Pregnancy is peculiar: relaxin

(Before I start, I want to clear up any misconceptions that you may already have. I am neither the type of person to intentionally butcher the English language nor ‘with it,’ so this post will not, in fact, be about relaxing or relaxin’. It’s about relaxin [apostrophe not necessary], which is something different altogether.)

If stealing a friend’s cookie and running across my university’s campus with it, friend in tow, wasn’t enough to make me reconsider some of my life choices, what happened next certainly was.

He caught up to me as I stopped to turn and face him. He didn’t have time to react to my stopping. Instead, he bowled right into me and ended up on top of me; with my extra fat and his extra fat, it was easily 400 pounds of combined weight bearing down on the only limb between the two of us that was touching the ground – my twisted knee.

It popped, I crumbled, and a few x-rays and an MRI scan later, I discovered that I had broken my knee and torn my anterior cruciate ligament (ACL, for those who like kinesiology lingo) – an injury that can remove professional athletes from their craft and sideline those of us who are not in pique physical form (or financial state) for good.

It was not a fun recovery.

But I did recover. I started exercising more and building my leg muscles and even ridding myself of some of my extra weight. Good for me, right?

A couple years later, I reinjured. But I recovered again, only faster this time.

I played an entire season of sports and ran a few road races this past summer and never really had a flare-up. I was convinced that I was invincible. Or rather, I knew I was very ‘vincible,’ but I was really enjoying the particular streak of luck I appeared to be on.

Well, after I got pregnant, my luck ran out.

I was about four months along when my knee gave out doing a mundane activity. I was frustrated, but I didn’t think much of it, since it had happened several times before. It felt better in a couple days, as it always had.

But then it happened again. And again.

I was probably up to two knee blow-outs per week for a full month before I got to the chapter in my pregnancy book that explained what was probably going on.

When you’re a normal, non-pregnant person, your body is a particular shape that is optimized for normal, non-pregnant life. You know, you can fit through doors and walk without waddling – that kind of thing.

But once there’s a human baby growing inside you, you’re no longer normal, and your body knows it. All kinds of organs have to shift and squish to make room for the alien life form, so the systems that are in place to keep your body organized and not squishy in non-pregnant mode are overridden.

One of the main players in this graceful and enchanting transition is a hormone called relaxin – so named because it literally relaxes ligaments and their hold on all the things that make a body stay a certain shape. This is a pretty good thing, generally speaking – it allows for certain parts of the body to widen, and wider ribs and a wider pelvic area mean baby has room to grow and come out of the body. But it also means the body in question is being held together with rubber bands instead of bricks and mortar.

Unfortunately for me and my knee, relaxin isn’t perfectly site-specific. It doesn’t work just on ribs and hips – it flows through the whole body and relaxes joints everywhere. For a typical, intact human being, that would be fine, but if you’re like me and you already have a weak joint, it can mean exactly what it meant for me: lots of stumbles and pain.

Besides feeling a little loose now, my knee has been back to mostly normal for the past couple months, which I can only assume means that my ribcage and hips have already done the bulk of their expanding.

As for me, I managed to get through the strenuous time by relaxin. Err… relaxing.


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