From one IBD mom to another: An interview with Tekhni Wovens Founder, Alisa DeMarco

When a family member is diagnosed with IBD the same week as you, it can be sort of a saving grace.

Alisa

One month post diagnosis–dealing with the side effects of prednisone.

My cousin’s wife, Alisa DeMarco, was told she had Crohn’s disease a matter of days before I was in July 2005. At the time, she was one of the only people I knew who had the condition—one of the only people I could confide in who could genuinely understand my reality. At the time of diagnosis and throughout your patient journey—these bonds and relationships are the glue that keeps you together.

alisa3Now, nearly 14 years later—her and I have come a LONG way. She’s on Remicade. I’m on Humira. We are both mothers. We are both wives. Alisa didn’t allow her disease to stop her from following her personal or professional dreams. In 2013, she left corporate America and founded Tekhni Wovens. As an IBD mom and successful business owner, her perspective and ability to overcome the odds is something we can all admire and look up to. This week—an interview with a woman I’m lucky to call family.

NH: What inspired you to create Tekhni Wovens?

AD: As a full-time working mother who enjoyed caring for my children with the help of wraps and slings, I quickly found myself as part of the babywearing community.  Over time I shifted from consumer to manufacturer, designing textiles when I didn’t find what I was looking for— a fashion-forward aesthetic in easy-to-wear blends at accessible prices.

NH: As a woman with IBD, a mom of four, and a wife–how do you balance leading a successful business and keeping your disease symptoms under control?

AD: Balance is a hard ideal to maintain– and I am not always successful! Image-58 I multi-task everything, stay on top of my biologic infusions, rest when possible and, plan my diet loosely around a mix of SCD and low gluten eating. Getting help is difficult, but I feel lucky to have a supportive husband and local family network. My travel schedule wears me down– but thankfully most of my disease symptoms are well controlled.

NH: What advice do you have for fellow IBD’ers who have big dreams but are hesitant to go after them because of their disease?

AD: Your dreams don’t have to be an all or nothing pursuit!  Tekhni started as an idea to make a better product and help support my family… and evolved into multifaceted business with accounts worldwide.  However, it took years, and many winding paths to get there. Know that there’s no deadline or requirement for any passion you want to pursue.  Start with an idea, and break it down into bite-sized pieces. Your disease is only one small part of your identity, and cannot prevent you from planning and dreaming and accomplishing daily tasks on your own timeline. Image-56

NH: Why are you passionate about babywearing?

AD: Babywearing and attachment parenting are very close to my heart– they are natural extensions of our mothering instincts. They help me care for my young, closely-spaced children while working full-time and managing a household with a husband who is often away for work. Image-55Babywearing helps me effectively multi-task and meet my all children’s needs at the same time. It also helps address postpartum depression, by syncing mother and baby, and raising oxytocin levels.  I believe babywearing is a necessity that should be taught to every single expecting parent and caregiver!

NH: Why is babywearing so beneficial for those with IBD in particular?

AD: Babywearing is a perfect fit for people with autoimmune diseases– it helps you hold, carry, and comfort your baby while taking weight and strain off of your back and hips. For difficult days, it can literally be another set of hands.  And keeping baby in proximity leads to less crying, less stress, and more rest for both baby and mother. Image-60As a bonus, a variety of baby carriers can be adjusted to accommodate an ostomy or j-pouch.

Stay tuned to my Instagram account (@nataliannhayden) for a giveaway on Friday, May 17. We’ll be giving away a Studio Tekhni Ring Sling! The winner will be announced on World IBD Day (May 19). Good luck!

 

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

Why my husband is much more than a caregiver, Dr. Phil

I still remember the moment I told my husband I had Crohn’s disease. It was a beautiful August afternoon. We sat overlooking water at a boathouse in St. Louis on our third date. As we enjoyed casual conversation and a mutual interest in one another, I knew I had to tell him about my chronic illness.

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Photo from our third date, the day I told Bobby I had Crohn’s disease.

Nervous to rock the boat. Scared to be judged. Worried it would tarnish the image of who I was so far. I just wanted to rip off the band aid and get this conversation over with.

It was never easy to navigate dating and relationships with my disease. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 21 in 2005. I met Bobby in August 2013 at age 29. Rather than seem put off by my disease, he inquired and showed empathy from that point forward. Never once did he make me feel less than or unworthy of love. In that moment, I knew I had found someone special and I felt a huge sense of relief.

