Weeks before her due date, Elena Sheppard was diagnosed with a neurological condition.
Sheppard, 35, who was pregnant with twins at the time, said she woke up one morning in early June with a “weird” feeling around her mouth.
“Later that day, I was having coffee with my husband and he was like, ‘I don’t know what just happened but half your face just fell,’” Sheppard explained to Good Morning America.
New Mother Diagnosed With Bell Palsy Weeks Before Her Due Date Shares Her Story
Elena was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, and at the time, she had never heard of the condition.
Sheppard said she still struggles with symptoms nearly three months after her diagnosis.
“My eye is tearing right now, that’s a big symptom,” she said. “I can’t close this eye at all, and in the beginning, I had to tape it shut. I can’t move my lip at all. I can’t scrunch my nose.”
Sheppard, 35, was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy in late June. Sheppard has since given birth to two healthy twin boys, Casper and Lyle.
“I do what I think is smiling,” said Sheppard. “It’s more scary than frustrating honestly, because you can’t help but think, ‘Is this what my face is gonna look like forever?’”
Symptoms improve within 3 weeks in most cases according to the NIH, but symptoms can last longer for others. In addition to sudden weakness in the face, those with Bell’s palsy can have trouble closing their eyes or mouth.
“This isn’t just cosmetic, not to minimize that, but you can have tearing issues. You can have damage to the cornea. You can have issues swallowing food or chewing food,” ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained while on the outlet.
It should be noted that Bell’s palsy and a stroke can have similar symptoms, and if anyone is experiencing these symptoms, they should seek medical attention immediately. And when it comes to treatment for Bell’s palsy, Ashton said they’re mostly supportive.
“We tend to give steroids, antiviral medications for pain, over-the-counter Tylenol or ibuprofen,” Ashton said. “Most will recover. It can take a very long time. And sometimes the results can be permanent. But the bottom line is, if you notice any of these symptoms, you want to get to an emergency room. Make sure it’s not a stroke since that’s life-threatening.”
The condition can occur at any age and affect any gender. The exact cause remains unknown.
And while Sheppard said she, and her husband, are focused on taking on the next challenge of parenthood, she also said she wants to share her story to encourage others.
“We see images of perfection all the time and that’s completely unrealistic to everybody’s lives,” she said. ”I think if I had seen more images of this, it probably wouldn’t have been as scary. So I think just normalizing all the different things that can happen to a body is really important.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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