An Interview with Melissa vs Fibromyalgia
As my blog is a support blog for parenting with fibromyalgia, I am so excited to share with you an amazing interview I did with Melissa Reynolds a.k.a. Melissa vs Fibromyalgia. , who is a mum to 4 battling a chronic illness.
Who is Melissa Reynolds?
Melissa Reynolds is a yoga and meditation teacher, author of three books including Fibromyalgia Won’t Win and has managed chronic illness for over 15 years. She is also parenting with fibromyalgia and is a mum to 4 boys. It’s her mission to help women with chronic pain and fatigue put self-care & wellness first.
I sent Melissa a list of questions that all fibromyalgia warriors and parents with a chronic illness want the answers to and she kindly obliged! Without further ado, here’s the interview in full.
Interview with Melissa Reynolds a.k.a Melissa vs Fibromyalgia
Can you tell me and my audience a little bit about yourself?
I’m a busy mama who runs the blog Melissa vs Fibromyalgia, a YouTube channel and some Facebook support groups. I’ve published three books about my journey with chronic illness, including Pregnancy and Fibromyalgia.
I was only given a long-term diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome in 2013 and fibromyalgia in 2019, although I had symptoms since my teenage years. I was also diagnosed with endometriosis in 2023.
I have four children, all boys, aged two and a half, nearly five, nearly seven and nine and a half.
How did pregnancy/labour impact your fibromyalgia?
With my first two, the fibromyalgia/CFS was poorly managed. The doctors didn’t know what to do with me. So, the pregnancies were awful experiences. The pains and fatigue I had were sky high. I also had undiagnosed pelvic issues (sacroiliac joint dysfunction and symphysis pubis disorder, diagnosed in my third pregnancy).
The second two pregnancies were much easier because I was in a better position in my health. I did not experience remission or reduction in symptoms compared to pre-pregnancy levels.
My labours were also different ballgames. The first two were long and arduous for very different reasons. The second two were great. The fourth was textbook perfect!
How did you find the new-born stage on your chronic illnesses?
It was the sleep deprivation of the first years that took it out of me. That level of sleep deprivation with additional small children was nearly unbearable. The new-born stage (first year) was brutal for me. Only my third child was any good at sleep before one year old. My first and fourth were particularly brutal. My second had reflux so bad that I still remember the burning in my legs from walking around soothing him, in the front pack , for hours each day.
What one piece of advice would you give to a new mum parenting with fibromyalgia?
Prioritise your health first. You deserve a good quality of life and you can give better to your family when you are better.
How do you pace when you are parenting with fibromyalgia?
I’ve just written an entire blog post on this! https://www.melissavsfibromyalgia.com/pacing-for-chronic-illness/ Essentially I advocate for a proper rest break (nap or guided meditation), keeping to your overall boundaries as best you can (going to bed the earliest you’re able), and watching your activity to rest ratio. The same rules as when you don’t have a baby, but with added flexibility. Take all the help you can.
How do you manage housework whilst parenting with fibromyalgia?
Using the principles of pacing! A little at a time. I have my daily tasks that must be done and then break up the bigger tasks. We must do washing every day or it piles too high, we don’t use a dryer so I must hang everything to dry! I finally got a stick vacuum which has made vacuuming so much easier – it used to be so hard and tiring. We also assign some jobs to the children, according to their age and ability, I highly recommend that as it’s good for them and us.
Did you breastfeed your children and if so how did you manage it with your chronic conditions?
Breastfeeding was such a thing! I didn’t know you could express and feed breastmilk by bottle until I was in the birth centre, having to pump milk for my eldest. It was trial by fire. Nursing just didn’t work for us and the attitude I got for it was awful. I nearly developed postpartum depression trying to pump for him.
With my second’s reflux, he went onto thickened formula quite quickly so that was heart-breaking but relieved a lot of pressure.
Somehow, despite the first two experiences, my third latched well and nursed well for 13 months. Unfortunately we were dismissed for the first couple of months. When it hurt me so bad, I had to stomp my foot and clench my teeth to let him nurse. My midwife said it must be more painful for people with fibromyalgia to nurse. WRONG! It was oral thrush, picked up by a wonderful nurse after weeks enduring.
With my fourth, he latched immediately and didn’t stop completely until he was 27 months old! It was exactly what you hear advertised-natural and easy.
My best recommendations are to learn how to nurse lying down so you can rest and make use of a support pillow to help hold them up (saves your arms).
Who is in your support network and how do you ask for help?
My mum, brother Luke, and parents in law have provided us with a lot of help and support. I find it difficult to ask for help, but I’m getting better at setting up systems to ensure I have enough support to get through the week as best we can.
My big two are old enough to understand so I’ve told them about the conditions. They don’t fully understand but they know mama takes a rest each afternoon and she gets tired easily. They know she needs her heat pack often! I give them as much information as they seem to need to feel comfortable at the time. When I needed my operation for endometriosis, my eldest was very worried, so I sat him down and let him ask any questions and answered, as he needed. We’ve talked about periods a lot in a house with five boys and one girl!
When your children were younger, did you tend to sleep/nap when they did or what did you do instead with that time?
I do Yoga Nidra guided meditation every single day, whether I have a new-born, a toddler or older children. The kids know that if they are at home, they are having a rest time. They don’t have to sleep, but they take time out in their room while I rest. It’s such a game changer.
