the edge. I refused to take any tablets and instead turned to counselling at the MS Therapy Centre; hands down best decision I could have made – Thank you Sheri, you’ve worked wonders and continue to lift and inspire me! All the health professionals I saw during this time had me down as a shoo-in for post-natal depression, but I’m pleased to say I somehow managed to avoid that and almost the instant my daughter was born I was back to feeling happy happy happy. I should also mention, for those who aren’t aware, that I delivered sprog No 2 myself – a silent labour that took me completely by surprise…
THE ON-TOP-OF-THE-WORLD GOOD – Skip ahead to autumn 2016 – over a year and one ‘character-building’ miscarriage later and I was tentatively over the moon to discover I was expecting baby number 3. First trimester sickness and continued numb feet and fatigue – but WOW, do I really have MS?? Yes, I do – and it has made itself known during this last little bit, but for the majority of this pregnancy I have felt physically better than I have been since 2009, no crutches or wheelchairs in sight. Goodness knows how I will be once this baby comes and I am not ‘protected’ by the wonder of pregnancy hormones, but let’s be positive. And you know how invisible MS can be to others? When you’re pregnant everyone can SEE that you need a seat or need help opening a door or need the toilet in a hurry. In fact, I think I might invest in a light-weight pregnancy suit – and I would recommend others with invisible disabilities to do the same; although there’s a chance this may not work so well for the men.
So, what does pregnancy mean to someone with MS? Just as pregnancy is different for everyone living a ‘normal’ life, so it is different for everyone with MS – and not only that but each individual pregnancy for a single person will be different. You can’t predict which way your pregnancy will go just like you can’t predict the path of your MS. One thing’s for sure, I am so glad I didn’t let MS get in the way of having children. It is the most difficult but most amazingly rewarding thing I’ve ever done plus I love being pregnant, it’s pretty wonderful and a tad bit addictive…
First published 22 April 2017