Fast forward to this past month and all the conversation surrounding Dr. Phil’s heartless and ignorant comments about caregiving and relationships. I didn’t see the episode live, but have seen the countless posts on social media being shared to prove him wrong. I watched the interview clip after the segment aired and couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. Dr. Phil told an interabled couple that “100 out of 100 relationships that involve caregiving fail.”

Photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.com

Helping me walk down stairs during our engagement photos–21 days post op from my bowel resection surgery. Photo cred: J. Elizabeth Photography

It pains me to even write the idiotic words that man said. Not only is it upsetting, but it breaks my heart to think of all the young, newly diagnosed chronic illness patients out there who were already wondering if they were worthy of love because of living with a disease.

IMG_0077I’m here to tell you that you are. I truly believe my vulnerability with my Crohn’s and how I deal with flare ups is a big part of why my husband fell in love with me. Chronic illness isn’t pretty. It forces you to see the world without rose-colored glasses. It makes you realize the importance of your health and how quickly it can be taken away from you.

There’s a reason why you say “in sickness and in health” in wedding vows. My husband chose to spend his life with me, because he loves all of me—even the part of me that is riddled with illness. People are cut out to be caregivers or they’re not. You’ll come across this in your life and know which family members and friends have a special way about them. Those who don’t have this trait and ability aren’t meant to marry people like you and me. And that’s fine.

But to say that 100 out of 100 couples will fail because caregiving is involved couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s through Bobby’s caregiving that I continue to fall more and more in love with him. It’s those moments when I need help to get through a pain-filled day that I’m reminded just how strong and unbreakable our love is.

IMG_9492Caregiving looks and means different things to everyone. It’s not just about being a caregiver in the hospital or at a nursing home. It’s taking care of the one(s) you love on a typical day at home. It can be something as simple as rubbing your back or taking care of the kids while you’re stuck in the bathroom. It can be dishing you out ice cream after you give yourself an injection. Or holding your hand on a walk outside following a hospitalization. It’s those caregiving moments in particular that remind me constantly of the everlasting love I’ve found and make me 100 percent positive we will make it through, for the rest of my life.

My words of advice for you—if you’re a caregiver, know how appreciated you are—for all the little things and the big things. photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.comIf you’re someone dealing with a disability/disease—don’t allow Dr. Phil’s ridiculously inaccurate comments make you think you aren’t worthy of love, because you are and always will be.

 

 

My top 5 wishes for those with IBD

As we bid farewell to 2018 there is much to reflect on. Each year brings new experiences, relationships and opportunities. Some years leave more of an imprint on our memory and on our heart, than others. When you think back on the past 365 days what were the highlights? What were the low points?

IMG_4926For me—the past nine months I’ve been incredibly grateful to have another healthy pregnancy, that silenced my Crohn’s symptoms. I’m also celebrating 3.5 years of no IBD-related hospitalizations or ER visits! The cherry on top was the release of Citrate-free (pain-free) Humira this year! After more than a decade of giving myself the painful injection, the new formula has greatly improved my patient experience.

Here are my 5 wishes for you in the days ahead:

  1. Strength through difficult days

There’s no telling when the next flare will strike. We all know it’s not a matter of if, but when. When the going gets tough, take it one hour, one moment at a time. Try not to overwhelm yourself with worry. Go to your happy place and think back to past flares and all the hurt and pain you’ve overcome. Use the moments of your journey from the past that have tested you the most, to serve as your greatest source of empowerment. As the years go by, and your diagnosis seems like a different lifetime, use that to your advantage.

  1. Management of your symptoms

Remission is something that is possible, but there’s no telling how long it will last or for some, if it will ever become a reality. By getting your symptoms under control and well managed, whether that’s through medication, diet or both—your quality of life improves vastly. IMG_4768Celebrate the feel-good days and soak up the moments where your IBD isn’t top of mind. You have an innate sense of when your body is giving you warning signs that rough waters are ahead. Be mindful of the inner conversation going on in your head and listen to your gut. Although it tends to be our nemesis, it has a way of alerting us when things are about to get out of our control.

  1. Perspective about your experience

Use your patient journey and that of others to give you perspective. Empathize with friends and family members going through health struggles, whatever they may be. Sure, many people have it better than us, but many have it a lot worse. It’s not a competition to see who is the sickest, but rather a way of shifting our mindset and understanding that many people have struggles and we are not alone in our experiences. Like the saying goes, until you “get” a chronic illness, you don’t really “get” it.

