RSI and Parenthood

Question: I am 29 years old and recently got married. I’ve had diffuse RSI for 3 years now and am at the stage of being mostly pain free but in no way recovered: when I try to do things like driving, writing, typing (even for 5 minutes) the pain returns. I do very little housework (thanks to my wonderful husband) but do my share of the cooking and washing up (although have to do one or the other) with some help to lift heavy saucepans. So I feel that I am doing very well at controlling any further damage but not very well at increasing what I can do. Currently I work full time using dictation software to use my computer and have good, sympathetic employers.

The worry I mainly have is that in the next two or three years we will want to start a family. How am I physically going to manage bringing up children, with all the lifting and carrying and extra work that comes with it? Also I’m worried about the psychological side of things i.e. feeling depressed about not being able to hold my child when they cry. The only practical way forward seems to be to pay someone to be at home with me to help out as my husband could not be the one to stay at home as he earns more than double the amount I do, but this would be extremely expensive. Does anyone have any practical suggestions about how to overcome this problem? Is there any support groups that would be relevant? Are there any benefits available to help pay for such things?

Answer 1: Even though I am not married , I too have thought about what to do because I would like children myself someday. The interesting thing but not surprising really is that the only people who relate to my concerns are those who know of RSI or something similar. The rest just pass off my concerns. Some observation of my own to do with holding babies and these are subtleties that may not work for everyone.

  1. Having lived in Africa for many years I observed that the African women went everywhere with kids in the front of their chest or back. For me that would work when the babies are small.
  2. Holding is a lot easier when my lap is supporting them or they are leaning on to the floor. Being a bit lazy, I always sit down cross-legged and do everything on the floor with my numerous nieces and nephews and this was before I had RSI. Plus I don’t have much arm strength anyway. You can grasp babies with your arms rather than fingers when on the lap.
  3. Some kids are very understanding. Er, I will pray hard.

Anyway, just some thoughts. It is a difficult issue and something I will consider fully when I am facing it.

Answer 2: I don’t know what I can practically say to help, except to sympathise. It’s a huge question for any couple/individual to address but it seems to be even more complicated when you’ve got a physical impairment. I got married in January (I’m 27) having had ULDs since 1997. I’m now working full-time again after a year off ‘recovering’ and a year back at Uni and I’m finding it tough. Added to that my husband has slipped two discs four times in the last 18 months and is now very limited in his movements and in constant pain, although he’s now back at work. Which is good in the sense that we both have an understanding of living with pain and ‘impairment’ but it’s bloody awful seeing the other one suffer so much. We have been kicking the kids issue around for about 2 years and still not reached any conclusion. He feels that we should wait and see if I improve. I feel that I’m not likely to improve drastically so we might as well figure it out now. For us it seems to break down into 6 issues:

  1. Do we want genuinely children?
  2. Do we want our own babies, or would adopting/fostering older children be more realistic?
  3. Would one be more manageable than a ‘brood’?
  4. Do I/we want a career-break to care simply to care for a loved child or is it partly because I/we want to escape the daily cycle of pain that work puts us through?
  5. Would it make my pain worse or give it worth, because it would be for a good-purpose?
  6. Could I cope with going back into the workplace with so much extra pressure on the home front?

I must explain, that this is all coloured by our own childhood experiences. My father was ill for 5 years until he died when I was 11 and my husband’s father broke his back when he (my husband) was 8 so we’ve both been brought up in households where a parent was in a considerable amount of pain daily. It does colour the child’s outlook on life, but can also be enormously enriching because you can see how much your parents love you as they struggle through their pain. But the memories of grey, drawn faces are still there. Not many of our circles have started having children yet, but it’s very much just a matter of time. My (girl) cousins have all had babies now and keep trying to get me to hold them but I’m scared. I’ve tried a couple of times and it hurt like hell during and afterwards. The little darlings just won’t stay still, and are heavy. They need so much clobber too – it makes me ache to see people lug it around! I hope to be able to borrow my godson to test my endurance for a day or weekend.

But I keep coming back to the thought of something that Isadora Duncan once said. If you have a body in which you are born to a certain amount of pain….why should you not, when the occasion presents draw from this same body the maximum of pleasure. That seems to me to be a lot more positive way of looking at it. Last year Women’s Hour had a little report on a lady who lost an arm in a traffic accident, whilst pregnant. She then developed RSI in her other arm in the pressure of trying to care for an infant with only one arm. As if that wasn’t enough for the fates to load on them, their next baby was born deaf and the mother had to try to sign with one RSI-afflicted arm in a country where one-armed signing is rarely taught. (Apparently it’s a USA thing) The thing was she was so happy and fulfilled. Tired and depressed and worried and sore but, for her, it was worth it. Philosophising over.

On a practical level, I’ve read that because of the extra fluid retention pregnancy can bring on RSI type symptoms (like Carpel Tunnel) in non-sufferers. I don’t know if that means that it can make it worse for pre-pregnancy sufferers. The RSI books that I’ve seen just don’t cover this type of thing. The only book I’ve come across that even touches on it is Timothy J. Jameson’s Alternative Treatments and Prevention of RSIs which spends half a page on how to nurse an infant in alternative positions. I just don’t know. My husband is now tutting that I’ve spent too long typing (he’s right) and that I’m probably boring everybody with my blathering (perceptive bloke), so I’ll sign off.

Answer 3: I think that the RSIA information pack includes something about pregnancy and parenting. There is also an article on the ACT RSI Support Group website,  “Pregnancy and parenting with an overuse injury”.

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