Mom of three, Viridiana Word, shares three ways she coped with sciatic nerve damage from childbirth. The majority of nerve injuries from childbirth happen during vaginal deliveries; injuries occurring during a c-section, such as Viridiana’s, are even more rare. A huge thank you to Viridiana for sharing her story and her advice.
We had everything planned to a T–and it was a huge deal.
After more than a year of discussions and logistics, we had decided to try and have another child–number 3 for us–maybe we would finally have ourselves a little girl. I marched myself down to that OB GYN’s office, took out my IUD and we began the fun part. Within two and a half months, I was pregnant. With a due date now on the horizon, we decided on a repeat C-section, I informed my work and planned the terms of my leave, my return to work, where and when I would pump, who would care for the baby while my husband and I were at work. I was preparing to be a nursing champion, reading the latest research and drawing from past experiences. I wanted to go for an entire year. Like almost everything else in my life, I had it all figured out.
But life never really goes as planned, does it?
My third son was born a couple weeks early and weighing 5 pounds. During the pregnancy he had been diagnosed with Intrauterine Growth Restriction and, unrelated, a Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD), which translates to what appeared to be a small hole in his heart. The doctors didn’t know whether the hole would close, whether the growth restriction would cause any cognitive delays, or anything, really. I had so many unanswered questions, so much anxiety. Cardiologists were to be in the operating room just in case. I was told to prepare to have my son in the NICU due to low birth weight. Stress-testing, heart and growth monitoring, test after test, and the fear of a stillbirth if he wasn’t delivered soon enough marked the end of my pregnancy.
The hours following his birth are what I can only describe as blissful. He was perfect and beautiful. His cries were music to my ears. I held him close to my skin feeling like I could never come down from cloud nine. There was no doubt that I was utterly and insanely in love with my little bundle. Right away, we got in sync and the nursing got off to a great start. Everything so far was going according to plan, despite a couple bumps in the road.
Later that night, I realized I couldn’t feel one of my legs, and just like that I knew that my plans for a wonderful period of maternity leave were ruined.
Hours had gone by and I realized the anesthesia had only worn off in one leg. My nurse, looking concerned, asked me if I could walk. I could not. She brought a walker, and helped me across the room. My right leg was completely immobile, and no one seemed to know why.
For the next few days, teams of specialists and physical therapists came in and out of the room, asking me over and over if I could move my leg. My foot was swelled up, and I was obligated to wear my husband’s shoes, because they were big enough to fit a brace I would eventually need. Apparently I needed to be taught how to go up and down stairs. Everything happened so fast that I didn’t have time to formulate questions amidst all my confusion, exhaustion and gratitude for my baby.
I was referred to a neurologist who later determined that my sciatic nerve had been damaged, but not related to the spinal tap, they insisted. It was not determined if it had been due to the surgery, or due to positioning during the birth, or to an autoimmune fluke of the body. Someone even referenced “bad luck” as a result, because it was apparently so rare. What was certain was that my brain was not registering the movement of my foot, and my foot was dropped–asleep, dead.
My muscles were not responding. I could not lift my foot and therefore, I could not walk. Or drive. Or carry my child unless I was sitting or in bed. I was bedridden. Suddenly depended on others. Was I permanently unable to walk? Would I be able to properly care for my newborn, and two older children? What did this mean for me? For my family? For my career? For my physical state? So many unanswered questions raced through my mind at all hours of the day.
Then, one day, the real pain came.
After a few weeks, I started experiencing unbelievable muscle pain. I was assured that this was a good sign–this meant the muscle was waking up. However, it was some of the most excruciating pain I had ever experienced. There was nothing that could calm the pain when it woke me in the middle of the night, or when the skin on my leg felt burning to the touch, or when the sudden bursts of muscle pain would come for me. Even worse, my children witnessed my pains and they, along with my husband, were obligated to stand helpless as I was proven not be Superwoman afterall. I was faced with the agonizing task of choosing between stronger, potentially addictive pain medications or to tough it out and continue to nurse my beautiful baby boy who was already behind in his weight goals and needed me more than I needed myself. I chose the latter.
I could not believe that, of all things, it was my brain that was failing me. My brain. The physical therapists said that I may be able to regain function from one day to the next and without warning, and that is exactly what happened.
Fast-forward six weeks, and one glorious Saturday morning I was able to lift my foot. It was then that I decided that I would choose to up the meds that allowed me to function, even if that meant I had to stop nursing. This was a decision I made not just for myself, but for my family. I was broken, physically and mentally. The person who usually takes care of everyone now needed to be taken care of, and this was a difficult transition.