  1. Support from those around you

Having a network of close family and friends to lean on at a moments notice plays a major role in how we take on IBD. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Communicate the good and the bad, without fear of being judged or ridiculed. nyeblogTrust that those close to you love you and appreciate you for everything that makes you, you—including your disease. Show appreciation for your caretakers—those who live with you and are in the trenches by your side, day in and day out. Find comfort in those who allow you to be vulnerable when you need to be. Stop putting effort into relationships and friendships that don’t add joy to your life—eliminate the negativity, cut the fat, there’s no need for people who bring you down or belittle what it’s like to live with Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis.

  1. A health care team who listens

Find IBD specialists and gastroenterologists who enable you to be your own best advocate, who listen when you’re worried and address your concerns without making you feel less than or like a number. By trusting in your doctors and the care they provide you, you’ll feel much less stress about the path you are on as a patient.

Food for thought: What it’s like to get all your nutrition through an IV with IBD

This week–a guest post from an IBD advocate who continually inspires me. Meet Sonya Goins. twibbon-profileShe is a news reporter for a community television station in the Minneapolis/St.Paul area. Sonya is also a Crohn’s patient, diagnosed with the digestive disease in 1985 while she was in college. I’ll let her take it from here:

While fighting the physical pain of Crohn’s is tough, the mental aspect is even harder.

On January 3rd, 2018 my doctor put me on TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition), which means I was fed through my veins. All of the nutrients I needed to survive were in an IV bag and pumped through my veins throughout the day. My doctor wanted to give my colon a rest so ulcers could heal.  I endured this treatment for eight and half months.  It was one of the most trying times of my life. No food, just water, broth and on occasion, coffee.

Despite my circumstances, I named my IV catheter “hopeful.” 26677835_10155748847937819_1006971807936260031_oHowever, it took me a minute to adapt a positive inner attitude.  You see, in public I put on a good, cheerful attitude. There were times when I wanted to crawl up into a big ball and shut out the world. The first few weeks of constantly wearing a backpack full of IV fluids were very hard.  I did not like what I saw in the mirror. I was angry at my situation.  It wasn’t until I visited a pediatric Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation support group that I changed my way of thinking. Seeing young people living with the digestive diseases, and going about their lives despite their circumstances, motivated me to do better.

I had to live my new normal to the best of my ability.

The mental game of TPN

Mentally, not eating real food was very, very challenging.  Although I could not eat, I still cooked for my youngest child. The smells of the food made my mouth water, tempting me to taste what I know would make me sick. There were a few times I lived on the edge and took a sample. I paid for my mistakes—painful cramps and bloody diarrhea were my punishment.

After the first month on TPN, I knew I needed professional help if I were to survive.  So, I sought the help of a therapist.  I also prayed and meditated—a lot. 35682318_10156164555637819_6627378019424010240_n

First, I needed a distraction for when I was tempted to eat. A friend taught me how to crochet. She even purchased the yarn, hooks and beginner books to get me going.  I still cannot do a granny square, but I learned a new skill.

When times were bad and I wanted to give up, I would mentally go to my happy place—Turks and Caicos. Several years ago, I visited the Caribbean Islands. I imagined myself sitting on the pristine beaches, watching the waves crash.

The social impact

The loss of social invitations also did a number on me.  Some of my friends did not want to hurt my feelings by eating in front of me, so they stopped including me. However, I did have one friend who went out of her way and found a restaurant that served the best broth in town. We sipped on broth and caught up with each other’s lives. This was one of the highlights.

I was determined not to let this situation get the best of me. Instead of going out to eat with friends, I invited friends to go for a walk. I walked with former coworkers, acquaintances and family members.  The fresh air and good conversations did me a lot of good.

Taking steps to heal mentally and physically

Walking became my foundation. I was motivated to walk for another reason.  Before I got sick, I signed up for several half marathons to raise money for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. I finished the New Orleans half marathon in March, just three months into my treatment. I have never been so proud.  I had to walk the race, but I finished. Several months later, I also completed the Twin Cities 10 mile race, and the Savannah half marathon.

My unexpected journey made me stronger mentally and physically.  I am more outgoing and more self-assured than ever before.  After all, you cannot be shy walking around with an IV bag strapped to your body.

