Parenthood, Arthritis, and Chronic Pain – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

 Parenting is a difficult task for anyone, but particularly of those with chronic illness or a disability.

How can you care for your children when there are days that you can barely care for yourself?

I don’t have kids of my own but I posed the question to the arthritis community on Facebook and Twitter, and I received a wide array of responses.

Some said that they somehow manage, others admitted it being a very difficult struggle, and others even still claimed that having kids helped them through their hardest times.

Firstly, it is a fact that pregnancy can send symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and certain autoimmune conditions into remission for some patients. A lucky few will stay in remission. Many patients experience a rough postpartum flare-up which can be debilitating. The timing of these flares is unfortunate because it often coincides with the most crucial of mother-child bonding moments.

Some RA patients are afraid to get pregnant because it is true that you have to give up your meds during pregnancy. However, studies show that during this time, with all the hormones and whatnot, flares and pain levels (for most!) are minimal. To manage the post-partum flare-up, your rheumatologist may prescribe prednisone or another medication. Some of this depends on if you are breast feeding or not.

Once you have the child, how do you pick him or her up? How do you hold them when your hands, shoulders, and arms are aching — and sometimes immobilized by pain or swelling? 

One important thing is to know when to ask for help. If assistance in any way, shape, or form, is available in the form of your spouse, a grandparent, or a nanny/babysitter, take advantage of it. After all, you cannot care for your children if you can’t take care of yourself, first.

As much as parents want to make sacrifices, sometimes they have to look out for number one when possible, in order to be the best parents that they can be.

A big problem I heard when I posed the question regarding parenthood and chronic illness revolved around the issue of fatigue. Most new parents are often tired, so add in chronic pain or an autoimmune illness that comes with built-in fatigue, and this lack of energy is likely worsened.

Green tea is a great way to naturally boost your energy levels, as is exercise. A good night’s sleep is also key, but it isn’t always conducive to having a newborn. Once your kids get older, though, you should try to get proper rest to ensure your best mommy-or-daddy performance the next day!

Ergonomic baby strollers or carriers are a great idea for transporting your little ones. Try lightweight strollers with proper grips, and baby carriers that are safe for your back. Ask your doctor for suggestions!

Also, remember that you and your children should be eating well. A balanced, nutritional and healthful diet is not only crucial to the kiddies, but is also of utmost importance for your overall health and well-being. Not only does a good diet increase your physical wellness, but eating together as a family has been proven to bring your family closer together and often results in more balanced and well-behaved, well-adjusted children.

When playing with your kids, remember to not “overdo it,” but also remember that exercise is key in managing arthritis. So, try family outings where you can all get some physical activity! Just remember the limitations of your own body.

When picking up  your child, remember the basic rules of lifting: lift from your legs, not your back. Make sure you’re using your core, and not just your arms and your back.

Lastly, try your hardest not to take your frustrations about your illness out on your child. When you’re mad at your body or angry at arthritis, try your best not to take it out on your kids or your family.

I’m not a parent, so I am only offering advice based on my knowledge of these types of diseases and interpersonal relationships, as well as articles I’ve read on the topic.

If you want to know more about parenting with a chronic illness, contact the Arthritis Foundation, ask your doctor, or consider getting advice from a church or family therapist on how to juggle it all and keep it all in perspective! If not, you can always call Rosie Pope or a “baby concierge!” … but my guess is that’s a little extreme.

Good luck! And feel free to share your parenting tips, below! Also, feel free to “like” us on Facebook and follow on Twitter  so that you can interact with other arthritis moms and dads just like you! We would also love to know – are you in a family where both a parent AND child are chronically ill? If so, please share your story with me: arthritis.ashley@gmail.com – it may serve as inspiration for an upcoming blog post! Thanks.

Stay Well,

 Ashley Boynes-Shuck

What’s YOUR weapon against arthritis?

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One thought on “Parenthood, Arthritis, and Chronic Pain – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

  1. What a wonderful article! When I had my children my RA went into remission, though we didn’t know at the time what it was. I had about 9 years of remission including when I was pregnant and issues resumed when my youngest was about 7. During the remission time I ran a marathon and was generally a very active and involved parent.

    When remission ended things got “interesting.” Luckily my children were older (7 & 9) so there were not issues of picking up babies. But they still need me and I work a full-time caregiving job as well.

    It’s a constant balancing act between taking care of me, taking care of them, having enough energy for work and the other things in my life. I’m getting better at taking breaks. I’m getting better at asking for help. I changed work positions in order to choose something a little less stressful. One of my dearest friends, who is also a family therapist, calls it my “new reality.” When I focus on the fact that things in this new reality are different, not better or worse, I seem to be able to find new ways to manage.

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