What happens to a household when the person that usually holds everyone together is actually falling apart? Believe it or not, I survived this whole ordeal, but it wasn’t without a great deal of help and adjustments. In particular, there were three things that helped me gain some perspective and give myself the patience I needed to get through this, not just for my sake, but for the sake of my family.
I allowed myself to be taken care of.
As working moms, we are always burdening ourselves with having to carry the full loads of our families. We are usually the caretakers, the over-worriers, the ones who set schedules, make budgets, cook dinners and even take on the majority of the household chores and obligations. Repeat after me: YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Society has taught us that traditionally these have been our roles, despite having equal economic power within the household. If you have a partner, allow for the distribution of these chores, or for your partner to carry the full load while you get well. A partner is not your “helper” or babysitter. A partner is just that, an equal on this team. Learn to relinquish control, even if your partner does things differently than you. Everything will get done, and all will be okay, trust me on this. You are an equal partner, afterall.
Easier said than done. I was never used to having my laundry done, let alone being cooked for, or sitting while my husband or another family member cleaned our room. Having things done for me felt strange. It was like I was taking advantage of my husband by sitting there while he did chores after he came home from work, even if I was recovering from major abdominal surgery and unable to walk, not to mention experiencing agonizing muscle pain and caring for a newborn. My mother, who is yet another godsend, helped me tremendously while I writhed in pain, distracting my sons so they wouldn’t witness me at my darkest hour. My best friend since fifth grade drove me to appointments 40 minutes away. All of this felt like I was somehow cheating, and it was eating away at me until my mom told me to “allow myself to be loved by others.”
Herself a working mom, she knew exactly what I was thinking in respect to relinquishing control to my husband. She insisted, however, that I must allow him and others to come to my rescue. As hard as it sounds, it was an essential for what I needed to do next.
I made my mental state a priority.
This one is a tough one, even if you are perfectly healthy. We neglect this aspect of our health so often, it’s no wonder we feel like we are on the brink of a breakdown from time to time. During my time of incertitude, I saw myself spiraling into a deep depression, and fast. With so many unanswered questions, physical pain and my new much-contested state of dependence, I thought for sure I would mentally plunder if I didn’t quickly do something. My family was certainly there for me, but they did not know what it felt like to be in my shoes. I was fortunate to eventually find a support group on Facebook for women who had suffered similar injuries during childbirth, such as Foot Drop. With just over one thousand members, it turns out that this complication is more common than I thought, but not one talked about very often. Many of them shared their stories of hope, and just knowing that even one person knew what I was going through was uplifting. Following their advice, I turned to myself for repairs from within. I journaled more than ever, read funny books, watched funny videos, made plans for when I could walk, I went outside whenever possible, and I prayed more than I had been. I became a little selfish, too. I did what I wanted when I could–watched television, had small treats–anything that would lift my spirits. Whenever I found myself in a dark cloud of sadness, I went through the motions. More importantly, I allowed myself to feel crappy. Crying it all out, literally getting the sadness out of my body was the key to my positive outlook. After the storm came a rainbow of emotions, but the colors were certainly a lot more beautiful than the stormy clouds, that’s for sure.
I frequently looked at the big picture.
“I am alive,” I would constantly tell myself. “I have a beautiful baby boy, plus two other beautiful healthy children.” As part of my mental health upkeep, I kept a gratitude journal. This journal forced me to see that even though life was not ideal, there was still so much more to be grateful for. Every time I found my sadness get the best of me, I went back and read my entries. It is incredibly important to take a step back and realize that despite these rough times, we have many blessings to count. At the end of the day, what was important was that I was not alone. There are those who love and care about my well-being, and those who depend on me to be well and strong enough for them.
In the end, I learned to adapt to limited mobility, and I even went back to work when I was scheduled to, even if I had to go back wearing a brace. To this day, I do not have complete mobility of my right foot, but I have managed to wean myself off the pain medication, and I have ditched the brace. Sadly, I had to say goodbye to my high heels and sandals, but I did recover my ability to drive and, most importantly, be there for my children. I had fallen down a dark hole, but my loved ones were instrumental in leading me back out.
My son, whom I named after my beloved grandfather, gained the weight he needed, and then some. The hole in his heart closed on its own after six months or so, and the extra breastfeeding supplies I had were donated to friends who had babies after me. I did not know it at the time, but everything was okay in the end. It could have been worse, and it actually is worse for some mothers. As bad as my situation seemed to me, I know I was very fortunate to not have permanent damage. However, we must be aware that this happens to mothers everywhere. If you or someone you know experiences a similar injury during childbirth direct her to the website.