I share my story to give others hope.

Sonya Goins is also a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Board Member/MN Dakota Chapter.  You can find her blog at SonyaStrong.com. She also has a podcast on iTunes and GooglePlay entitled “Conversations about Crohn’s and Colitis.”

When I looked in her eyes, I saw myself

I recently met a 15-year-old girl who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. Like many parents of teens newly diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease, her mom reached out to me for words of advice and comfort. It’s not too often that upon learning this news and connecting with families that I get to meet both the parent and teen in the same room, at the same time.

Maybe this can be chalked up to pregnancy hormones. Maybe it was because my heart hurt for her. It was probably both. But, I kept getting emotional looking at her and talking to her. My eyes welled up with tears because without her saying a word, I felt and could see her pain. In that moment, I felt like I had time traveled back to the first few months of my diagnosis.

I felt the loneliness and isolation she was feeling, even though she was in a roomful of people. I watched as we ate dinner and she quietly sauntered in the hallway, behind the kitchen table to make her way to the bathroom…more than six times in less than an hour. I listened as people questioned why she wasn’t eating…and told her to get ready for dessert. Her mom telling us as she was in the bathroom that she’d dropped four pounds in the last week and only had an Ensure to drink that day. I told everyone to stop talking about food and allow her to come into the kitchen when she felt ready. I remember all too well how it feels when people are watching you like a hawk, questioning every morsel you put down your throat. Food and the relationship we have with it while taking on IBD and navigating familial relationships and friendships can feel like psychological warfare.

She pulled her mom to the side after she overheard her telling me about her medical issues and told her not to tell anyone. I touched her arm and with tears in my eyes, I quietly told her I’ve had Crohn’s for more than 13 years…and that I understood how she felt. I pointed to my 18-month-old running around and to my baby bump and told her that if she wanted a family in her future, it was still possible, despite her disease.

Oftentimes, it can be difficult to connect with teenagers, because they seem guarded and are private about their disease. For many, it’s still a top-secret part of who they are. I get it. I took me nearly a decade to share that I had Crohn’s disease with the world. There’s no sense in rushing anybody. We all find the time that is right. We all know when we feel strong enough physically, mentally and emotionally to open ourselves up to questions, opinions and thoughts from those around us. It’s completely normal to want to keep others (especially strangers) at arm’s length, because during those impressionable young years, you don’t want to be seen as different. You know the moment you say, “I have IBD.”… it’s truly your reality. Your identity, how people view you…it’s all forever changed.

A message for parents

Parents—I know it must be SO difficult to feel like you’re on the outside looking in at your child in debilitating pain as they deal with the burden of a lifelong disease for which there is no cure. If this is a “new” disease to you and your family, you probably feel overwhelmed by all the information on the internet, what you’re hearing from specialists and what is best for your child. Lean on people like me, who live your child’s reality. Ask us the questions. Talk to us about how it feels. Equip yourself with knowledge and understanding so you can get acclimated to life with chronic disease in your family, just as your child needs to. It’s a learning process for every person in the family. Have patience. I know it sucks. I know there are times you just feel like screaming from the tallest mountain… “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING!!!???” I know you are reminiscing back to when life seemed so simple. When health was never in question. There’s no use in romanticizing the past.

You must embrace your new normal and be a pillar of strength for your child. If they see you waver, if they see you upset and frantic, that will directly impact how they feel. Communicate with your child and see if they’d like to talk with someone else who is living with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. If not now, maybe later. The IBD family is strong, resilient and welcoming…and we’re not going anywhere.

 

Celebrating a major patient victory: Citrate-free Humira

I still remember the first time I felt the pain. Sitting in my GI’s office with the nurse and my mom. Fresh out of the hospital after having an abscess the size of a tennis ball in my small intestine. Knowing I had to inject myself with a painful biologic drug, four times in a row, for the loading dose. The feeling when the medication entered my body was like nothing I had ever felt before. It was an unthinkable amount of pain. It was overwhelming knowing that for the rest of my life, I would endure this same pain, multiple times a month…with no end in sight.

Fast forward more than ten years later. A total of 122 months, hundreds of injections. My reality as a Crohn’s patient just changed. IMG_2966It changed in a way that I never knew was possible. I have so many flashbacks of my journey with Humira. The tears as I felt sickly in my 20s sitting alone in my apartment and wondering why me. The dread, anxiety and anticipation every other Monday and the strength I had to muster up within myself to once again receive my medication. Holding the injection in my hand, getting in the zone and focusing my thoughts on brave family members and friends as I held down the plum colored button and felt the burn. The sad look on my son’s face as he looked in my eyes and witnessed his mama hurting.

