I’m barely into week 24, and they’re all back. All my little friends that made me feel oh-so-maternal two years ago: Sister Mary Heartburn, Sister Mary Constipation, St. Sciatica, Our Lady of the Constant Snot, and that cruelest of companions, Mother Insomnia.
Fortunately, I’m more prepared this time around. Less likely to wig out at the thought of ingesting anything that’s not organic multi-grain superfood. I can’t completely banish the Sorority of Hate to their deserved home off-campus, but I can manage them with vigilance and a nice blend of Western and Eastern medicine. Warning: I’m totally not a doctor. Just like any advice you get online, take it with a pound of sea salt and ask your OB before taking any drugs. There are a few remedies here, though, that are 100% safe for anyone, pregnant or not.
Problem: Sister Mary Heartburn
I think I’d be able to manage the presence of Sister Mary Heartburn if she weren’t so damned unpredictable, like a really nosey neighbor who enjoys popping in during dinner parties just to find out why she wasn’t invited. She hadn’t been around much this time, and then made a grand entrance on Christmas Day. Swell! Glad you could come for the holidays. Don’t the epiglottis hit you on the ass on the way out.
Solution: Tums, ginger ale and extra pillows
Tums are a class-A pregnancy drug, which means: safe! They work reasonably well for me, although I’ve read that some women get prescriptions for the really tough-to-beat burn. So when I feel the pain coming on, I chew two Tums and wait for it to subside. If that doesn’t work, and I move on to nausea, ginger ale usually helps. If I’m heading to bed and can feel her creeping her corrosive way up my esophagus, I pile on an extra pillow and sleep on an incline. Last time around, I spent the last two months sleeping on three to four pillows every night. So I managed my heartburn by developing a crick in my neck.
Problem: Sister Mary Constipation
As if her roommate Sister Mary Heartburn isn’t bad enough, Sister Mary Constipation’s around to make sure you get it coming and going. There are dozens of reasons cited for why pregnant women suffer constipation, but I choose to believe the one about the extra iron in prenatal pills. The really alarming thing about this particular visitor is that when it’s bad, it’s REALLY bad, and the pain is located right in your lower belly, a cramping and twisting kind of pain. See where I’m going with this? There’s nothing like constipation to terrify a pregnant woman needlessly.
Solution: Docusate Sodium and Water
The brand name is Colace; the generic name is docusate sodium. All it does is add water to your stool to soften it, so it’s easier to go. I take it most mornings with my prenatals. If I skip more than one day, I suffer for it.
And, of course: drink water. Lots and lots of it. You’re peeing every half hour anyway; you might as well pee more than a tablespoon.
Problem: St. Sciatica
St. Sciatica has made her stabby appearances throughout my adult life, usually when I’ve been sitting or standing too long. But with the extra weight of my incubating uterus sitting squarely in my lumbar region, St. Sciatica sets up a tent and begins a nightly vigil that lasts longer than Lent before Vatican II. The pain starts somewhere above my right butt cheek, flares in my hip, and then snakes down my IT band to sink scaly claws into my right knee, which is creaky when it’s not bearing the weight of two people. The last three months of my first pregnancy, I had to hold on to a dresser to put my left leg into my jeans; I just couldn’t bear any more weight on my knee.
Solution: Foam roller, swimming, a body pillow, and Tylenol
Ah, the foam roller. Buy one. Seriously. When you’re pressing all your weight onto it, it’s up there with wearing a hair shirt for doing penance, but it satisfies St. Sciatica long enough to take a powder for a day or two. Of course, you have to do your penance every day–Friday fasting’s not enough for this bugger. Fortunately, if you have access to a swimming pool, spending thirty or so minutes in the water also does wonders for the pain. You don’t even have to exercise. Just float and let all that lovely buoyancy carry that bitter old hag away.
The body pillow also helps the sciatica, and has the added benefit of helping with Mother Insomnia (see below).
And when the swimming and the roller don’t work, Tylenol’s safe for pregnant women. I try not to take it too often, of course, but given the choice between taking Tylenol and not being able to walk, I’ll take the Tylenol.
Problem: Our Lady of the Constant Snot
Your immunity is low. You have extra fluid in your body and swollen sinus membranes. You have to avoid taking too many of the really good allergy drugs. All that adds up to a constant drip-drip-drip from your sinuses, which adds up to a sore throat, headaches, and at worst, sinus infections that will need to be treated with antibiotics (which will likely invite in that horrible woman, Sister Mary Yeastie Beast).
Solution: The Neti Pot
The neti pot’s one of those things that’s been around for thousands of years, but we’re only just starting to catch on over here in the Land of the Future. It’s basically a teapot that you fill with saline, stick up your nostril, and let it trickle out the other nostril. It can range from mildly icky to monstrously gross, but I use mine whenever I start feeling the presence of Our Lady, and it helps in a variety of ways. One, it clears up my drainage-pained throat; two, it clears out any yuckiness that may have accumulated during the night; and three, it prevents sinus infections just by virtue of not allowing any bacteria to accumulate.
They used to be sold only in Whole Foods-type places, but these days, you can get the NeilMed NasaFlo Neti Pot System (TM) at your local Walgreen’s. I kind of hated buying it (my pretty ceramic pot had broken and I was desperate), as it’s as cheap as the price would indicate: $15 for the pot and 50 packets of saline. It’s made of the kind of plastic in which the edges are rough and the seam shows, like cheaply made army guys, and the box is plastered with the kind of miracle-working promises that you see on late-night television. But after having used two of the classic neti pot design, I have to admit: the NasaFlo’s a great design. The lid keeps the water from pouring out, and the spout fits pretty neatly into the nostril. So I give ups to Dr. Neil, although I wish he’d have gone with a better manufacturer. In any case, running saline through your nose is about as non-invasive and chemical-free as cold treatments go, so have at it!
Problem: Mother Insomnia
Horrible, wretched old hag. She wakes you up with a tickle in your bladder, and then opens your front door and lets the Whatifs crawl into your ear for three hours. Last week, she came knocking at 11:30 PM and didn’t leave until 5 AM. Last night, she hung around from 3 to 6:30 AM. My colleagues are going to begin thinking I’m going on weekend benders, because Monday mornings find me staggering in late, circles blackening my eyes, answering questions with brilliant retorts like, “Wait… what?”
Solution: Exercise and Benadryl
I’m also going to work more exercise into my week. I promise. Exercise is supposed to help with sleep, anyway, and for pregnant women, it’s supposed to help double. But my only consistent help has been the little pink pill. It’s a class B pregnancy drug, which is to say there have not been enough human studies to support 100% safety, but it’s been around since 1946 and has never shown any ill effect on fetuses.
Of course, that’s within normal usage and dosage. I’m not taking it every night, and I’m not advising that you pop more than one Benadryl when you’re feeling especially wakeful. I only take it when I’ve gone three or more nights with insomnia, and trust me, at that point, me and the baby are better off sleeping. Sometimes I fear I’ll give birth to a zombie.
So there you have it, folks: my own guide to managing the Sisters of No Mercy, that Convent of Pain. Like I said, I’m no doctor, so before you ingest anything, talk to your doctor. But I’m pretty sure she’ll say it’s OK to go for a swim and hug a body pillow.
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