In July 2018, nearly two years after the birth of my first child, Douglas, I was diagnosed with a very rare condition called Pregnancy Associated Osteoporosis (PAO).
About six weeks after Douglas was born, I fractured two vertebrae. I was rendered immobile and in crippling pain. I couldn’t bend over the crib, I couldn’t pick him up, I couldn’t change him and I couldn’t get the buggy in and out of our first floor London flat. I couldn’t look after my newborn. I also couldn’t believe that was what becoming a mum was all about and that no one had told me how physically debilitating it was. I felt like a terrible mum because I wasn’t able to properly look after my child and, unlike every other mum on the planet, I wasn’t able to endure this with a smile on my face. My husband started a new job shortly after Douglas was born and was out of the house about 13 hours a day. So eventually, about eight weeks after birth, my parents, who live in the north west of England, took me back to their home. I stayed for a month.
As is often the case before PAO is diagnosed, everyone around me put my symptoms down to postnatal depression. But about three months after Douglas was born and the pain was slightly better, I found the strength to realise that something really wasn’t right and I went to see my GP. After a long journey of MRIs, bone density scans, blood tests, X-Rays and seeing various consultants, I was told in July 2018 that I had fractured two vertebrae. It was a bittersweet moment. For the first time I realised I hadn’t made up my pain and that what I had experienced was not normal. Yet at the same time I was being diagnosed with osteoporosis at the age of 40 and I felt let down it had taken so long to get a diagnosis.
Unlike many other women I know with PAO, who have fractured eight, 12, 14 vertebrae, after about two years I felt almost completely normal and completed the running plan Couch to 5K. I made great gains in my bone density and pain levels with no medical intervention. Following various conversations with specialists, I was able to go on and have a second child. Chloe was born. During my pregnancy I was under an obstetrician and I was monitored very closely. However, I don’t think anyone really expected me to fracture again. But about six weeks after Chloe was born, I fractured two more vertebrae.
My husband Mike has been brilliant through Covid. When physically I couldn’t go on, he’d look after the children so I could rest. But he also had to crack on with a job that became busier than ever during the first lockdown. Looking after a three month old and a three and a half years, with a fractured spine, and no support from family or friends was really hard physically and emotionally. Aside from experiencing daily pain in my back, I’ve also lost three inches in height. The impact of PAO on mental health is also very real. There are big things like how it affects mum guilt and small things like not wanting to leave my house with the recent ice.
It’s still very unclear what impact PAO will have on me in the future and what the best course of treatment is. There is no standard treatment protocol. I’m hopeful that post-Covid, everything will become much clearer.