It took me having two kids and going to various specialists before I really learned anything about this common postpartum condition. It’s like this taboo thing which is fairly familiar, but I never read anything about it in all of my research. And it’s frankly stupid that moms aren’t made aware of it. Because, frankly, it sucks.
Gall stones. Aka gallbladder stones, both under the umbrella of “gall bladder disease.”
Man, they suck. Like eight hours of agony-throughout-the-night, can’t-get-comfortable and whimpering-in-pain suck. Thank God I didn’t have anything like this with my first kid (I had it rough enough as it was), but after Tiny was born in October 2015 I started having “episodes” once a week or so. As if our postpartum bodies weren’t going through enough torture already.
I’d start to feel it late at night, after dinner, when I was sitting on the couch and nursing my baby to sleep. An episode felt like heartburn – searing blinding burning pain right under my sternum. But this was accompanied by nausea and horrible back pain. I’d never had heartburn much in my life and I thought I was just having a bad case; but multiple doses of Tums or Pepto did nothing.
Over two months, I had over five episodes, each longer and more agonizing than the last. It did not matter what position I was in, nothing helped. I would lean over the couch and rock my hips like when I was in labor, use hot or cold packs, try to use the bathroom, drink milk, take a bath, and do anything else I could think of. But it did not alleviate the pain. The pain also made me throw up at least twice, which was agony. It seemed that I just had to wait it out.
At my worst episode, I spent the night on the couch with my baby and tried to sleep in the fetal position. My husband slept on the couch with me and was very concerned. He ended up calling into work that day because I was afraid I would not be able to care for the children.
He took me to the emergency clinic, and as I was describing my symptoms to the triage nurse, the physician on duty stuck his head in the room. He apologized for intruding but told me “you sound like the classic case of postpartum gallstones.” He gave me some more information but did not have the equipment there at his facility to do anything further, so we spoke for a few more minutes and then my husband and I left.
Doc’s suggestion had been that we go to the closest hospital, tell them that we wanted to get scans to confirm the stones, and then get the gall bladder removed laparoscopically that same day. I was more than a little overwhelmed; I cried in frustration over what to do, and the dread of a major medical expense loomed heavily in my mind. Plus, just what the hell was I supposed to do about my newborn (who was nursing around the clock)? Just twelve hours before I thought I just had killer heartburn!
Going home and googling my new diagnosis proved that the physician was most definitely correct. Reading about the symptoms matched what I was experiencing exactly.
Apparently it’s not uncommon for women to have gallstones postpartum: their hormones are trying to get back to normal, and they’re often losing weight fairly quickly. That can really mess up the balance of cholesterol and salts in the bile, and form a stone.
I read over the possible solutions: the least invasive method was to alter my diet and take homeopathic supplements, and hope that was enough. I could have a procedure done or take meds to attempt to dissolve the stones; of course the most invasive option was to have the stones, or even the entire gall bladder, completely removed. I chose to go to an herbalist. I purchased a homeopathic oral spray from which I used four times a day until it ran out. Whether or not it is coincidence, I do not know.
It has been over two months and I have not had another serious episode. I spoke extensively with my midwife and the herbalist, and they feel that I did have gallstones but probably passed them in the last episode. I have a few emergency remedies ready in case I have another episode – fresh lemons, apple cider vinegar, etc. I also try to eliminate fried foods and flour from my diet. And donuts… wonderful, wonderful donuts. Alas.
I continue to be disappointed that more people haven’t heard of this; there are even stories online that an OB avoids the diagnosis of gallstones even though they suspect it all along. It sucks that this isn’t a more widely discussed issue in postpartum women. Why does no one talk about this?! It’s not even gross! – I mean, considering some of the other crap that happens to our bodies, know what I mean?
And while I’m not jumping for the joy at having an entire organ removed, if the episodes were to continue I’d probably have to have the surgery. I take care of two kids under three years old, all day, by myself; I don’t think I’d have much patience to try some other methods just to cross my fingers and hope they’re effective. But luckily, as of right now these episodes are a thing of the past. Good riddance, gall stone bastards.
Hopefully my story can prepare you for the possibility of gallstones. If you have to go through it like I did, you’ll be more aware of your options so that you can get more rapid relief! May I also suggest: have a few items on hand in case you get what you think is an “episode.” If you start to feel pain in your sternum, you can first try to treat it as heartburn as I did; but if that doesn’t help, you can use things like apple cider vinegar in water or apple juice, or fresh squeezed lemon juice, and see if that relieves the pain. Chemistry is a beautiful thing! Even if our bodies hate us sometimes.
Has this happened to you?