Six months after the birth of her first child, Chaunté Smith couldn’t get out of bed. She was in “excruciating pain.” At first she thought it was the result of being an “older mother,” having given birth at 36. In the mornings, her fingers were curled. As her knees became swollen, she began to limp.
Telling me about her experience, Smith admitted, “I ignored it for a little while, as we women do, and just got on with my life.” Now, eight years later, Smith has become part of a team working on an awareness campaign called “The Strong Woman’s Approach,” featured as part of the Reach Beyond—Everyday Solutions for Living With Rheumatoid Arthritis overview. Smith is sharing her personal experiences with the goal of giving other women courage and insights.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects 1.3 million Americans, and is two to three times more common among women. It is a chronic disease that affects the joints, primarily those in the hands, wrists, feet, shoulders, and knees. Pain is accompanied by tenderness, swelling, and redness of the joints — a warning sign that they are being attacked. Other indicators can include low-grade fevers and fatigue.
Smith, who comes out of a background in the pharmaceutical industry, intuited that something other than first time motherhood was at play. She said, “I could barely walk. I couldn’t pick up my newborn.” She connected with a rheumatologist, and in tandem they determined what her course of treatment would be. Smith knew that she wanted to have a second child, and her choice of medications was informed by that fact.
Over time, Smith learned how to adjust to her illness through a combination of medication, exercise and diet. Proper lifestyle choices are an issue that Smith is working to amplify.