Now, all this is a distant memory. Thanks to the Citrate-free formula developed by AbbVie and approved for adults and pediatric patients in the United States, this reality is over. A matter of days ago, I experienced my first pain free Humira injection. I had heard all the hype and excitement around it, but it was so difficult to fathom such a change in my patient experience. Here’s a video of me experiencing my first Citrate-free injection:

I’m here to tell you it’s completely painless. Less pain than a blood draw. Less than a flu shot. You feel nothing. The process, effectiveness and outcome are the same, but you don’t feel anything. It’s emotional and overwhelming in the best way. I cried for a good half hour after my first one, happy tears. Tears of joy from a woman who now knows her children will never see their mom struggle in pain. Tears of joy from someone whose eternally grateful for a medication that keeps a painful and debilitating chronic illness at bay. Tears of joy knowing that I will never have to feel that awful pain again. A pain that’s too much to put into words, that was part of my life for so long.

The sun is shining a bit brighter today. I feel a load has been lifted off my shoulders that I didn’t even realize had been there for more than 10 years. When I heard about the Citrate-free formula being approved and available in the States, I was excited—but, didn’t realize the true extent of what a difference it would make in my life. joy-2483926_1920

If you’re on Humira and living in the States, make sure you talk with your GI and specialty pharmacy to ensure your script is changed to “Citrate-free”. The extra leg work will be so worth it. It brings me so much happiness to know that young children on Humira will never have to feel the pain. It gives me peace of mind as a chronic illness patient to know that developments like this in treatment are possible and happening right now.

My call of action to doctors, specialists, healthcare teams and specialty pharmacies—please communicate this with patients. I’ve heard from countless people around the United States who heard about this for the first time from me. That’s not the way it should be. My GI gave me a heads up three months ago.

Fellow patient advocates, please feel empowered to share what this means to you and reach out to your individual communities and support networks, so people can get the ball rolling and experience this for themselves. Our voices are strong, and word of mouth is powerful.

Humira was approved for Crohn’s in 2006. I started taking the injections in 2008. Now, it’s 2018 and patients in the United States have access to the Citrate-free (pain free) formula. What’s next? Now, we can truly continue to dream.

Reflecting on two years of marriage with IBD

Two years ago today, I married the love of my life. The man who has been by my side through multiple hospitalizations, flare-ups, surgery and day-to-day management of my Crohn’s disease. Prior to walking down the aisle, we shared vows during our “first look.” Here are a few lines from my vows:

photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.com“You’re an incredible partner—you’re my rock when I’m sick and you know how to lift my spirits when I’m down. You have a way of easing my worries and bringing me clarity when I’m uncertain. Each day spent with you—is an extraordinary blessing. I feel so incredibly lucky that God brought us together and chose you to be the one person among millions who lights up my soul.”

When you battle inflammatory bowel disease, it’s a big part of your relationships. As a family, Bobby and I focus on one another, our son and managing my disease. It’s a team effort. It’s comforting to know that when I’m not feeling well or going through a difficult part of my disease journey, that I can lean on my husband for strength and support. Just this week, I was struggling with symptoms. Countless bathroom breaks. Relentless gnawing cramps that bothered me for hours. My husband always checks in on me—lightly knocking on the bathroom door to make sure I’m ok. Texting me while I’m stuck in there, bringing a smile to my face with funny emoji’s and sweet talk.

It’s the little things. The day-to-day management that many do not see and that can be easy to take for granted. Our caretakers, our main sources of support and comfort do so much—effortlessly. IMG_0324_1At times, living with a chronic illness and being the one who doesn’t feel well, can bring about guilt. It also brings out the best in us. When I’m vulnerable and need a boost, I see my husband rise up to the challenge, time and time again. I’m constantly reminded I chose to live my life alongside someone who has more compassion in their heart than I knew imaginable.

Tonight, I’ll give myself a Humira injection. Tonight, my husband will stand in front of me like he always does, cheering me on and holding onto our son, so I have a focal point of inspiration. Each injection, as I stare intently at my guys, I tell myself I need to be strong for them. I tell myself I need to do all I can to stay healthy and out of the hospital. I tell myself anything is possible with them by my side.

