By Cori Nicole Smith Wamsley

May 5th was the tenth anniversary of the day I fell on my carpeted living room floor and broke my back. When I was lying there, I knew something was horribly wrong. I felt strange, intense pain, but I could move my limbs. I told myself every day that I would feel better the next. The pain wasn’t unbearable. It was just me.

Four months later, continued pain and restricted movement forced me to see my doctor. One of the huge dense lower back bones collapsed on itself when I fell. A follow-up dexa scan—an x-ray of my hip and lower spine to determine if the bone was degrading—indicated that I had osteoporosis at 26 years old.

Worse still, I had waited to seek help, so my body had accommodated the injury. My right hip froze, causing my right SI joint—by the dimple near my tailbone—to wobble. This exaggerated my slight limp from a series of previous injuries due to a torn bundle of ligaments in my right ankle.

I have visited a physical therapist and a chiropractor up to three times a week and taken private Pilates classes to strengthen my muscles and help my hip joint move properly again. I wear custom orthotics all day, every day to create an arch for my flat feet and support my hips and back, which helps reduce the pain.

Since I began healing, I ran with a relay team in the Pittsburgh Marathon (a whole 4.2 miles!) and danced in two shows. I also carried two babies to term, though my pregnancies were sleepless due to intense hip pain. Every day, I have to consider my chronic pain and exhaustion before I commit to any activity.

Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had listened to my body after I fell instead of rushing to get back to normalcy.

When our bodies tell us something, we need to listen, to stop and take care of ourselves. As mothers especially, we have to pause and pay attention. Little ones depend on us. How will it affect them if we wait too long to hear what our bodies say? They learn from where we focus our attention. I tell my daughters to take care of their bodies so they will last and be healthy for a long time. What do they think when I don’t take the time to listen to my own body saying that I’m worn out or hurt? Will they learn to value themselves if they don’t see me respecting myself?

You are the most important person in your life. Trust your signals, and be there for you. Listen to your body when it says that it needs rest, it’s done eating, it aches, or it needs a friend to open up to. Taking the time to care for yourself makes you a better mother, friend, sister, and person. It leaves you better equipped to take on the world.