How do you practise self care whilst parenting with fibromyalgia?
I frame self-care and symptom management together. I know that less symptom levels enable me to be a better mother, so I am getting better at prioritising! My daily Yoga Nidra guided meditation break, my regular walks, sitting outside in the sun, gentle yoga, warm baths – they all double as symptom support and self-care.
Do you let your children watch TV and if so what programs and how much?
Short answer, yes. Longer answer, with many boundaries. They are allowed very limited screen time and only what’s available on the child’s profile on Netflix or YouTube kids. My two and a half year old only watches some nursery rhymes, when we are stuck inside in the rain. My four and a half year old has autism and uses Scooby Doo movies to decompress after a long day at kindergarten. The big two have the rules as above, but are allowed to watch older movies with my husband and I.
How do you use social media and do you find it is a gift or a curse?
I think it’s helpful in terms of connection, if you are mindful about it. I run a Pregnancy and Parenting with Fibromyalgia Facebook group, so that there’s a safe place to connect and share experiences. I do feel though it’s a double-edged sword. Social media is being shown as negative for mental health and I found myself going into a “fatigue scroll” a lot after my operation. So I’m currently on super restricted social media. No Instagram, just popping into moderate my Facebook groups and that’s about it! I’m very careful about the groups I join for myself and never join ones that allow venting. I know that would bring me down. I’m there for learning and improving but I know some people do find it helpful to be able to vent.
Do you have any easy outdoor or indoor play ideas to do with your children that don’t take up too much of your spoons?
We built a playground when I was pregnant with my third. It has two slides, a climbing ladder, a short monkey bars and three swings. We also have a full yard and a trampoline so we are very lucky. We spend a lot of time outdoors because it is so good for mental and physical health. It was such a life-saver when my pelvis was killing me or when the baby was in the front pack and the big kids needed to play.
If we are going out, to save spoons, we will often drive to the park. We also like to go to the local library.
We have plenty of colouring supplies (crayons, pencils, pens, a variety of colouring books) so they can always colour in. We keep a box of lego in the lounge, the little two will often busy themselves creating something. Lying around reading is very spoon friendly.
What easy meal time ideas/recipes do you make for the family to enjoy with the limited energy you have?
I have a loose meal plan for each day of the week. Mondays are hopefully leftovers from the weekend. Tuesdays are something with mince (tacos or lasagne bake). Wednesdays are a bake (like seafood and vegetable bake). Thursdays are a curry and Fridays are leftovers. I dislike cooking a lot, so I try to make it as easy as possible. I will use the pressure cooker or slow cooker wherever I can.
As you are parenting with fibromyalgia, can you work and if so how do you manage both?
I had to reduce my hours to part-time when I was just 26 years old, which dramatically impacted my ability to move into better roles for some time. It took me so much longer to work my way into the role I have now, which I love. I work 12 hours per week, flexibly from home which is wonderful. Otherwise one would struggle to have four small children, a chronic illness and work. Besides fatigue, my neck greatly impacts my work. It gets sore and tired easily. Even with an ergonomic set up and strict rules, it does not like computer work. So I’m glad to have found a balance that works for now.
Given that I am a yoga teacher, I do a lot of yoga. I find yoga gives me everything I need in terms of strength building, stretching and balancing. I am also a big fan of walking. I don’t do high impact exercise and keep my heart rate below 130 to avoid post-exertion malaise.
What hobbies and interests do you have outside of parenting?
My blog work takes up pretty much all of my time outside of the children, work and house but I also like to read a lot. It feels like I’m still trying to make up for the lost time when I was too unwell to read.
Are there any fibromyalgia books/resources you could recommend?
I always recommend The Fibro Manual by Dr Ginevra. I’d also recommend my books, if you’re curious about real life experience with chronic illness and parenting – including Pregnancy and Fibromyalgia.
I’d be wary of books that seem like they promote a simple approach or if they focus on one magical way to cure us. Fibromyalgia and related conditions are complex and at this point in time there is no replicable cure and requires holistic management.
Where can people find out more about you, follow your journey and get your brilliant resources/support?
They can head to www.melissavsfibromyalgia.com to find more than 300 articles about living well with chronic pain and fatigue, including while pregnant and parenting. I also have a YouTube channel, books, journals and yoga courses, all of which you can find my the blog. You can also grab your free yoga for fibromyalgia series, too.
I really hope you loved that interview as much as I did and gained some valuable advice and support! Melissa is inspirational to those of us with fibromyalgia and who are parents, too. Thank you so much to Melissa for using her limited spoons to talk with me.
Mummy the Fibro Warrior Top Tip:
- Find someone with the same illnesses as yourself and support one another! You both have wisdom to share and a problem shared is a problem halved!
If there is one takeaway I’d like you all to remember today is that you don’t have to face your chronic illness journey or your parenting journey alone. There is always someone out there to help! I need you to know you are doing the best you can, your child/children love you just as you are and you are Mummy the Fibro Warrior!
Until next time,
p.s. What did you like about this blog post today? What have you learnt from reading this blog today? Are there any questions you would like to answer to help others on their journey? Please do comment below! I appreciate every single comment and respond to them all.