Why I cried talking about Crohn’s at my friend’s rehearsal dinner

I stood before a room of strangers last week and shared some sentiments about my friend Jenna who was marrying the love of her life the next morning. Chances are—you’ve been at a rehearsal dinner and participated in the ‘open mic’ opportunities.

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Jenna’s birthday, 2009

As a former TV newsie, I always enjoy a chance to speak and articulate my feelings! I started out talking about how we knew one another and the type of friend she was—and then I went for it. I broke out the “C” card…the “Crohn’s” talk. Most of the people in the room were strangers to me until that night, some probably had no idea what Crohn’s was.

In that moment, I tearfully thanked my friend of more than 12 years in front of a roomful of people for always being present, always genuinely caring and for always being there not only in life’s amazing moments—but also through every flare up I’ve experienced along the way. When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, you don’t stop and think twice about which friends are going to be there, you just expect it. Unfortunately, you’ll find many ‘friends’ tend to fade to the background and will continue to do so throughout your patient journey.IMG-0841

This friend—is the opposite. This friend has sent me countless snail mail letters on adorable stationary—some with Ryan Gosling’s face plastered all over it, others with an inspirational girl gang type quote. Each time I’ve been hospitalized, she’s been my constant ray of sunshine. Always texting. Always calling. Always checking in on me. Her efforts seem effortless. And that my friends, is priceless. Rather than feeling guilt for being “that friend” she makes me feel empowered and loved.

When you live with IBD (or any chronic illness for that matter)—seek out your Jenna(s). IMG-0838Find the people who lift you up. Trust in the bonds you create with those who are there for you because they want to be out of the goodness in their heart, not as an obligation. Hold on closely to the relationships that spark joy and don’t extinguish your flame. Lean on those who are willing to give you their hand to lift you up, even when you don’t ask for it.

At Jenna’s rehearsal dinner, I wanted her to know. I wanted her to know how her compassion and empathy meant the world to me. I wanted her to know how much I appreciate all the effort she continually puts into our friendship, despite living out of state from one another for the past decade. I wanted her friends and family members, and her now husband to see the impact she’s made on my life and how her efforts to be there, make her who she is.

My hope for the IBD family is friendships like this. The ones that stand the test of time. The ones that ground you. The ones that show you the beauty of another’s heart. The ones that remind you that you aren’t ever going into battle alone. The ones that serve as your light when the days are dark. They exist. They are possible. You just need to find them.

Wedding photo cred: Savannah Kay Photography

Writing for a reason: IBD Pen Pals

Who says snail mail is a thing of the past? For one 10-year-old in the Chicagoland area, connecting with fellow IBD pediatric patients is helping her cope, comfort and help others as she takes on Crohn’s disease herself. emily4Meet Emily. This past February she received her chronic illness diagnosis. Even though she’s brand new to IBD life, she’s taking all the pain and all the setbacks in stride.

Her mom, Michelle, says watching her young daughter go through Crohn’s has been a punch in the gut.

“It’s overwhelming, lonely, and mentally draining for everyone involved. Her little body has been put through so much in the last few months and she just goes along with it all. I wish I could’ve done all the horrible tests and take away every ounce of her pain. My heart breaks every time she gets poked, every time she takes medicine, every time she has to do a test, or when I send her to school, knowing she feels horrible.”

Emily’s courage and compassion for others has inspired Michelle. Her Crohn’s diagnosis has spurred an interest to connect with other IBD kids. Rather than take on the disease in silence, Emily finds there is strength in numbers, a purpose for her pain. Emily penpalHer mom was able to reach out to fellow parents on Facebook about a pen pal program.

“How cool to come home from school and have a couple letters waiting for you from kids all over the country?!? Emily has already made 12 new friends with IBD from the U.S. and the U.K. I never want Emily to feel alone on this journey nor do I want any other kids to feel alone. I want Emily to see that other kids who have IBD are living a “normal” life and that she can, too! There may be days when I won’t understand what she’s going through, but her new friends will.”

Emilyand michelleFrom a parenting perspective, the pen pal group has introduced Michelle to other mamas going through the same fears and experiences. The connections have brought her peace of mind as she navigates these new waters with her daughter.

“Emily and I are firm believers in spreading positivity and what you give out, you get back. It’s up to us to find the good in this situation and what better way than emilylettermaking new friends? Friends who understand and continually cheer you on, no matter how far they are. My hope is that Emily will make life long connections and that these letters will serve as a constant reminder that she is never alone.”