So, as we celebrate two years of marriage and nearly five years together, I reflect on how far we’ve come as a couple, as a family and how our love has grown as a result of my illness.

Oftentimes it’s life’s hurdles that provide the greatest perspective, the strongest insight, and the clarity that you’re exactly where you need to be in this life and that your disease is a part of you, but you are so much more. IBD does not need to rob you of love. It does not need to prevent you from getting married. And it certainly does not need to stop you from finding your fairy tale ending.

Finding “Hope” and grace through motherhood and IBD

Connecting with women who battle inflammatory bowel disease and juggle it all is empowering. When I came across Hope (@hopeheartandhome) on Instagram, I was immediately impressed by her upbeat, real-life look at life as a stay at home, wife and as a blogger. Weeks passed by—and she mentioned she had Crohn’s disease in her in Insta-story. I sent her a direct message because there’s so much we can learn from one another as we navigate motherhood and life in general with inflammatory bowel disease. IMG_2070 (1)I specifically was interested in featuring Hope because she’s pregnant with baby #2!

Hope is 28 and lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband and two-year-old daughter, Evie. She’s due with her second baby this October. August marks 10 years since she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. In getting to know Hope, her name fits her to a T. She is inspiring, driven, funny and focused on living her best life—despite her disease.

Like many of us, Hope was young when she received the life-changing diagnosis. At only 17—she had her entire future before her. In November 2012, after numerous hospital stays and an abscess that would not go away with IV meds, she had surgery to remove her ileum. Unfortunately, post-surgery she faced several complications ranging from a pinhole leak, surgery to repair the leak, as well as a serious case of MRSA. Hope says thanks to her faith in Christ and the support of family and friends, she came out stronger than ever with a 7-inch battle scar to prove it! Hope has been taking Cimzia injections ever since and has been able to maintain remission.

As a woman with IBD–did your Crohn’s present any complications or issues along the way with your first pregnancy?

Hope: “I answer this with an insanely grateful NO! I am extremely blessed that my body reacts so well to pregnancy. In fact, my gastro doctor often teases me that I need to have alllll the babies because my body loves being pregnant. I say this with sensitivity, as I know it is a struggle for many women and due to surgery IMG_1446complications, the doctors I saw were pretty sure I would have difficulty conceiving; however, I am so thankful that God has given me grace in that aspect of my life. I will say that my first pregnancy was a bit of an “oops”, BUT my body was in 100% remission and I believe that greatly contributed to my success. This time around—knowing that I wanted to get pregnant, I made appointments with my GI and had blood-work, a colonoscopy, and wound up having to have an MRI to rule out any potential flare up. Thankfully, I was flare free and my doctor gave us the “ok” to try and conceive. I attribute much of our success to my remission. A healthy mom has a much greater chance of conceiving successfully in terms of Crohn’s Disease.”

How has Crohn’s impacted your role as a mom and a wife?

Hope: “Wow. This a big question! I’ve honestly never really thought about it impacting these roles of mine. I see Crohn’s as a little portion of who I am. It’s a very unglamorous and annoying part of me that I don’t like…but, it’s a part of me and therefore my story. Truthfully, I have been so blessed to have been in remission for about four solid years now, so my roles of wife/mom haven’t been altered by it, and for that I am extremely grateful. It was a long and bumpy road to get here and I would be lying if I said the thought of having a flare up doesn’t terrify me. IMG_1914It definitely does, BUT I try to live my life with as much positivity as I can and a lot of laughter. I’ve found that Crohn’s has matured me far beyond my age in years and that has helped me navigate the endless responsibilities that come with being a young wife and a young mother. I never take health for granted and I am thankful every day for the opportunity to raise my child(ren) free of feeling sick. I get fatigued faster than the average person due to Crohn’s, but I am so used to it, it’s my normal. Also, have you ever met a mom who is full of endless energy?! Nope.”

Now you’re pregnant with baby #2, first of all HUGE congrats! How has this pregnancy compared to your first one–how are you feeling in comparison, etc.?

Hope: “Crohn’s-wise I feel wonderful and am experiencing zero symptoms. Pregnancy wise I am much more exhausted this time around thanks to my full of energy little two-year-old! Second pregnancies are very different… the “newness” is gone, and you know what to expect and I haven’t had a minute to daydream about this baby as often as I did with my daughter, but that’s because she keeps me busy! We’re excited to see if a little boy or another little girl will be joining us this fall!”

