Motherhood and life with rheumatoid arthritis: Jessica’s story

26 January 2021
Jess with her partner and two children.

Jessica Wood was diagnosed with seropositive rheumatoid arthritis shortly after having her first child at 21. Now 25, she’s still trying to find a treatment that works for her, but finds strength in raising her young children.

“I struggled to pick my baby up”

I had my first baby at 21 and suddenly I had extreme pain in my wrists, fingers, ankles and toes. I didn’t know what it was but thought that it might be hormones. When I struggled to pick my six-pound baby up, I thought “there has to be something wrong here”.

A month later I went to the GP who did tests. I had high inflammation markers and went for further tests with a consultant at the hospital where they confirmed a diagnosis of seropositive rheumatoid arthritis.

The clinicians took the right steps and I was diagnosed in around two months. From experience reading other people’s stories online, diagnosis seems to often be a lengthy process. It happened very quickly for me and was a huge shock. Clinicians told me it’s quite common to develop rheumatoid arthritis symptoms after your first baby.

“Even now I haven’t fully accepted it, I’m just dealing with it”

The year before I was diagnosed, my grandad passed away and he had rheumatoid arthritis. Even now I haven’t fully accepted it, I’m just dealing with it. I was aware of the condition but I didn’t expect it, especially not at a young age.

Sometimes it’s difficult because people think, ‘they can’t be struggling that much… is it real?’. I know it’s maybe harder for people without rheumatoid arthritis to understand the pain, but being shrugged off for being young is the hardest bit because you haven’t got support if people don’t believe it’s happening.

“There needs to be more awareness of invisible illnesses”

I have a fiancé and supportive family. They really try to understand and support me, which I’m grateful for, but they’ll never understand if they don’t experience it. It took them a while to realise how bad things can get.

With a condition like mine, it’s hard to accept you need help some days. Going to others to ask them for help is hard in itself and you feel like you’re failing. Having others ask you helps.

Work has been quite difficult for me. I work on a computer and on bad days typing is the hardest thing to do. Work have put some things into place to help me but there needs to be more awareness of invisible illnesses in the workplace.

“If it wasn’t for my children I don’t know where I’d be”

I have the two most energetic children! Although they’re a ball of energy they definitely get me out of bed in the morning. It’s thanks to them I am dealing with my condition the way I am.

Some days are worse than others and on those days I ask for extra help from my family or fiancé. On those days I do what I have to, I feel sorry for myself for a couple of hours and then try again.

“Most days I put on a brave face”

Things I did before, I can’t do now, even on a good day. Normal daily tasks are what I miss the most; pouring a glass of water, getting in and out of the bath, tying up my hair. That’s what gets me really down, it’s the stuff a 25-year-old should be able to do.

I don’t like people to think I’m struggling or putting it on. Medication is still not doing a great deal for me. Every day I have to hide in some way or another because I wouldn’t want family to come round and see me struggling with my own children.

It has a lot to do with pride and being a mother to two young children. I feel like if I don’t do everything I can for them, I will let them down. I can’t run around and throw them in the air but I take opportunities to do things for them.

“It isn’t about making that problem go away but knowing that people are there for you”

My children are almost three and two. At that age they don’t understand and they do want to jump on me and play. They still rely on me so much. Often I’ve got upset if they’ve accidentally hurt me by throwing something or hurting me from jumping on me.

It’s more about letting them know that they can’t jump on Mummy like that. It’s teaching them to know that they shouldn’t jump on people. I’d like them to be aware of hidden illnesses. You never know what someone is going through, but I am that person who asks.

“I try to stay positive but it really is a struggle every day, physical and mentally”

I recently referred myself to a therapist for CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to try and come to terms with my condition and medication. I currently rely on steroids and take methotrexate and hydroxychloroquine, but they’re not having the effect on me I hoped they would. As my condition got worse I developed a fear of taking medication.

For the sake of my family I have to believe that one day my condition will be better controlled, whether by therapy or medication, and that maybe then it won’t feel so bad.

Check out Jessica’s blog about living with rheumatoid arthritis.

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