Interested in joining this pediatric pen pal group? A Facebook page is in the works. In the meantime, you can get involved by emailing Emily’s mom, Michelle: positivelyshelly@gmail.com.

Breastfeeding with IBD: 5 tips for getting started  

You can think of us as ‘bosom buddies’—IBD moms trying to navigate life with chronic illness as we take care of our families.  Both of us battle Crohn’s. Both of us are on Humira. Both of us are bloggers and passionate chronic illness advocates. For Gutsy Girl blogger, Stacy Ransom, one of her main missions was to breastfeed her son. As a mom who chose to formula feed my son and who is currently breastfeeding my 12-week-old daughter, trust me—I get the guilt, I get the struggles, I am completely of the mindset that ‘fed is best’. The same can be said for our guest blogger, Stacy. This week she shares her insight on breastfeeding with IBD and offers up five helpful tips for navigating nursing. image1 (11)

Breastfeeding is a touchy subject. I’ve purposefully avoided discussing my experience for fear of offending others, because it seems that regardless of the stance you take, someone always gets upset. I’d like to start with abundant clarity that above all, fed is best and there is zero shaming here for mothers, regardless of the path they choose.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease in 2015 and spent years doubting my body’s ability to do anything right. When I became pregnant with my son in 2017, I wanted to do everything possible to prevent future gut issues for him.

We don’t know the cause of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, but someimage2 (1) studies suggest it may start with a bacterial imbalance in the gut, and several studies have shown that people with IBD were less likely to have been breastfed as infants. Furthermore, a study in Denmark showed that breastfed babies developed certain types of healthy bacteria in their digestive tract, which non-breastfed babies were lacking. A healthy amount of beneficial gut bacteria can promote a healthy immune system which fends off different diseases.

When I became pregnant with my son, I opted to deliver via cesarean due to my IBD, but I knew this would shift his first gut community. I read all the studies and learned all the digestive benefits of breastfeeding, so I wanted to do everything I could to set us up for breastfeeding success. My Crohn’s specialist also said she had noticed a decrease in postpartum flares among her patients who breastfed. I was really committed to giving this my best effort.

image3 (2)It wasn’t easy, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. We lasted 16-months until he self-weaned and he has a very healthy immune system so far, despite the cesarean and me being on Humira. Best of all? I didn’t have a postpartum flare, which my doctor attributed to the combination of staying on my medications, following my diet plan and breastfeeding.

I know not everyone has a positive nursing experience, but I’ve received countless messages from new mothers with issues that can easily be either resolved or prevented entirely. If you’re an expectant mother with IBD and think you want to try breastfeeding, here are some of my best tips for getting started:

  • Gather your supplies early. I stocked our fridge with easy, healthy, nursing-friendly snacks. I also made “nursing stations” in key areas around the house including a water bottle, snacks and lanolin cream. I bought a few very loose, button-down shirts to allow for easy nursing access and air flow throughout the day. I also got a few soft nursing bras in a full cup size bigger than my normal size (depending on your “normal” you may opt for two cup sizes bigger), and machine-washable, cotton nursing pads. They stick less than the disposable ones and cause less irritation, in my experience.
  • Find a Lactation Consultant. I can’t stress this enough. No matter how many YouTube videos you watch, nothing can compare to a real expert standing with you and guiding you through. Most hospitals will provide at least one consult before you are discharged. If yours does not, contact your local La Leche Foundation for support. Don’t listen to people who tell you it will just “come naturally,” because you BOTH are learning and the right latch from the beginning makes a world of difference! Some pain is normal in the beginning, but if it’s unbearable or if you start to bleed, something is wrong, and you should have a professional adjust your latch or check your baby for a lip or tongue tie.
  • Start off strong. Allow your newborn to latch as much image4as possible, especially in the first 24 hours, and provide plenty of skin-to-skin. After a c-section, the last thing I wanted to do was constantly get in and out of bed to pick up a newborn. Instead, I just spent my days with my son nestled on my chest so we could both sleep, heal, bond and get my milk flowing.
  • Stay positive. Stress won’t help either one of you (and it certainly don’t help your IBD). Relax and take deep breaths as your infant latches. Your milk may take a few days to fully come in, and it may take several weeks to get in a good rhythm. If you feel your supply is “low,” don’t panic. You are likely still producing enough to sustain your infant, as they don’t need much in the beginning. Continue to latch as much as possible (at least every two hours), and don’t supplement with formula unless your doctor advises you to. With that being said…
  • Trust your doctor. You and your baby will have regular check-ups to ensure he/she is gaining the appropriate weight. If they’re not despite your best efforts, it’s 100% okay to supplement. Fed is best and no one wins if your baby is hungry and you’re stressed. Trust your doctor in terms of gauging when to keep trying and when to supplement.