What advice do you have for women with chronic illness who aspire to be moms themselves?

Hope: “Patience and prayer. God hears our every thought and I truly believe He desires to give us the desires of our own hearts. The biggest thing I have learned in my life as a Crohn’s girl is that our timing is not our own. IMG_2023We must surrender to Christ and let him lead us through the highs and the lows. If you aren’t a person of faith, my prayer for you is that you find peace in either the waiting of becoming a mom or peace in the journey of motherhood. It is not easy at all, but it is so worth it, and I pray for every woman who might be struggling to carry a baby because of this disease. It truly breaks my heart to think about that suffering. When I was pregnant with Evie, I joined a study called the PIANO study which stands for Pregnancy and Neonatal Outcomes in Women with Inflammatory Bowel Disease I answered questions during pregnancy and at birth I brought in a lab kit where we sent off blood from me, from Evie, and from my umbilical cord, to study if any of my medications got to my baby. There was no trace of Cimzia in Evie’s blood or the umbilical cord which was wonderful and a big part of why I take Cimzia, as it does not pass the placenta. But, I mention this study to share my passion to help all women with IBD reach their dream of motherhood. I crave more information about this disease specifically for those moms struggling. Know that you’re not alone and you have many people rooting for you and your future babies!”

How do you find time to focus on self-care and combat the fatigue associated with not only motherhood, but IBD?

Hope: “I have not mastered this at all, but I am trying. Working out is something I do for me…my 45 minutes of endorphins, alone time, and knowing I am fueling my body. Open communication with my husband is another thing that helps me focus on self-care. If I am feeling exhausted or just needing some time, I tell him. We must communicate on how I am feeling to fully be a team. And hey, same goes for him! I’ve learned a lot about friendships/relationships and making sure that I set my time and energy on things and in people who are truly rooting for me and my family and vice versa. Life is too short to spend it stressed out or surrounded by people who are not life-giving. That’s been a hard lesson for my people pleasing self, but, being strong in my beliefs and in who I am and what I want to put out into this world has helped my mindset and overall health tremendously.”

Tell me about your blog Hope Heart and Home. With more than 11,200 Instagram followers you must keep busy! What inspired you to start the blog? 

Hope: “This blog was originally started by my sister and I actually had my own blog, but once image1 (10)Evie was born, my blog kind of fizzled and after awhile I was missing that creative outlet. My sister was pregnant with her second at the time and we decided to join forces and it was so much fun for us! Recently, my sister has taken a step back from blogging and is pursuing different passion and focusing solely on her family, so the blog has evolved again into an outlet for me. I am an extrovert and love talking with new people/sharing recipes/getting advice/looking at the newest trends/home decor/etc. so blogging just seems like a good fit for my personality. I am a stay at home mommy first and foremost, but the blog has allowed me to have something else that’s just mine and just for me.”

Interested in connecting with Hope? You can do so by emailing her at: hopeheartandhome@gmail.com or following her on Instagram (@hopeheartandhome).

 

Addressing compassion fatigue as a patient advocate

Every hour of every day we live with inflammatory bowel disease. Once you hear the diagnosis, it’s a part of you… every. single. moment. of. your. life. That alone—feels isolating and scary. When you decide to share your personal patient story publicly, you open yourself up to a world of support. Natalie-7As a patient advocate, you also become somewhat of a confidante and voice of reason for your peers in the community.

While it’s incredible to be able to connect with those who live your reality, there are times it can feel overwhelming. Personally, as a patient advocate, who’s battled Crohn’s disease for nearly 13 years, I consider myself well-versed on the topic—but, all I know, are my own experiences. IBD presents differently in every person. Part of being a patient advocate is showing support for others living your same reality. The girl in the UK who was recently diagnosed and nervous about heading off to college. The young man in Nebraska going through a bowel resection surgery. The kindergartner receiving her Remicade treatment.

Since my bowel resection surgery in August 2015, I’ve been able to manage my disease with daily medication and a biologic injection. Luckily, I’ve felt well most of the time since then, and haven’t been hospitalized since my surgery. That being said—when friends (many who I’ve never met) and strangers reach out—through email, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, texting…you name it…round the clock…desperately asking for advice and support…my heart sometimes starts to ache with stress.

