Barbara P. – Recovering from Bell’s Palsy During Pregnancy

Support Group Member Stories

Barbara P.

Recovering from Bell’s Palsy During Pregnancy

Barbara and her husband were busy preparing for the birth of their first child in January, 2004. One morning during the beginning of her third trimester, she was laughing and talking with her husband when he noticed there was something different about her smile – one side of her face wasn’t moving. They went to the emergency room that day, and eventually Barbara was sent home with a diagnosis of Bell’s palsy. She was told at that time that her chances were good for a full recovery. The paralysis progressed over the next few days, leaving her with the left side of her face drooping, unable to close her eye on the effected side, no taste on the left side of her tongue, sensitivity to noise, and intense pain. A little over a month later, with no improvement in her face, she gave birth prematurely to a perfect, yet small, 3 lb. 4 oz. baby girl.

Months passed with little improvement, so Barbara began her search for treatment options to help regain her smile. “Ten years ago there just wasn’t a lot of information out there.” She tried everything she could that might help – chiropractor, acupuncturist, cranial sacral therapy, massage therapy. After a year of doctor appointments, she didn’t see any improvement in her smile.

“I did it all in hope that I would once again be able to look in the mirror and recognize the person who was looking back at me. Working in dentistry for over 15 years, I built my career around a smile. Now, I didn’t know what to do. How to act around people. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I stayed home for a long time, not seeing friends or going on outings. It took a long time to work out my new persona. The once animated, easy to laugh person just wasn’t who I felt I could be anymore. I found myself misunderstood by even the people closest to me. People often thought I was angry, grumpy, or smirking when I wasn’t. I could no longer express my emotions through a simple glance.”

“Living with facial paralysis continued to be a constant struggle. It’s in every conversation, how to pronounce words, how not to laugh too much or too loud, how to position yourself to keep people on your good side, how to avoid loud environments because projecting your voice is very difficult when you are trying to control how your face will look. How to drink from a glass. What to order at a restaurant. The list is enormous and often feels endless. It was exhausting.”

Her search for options began again a few years ago. “This is where my life took a vital turn!” She found a physical therapist specializing in facial paralysis, and they worked on facial neuromuscular rehabilitation, teaching her brain to control the unwanted muscle movements and stretching the tense muscles that were constantly contracting. She also had Botox to quiet the more difficult muscles and to create more symmetry.

It was around this time that she found The Facial Paralysis and Bell’s Palsy Foundation and their support groups. “I found I wasn’t alone in how I felt about who I saw in the mirror. Through working with the foundation and attending support groups, I heard people talk about going through the same struggles as me. I learned that opening up to people helped me cope. I began my journey to healing emotionally. I began catching myself laughing without ‘toning down’ the happiness.”

Over a year ago Barbara started leading a support group in her area. “I’ve made connections with people that will remain in my heart forever. We are able to share our experiences and support each other. The first time I attended a support group, I remember the feeling of awe and relief. I couldn’t believe there were so many people that were going through the same thing. We TALKED about it, cried about it, laughed about it. My small little world of one just expanded exponentially. There are people who understand what I live with every day. I may still not look the same in the mirror, but I’ve learned that this new smile didn’t define me. These wonderful groups of people have walked with me on this healing journey and for them I will be eternally grateful for their support and encouragement.”