Anna Mortlock is like any 37-year-old Mum who has to cope with being a Mum to a six-month-old baby. But her journey is different and more complicated than that of most Mums, and that is because she has been living with arthritis since she was 14 years old.
Baby Amelia is Anna’s whole world. Anna knew that having a baby had to be planned with her arthritis in mind. From not being able to be on certain medications, being careful not to overload her artificial hip joint, to possible fertility issues. It took them 18 months to have Amelia. Anna injected herself every day with medication to prevent blood clots. She had a C-section owing to the possibility of dislocating her hip during childbirth, but she still described the pregnancy as “manageable.”
“I battle with things like car seats. These are a bit tricky because of my damaged elbows and restricted movements of my joints in my wrists,” she says. “I find it hard to get information for Mums who have disabilities. It’s also difficult to find suitable baby equipment, such as car seats, carriers, and pushchairs designed for parents with impaired physical strength and ability”.
Anna says she copes by doing heaps of research, sifting through Google searches for relevant information.
“I’m also lucky to have a friend with RA, who was a few months behind me in her pregnancy. We met when we were both cast in “Orange” – a play written for Arthritis New Zealand by Geraldine Brophy, and we swap ideas for living with RA.”
Anna was diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) at age 14. Later it became rheumatoid arthritis (RA). She had her first hip replacement at 17. She went on to have many surgeries, one being the Sauve-Kapandji procedure on her wrists. This procedure is to immobilise the joint between the two arm bones by the fusion of the bones. The operation does preserve forearm rotation.
“I have also had a fusion done on my right thumb and a rheumatoid cyst removed from a toe. My left hip was again revised when I was 29”.
Anna has tried many medicines over the years. She started with “the usual” methotrexate and Plaquenil, and now, many years and many medications later, she is on infusions of infliximab every six weeks. This medication helps manage her Crohn ‘s disease, RA, and uveitis (a form of eye inflammation that affects the middle layer of tissue in the eyewall).
“I had a power port inserted not long after I started infliximab as long term RA made my veins impossible. The power port has been amazing and made infusions super fast and easy.”
All of this has not dampened Anna’s zest for life. She finished a dance degree when she was 25 and has danced her way through the diagnoses and treatments. “I was always determined never to let the diseases stop me.
Anna is also heavily involved in theatre – choreography and directing. “There are physical challenges around this, especially at university, but I was always keen to work out ways of getting through. I’d be able to dance and do the physical assessments, while at other times I sit on a chair or get someone to perform my choreography for me. The university was very helpful in this area,” she says.