I want to be sensitive with how I word this article, because the LAST thing I want is for people to stop reaching out when they need advice or support. Photo by J Elizabeth Photography www.jelizabethphotos.comWhat I do want—is for people to recognize what compassion fatigue is…and how as chronic illness advocates and caretakers we need to be mindful of how we’re feeling and internalizing the struggles of those around us.

The overwhelming nature of compassion fatigue

When people ask me about my diagnosis, my bowel obstructions, my surgery… it draws a great deal of emotional energy, and at times, can open up proverbial wounds. I’m happy to share my patient journey with transparency and honesty. But, day after day, year after year, these conversations can be a burden. A burden because I truly worry and care about each person I talk with. Even if I’m feeling well and in remission—the disease stays top of mind and I start to question my own well-being and health.

Like everything in life, finding balance and making time for self-care is paramount. The IBD family is a fantastic community of support. I am just one piece of the advocacy puzzle. It’s all about maintaining that balance in a healthy way, recognizing when the fatigue is taking over—and knowing when to take a breath and step away. I’m much better able to connect with people when I’m recharged and energized. If I’m at the end of the rope all the time, I simply don’t have anything to give, and everyone loses.

blog photoI offer support from the bottom of my heart, but as a mom and a wife, I do need to recognize when it’s time to unplug and take time for myself. When my baby naps each morning—I spend that “break” on my computer writing articles about IBD, participating in Twitter Chats, and talking on the phone with those who want to hear about my patient experience.

Recently, my husband said we should start a new rule in our household, no phones after 8 p.m. I was thrilled with the idea. So often when we put our son to bed we resort to hanging out on the couch, with the TV on and phones in our hands. Much of that “free” time I used to spend responding to messages from those seeking IBD support. Sometimes you just need to put down the phone and recognize how important those right in front of you are. The people who are by your side every single day. Your family. Your caretakers. Show them the love and the attention they deserve. Nurture the relationships that matter most to you. Be present in the moment.

Compassion fatigue ebbs and flows. Like anyone who battles fatigue from IBD, some days I feel like I can take on the world and spend all my free moments on the phone or responding to emails. Other days it takes A LOT of effort for me to email back someone who I’ve never met and discuss why I chose Humira, how my pregnancy was with Crohn’s, etc. Time is precious. I absolutely hate not responding almost immediately to everyone who reaches out, but please be patient with me.

IMG_0535As part of my self-care and disease management I need to de-stress, so I don’t put my own health at risk. This article is painful for me to write—I can’t stand admitting that I am struggling to do it all. But, compassion fatigue has been something I’ve been feeling for a few months. I want to be the best advocate for others and do all I can to make a difference and show there’s so much life to be lived outside of your disease. I want you to see how much you can thrive with this disease and all that you can accomplish. I want to be the person I needed the day my world turned upside down when I was diagnosed. I want to be all the things. But it’s not possible. It’s not fair to me, it’s not fair to you.

My call of action to you

When you reach out, if it takes a few days for me to respond—don’t think it’s because I don’t care or won’t reply. I will. If you have questions about why your prednisone is making you feel a certain way or how to do a colonoscopy prep—check with your GI first. Oftentimes many questions and concerns are covered extensively on blogs and in articles—a simple Google search may give you all the information you need. Lastly, know my concern and wish to help is genuine, but there’s only so much of me to go around.

I’ve been in the hospital bed. I’ve been too weak to walk up a few stairs. I’ve been on 22 pills a day. I’ve sat on a news desk and anchored countless shows while dealing with my disease in silence. I’ve woke up on my wedding day unsure of what my disease would do. I’ve been pregnant and dealt with the fear of flaring while creating a life. I’ve done a lot as a patient and a person. So, when I’m feeling well and trying to enjoy the feel-good days that I have…that can be taken away in the blink of an eye, please understand that I’m here for you, but need to also take time for me.

I’m going to leave you with this quote from Daniel Garza, an AIDS, Cancer and Ostomy advocate. Daniel shared this eloquent description of patient advocacy during the HealtheVoices conference I recently attended in Chicago.

“We all have this fire. We’ve been in quick sand and high tides and made it to the end. Despite the doubts, after everything, we don’t want other people to go through it. We’re the coat we put on the puddle, so people don’t get their feet wet. We don’t care if we get dirty again.”

In closing, allow me to continue to be that coat on the puddle for you, but please have a little patience with me.