Above all, try to remember that while this is a totally natural experience, sometimes (especially for those with chronic illness) things don’t work like they’re “naturally” supposed to. image5Cut yourself some slack. Becoming a mother is stressful, but if you are feeling overwhelmed, talk to someone. Postpartum depression and anxiety are very real and as a mother with chronic illness, you may be more prone to those feelings. Seek out help from your spouse/partner, enlist nearby family/friends for support, and keep in close contact with your doctor to manage your symptoms.

And if nursing doesn’t work out for you, be kind to yourself. Your baby will still grow up to be healthy and loved, and that’s all that really matters.

Check out Stacy’s blog: https://gutsy-girlblog.com/

Connect with her on Instagram: @gutsygirlblog

 

 

The days are long, but the years are short with chronic illness

The days are long, but the years are short. Oftentimes this ‘saying’ is commonly shared when talking about parenting. This past weekend my first born turned two. A rush of emotions came over me as we celebrated my son Reid’s special day. I got to thinking—the same is true for life with chronic illness. Reids second bday

The days are long, but the years are short. When you hear that life-sentence uttered from a doctor, your world comes to a standstill. Everything from your past and everything in your future seems to come to an abrupt halt. You feel like you’re suffocating and there’s no way you can go on. But you do.

The days are long, but the years are short. As I come up on 14 years this summer since my diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, I can hardly recall who I was before my IBD. That person, that identity—seems somewhat foreign to me. When you think “14 years”, it sounds like a long time—but, it feels like a blink of an eye. It’s a blur of experiences—some painful, some amazing. I choose to focus on the amazing.

The days are long, but the years are short. When you’re dealing with abdominal pain, when everything just hurts, when you experience nausea and vomiting moments after you try and eat, the days feel endless. IMG_8476When you’re in the thick of a flare and when feel good days feel far from ever being a possibility, try and remember how fleeting these moments are.

The days are long, but the years are short. When you’re being rolled in for another CT scan in the emergency room, when the nurse can’t seem to get an IV started on the fifth try, when you’re dreading your injection, when the colonoscopy prep is making you gag on your knees in the middle of the night in the bathroom, when you’re up counting the hours before surgery, feeling like the world is on your shoulders—remind yourself, this too shall pass.

The days are long, but the years are short. With children as they grow up, we can visually see the physical change going on. Two years ago, my son was a newborn, IMG_6459today he’s a rumbustious, adorable, little ball of energy. Sure, we age, too—but we also mature mentally when it comes to our illness. What felt like the biggest obstacle and scare of our life, evolves into something that is a part of who we are, an identity that while not ideal, helps to define us.

The days are long, but the years are short. Every year without needing to be hospitalized, every year where you feel like you have your disease under control, every year where your health doesn’t take you away from the life you are yearning for, hold on to those years.

The days are long, but the years are short. Rather than wish time away, I try and remind myself how each and every comeback is stronger than the setback. That every time I’ve been knocked to my knees by my disease in the past, I’ve come out of the storm stronger and with greater perspective about this life I’ve been given.

The days are long, but the years are short. You don’t always have to love your life. You can certainly mourn the loss of who you were prior to diagnosis, lord knows I did. remedy-nsmith-stlouis-1283But I can promise you, that as life goes on and as the years since that moment of diagnosis get further and further in the rear view mirror, you will find a comfort in this identity.

The days are long, but the years are short. You will garner a confidence in your strength that wasn’t there years before. And someday, you too will pause and think about where you’ve been and how far you’ve come to reach this moment. I hope you give yourself a proverbial pat on the back to honor your resilience and determination to live your life despite all the what if’s, despite all the pain, despite all the worry. Because you my friend, are a warrior—day in and day out—and you are so much more than your disease.