How motherhood has helped me discover I’m so much more than my IBD

We walked out of the automatic rotating doors of the hospital and the cold air hit my face. I looked up to the sky in thanks, to show my gratitude and to take in the moment. We had our baby girl in tow, our Sophia Shea. img_5915It was a brisk January morning. Tears filled my eyes as I was overcome with emotion. Our rainbow baby is here, safe and sound. Another pregnancy behind me, a pregnancy that silenced my Crohn’s disease and provided sweet reprieve from my chronic illness. It was time to take Sophia home and start our life as a family of four.

When your health is taken from you and when you receive a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease, life prior to illness often feels like a distant memory. There’s something so sacred and so special about bringing a healthy life into this world, despite your own shortcomings.

My Sophia, much like my sweet son Reid, are my inspiration and motivation to push through the difficult days and find strength and perspective within myself. The creation of their lives has renewed my faith in my own body. img_5886Each time I have a procedure or deal with painful symptoms, I see their faces, I say their names in my head, and it brings me a sense of calm. My goal when Reid was born, was to stay out of the hospital until he could walk, luckily that’s been the case. He’ll be two in March. Now, I have that same goal following the arrival of my daughter.

Pregnancy and child birth bring about such an amazing, miraculous transformation. You see life created right before your eyes. You experience a shift in your own identity. There’s nothing like it. There are no words to capture the emotions and the overwhelming love you feel for your children.

Finding the balance: Motherhood and IBD

17-untitled-9166Motherhood and IBD can be a difficult and challenging balance. Some days the fatigue and symptoms are so debilitating you feel like you’re falling short. At the same time, the days where you’re feeling well, remind you that you are so much more than your disease. Just because you have a chronic illness, doesn’t mean you are robbed of experiencing the beauty of life and what it feels like to have your very own family.

Women often reach out to me with questions regarding fertility, conceiving, pregnancy and what it’s like to take on parenting while battling IBD. There are so many unknowns. I know it can be daunting. img_5751It all starts with recognizing where you are in your patient journey and then determining when your symptoms and body are in the best shape to get pregnant. While everyone’s disease experience is different—the worries, concerns and fears associated with parenting and chronic illness are often the same. Always know you are never alone. Communicating these feelings with those around you, makes all the difference. Lean on our patient community and all those who’ve lived your reality.

I treated my pregnancies the same. I had colonoscopies prior to trying, to ensure I did not have active disease. Once I received that green light, I discussed my game plan with my OB, high risk OB and my GI and had monthly and sometimes weekly appointments. Each time—I stayed on my medication and vitamins from start to finish, which includes the biologic drug, Humira. I had scheduled c-sections for both. It’s all about finding what works for you, what brings you comfort as you embark on this journey and being confident in your decisions. It’s your body. It’s your baby.

29-untitled-9292When Sophia Shea entered the world January 14, 2019, our family received a wonderful gift. Between our son Reid and our baby girl, we could not be more blessed. My chronic illness has given me such an appreciation for health and for life in general. With the pregnancies behind me, I often reflect on where I started back at age 21 in 2005. At that time, in my eyes, I was Natalie and I had Crohn’s disease. There was no telling what my future would hold. Now, nearly 14 years later, at age 35, I’m so much more. I’m a mom to two under two. I’m a wife. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. I’m an aunt. I’m a friend. And I also have Crohn’s.

 

The power of assuming positive intent with chronic illness

When someone questions how you manage your illness, or seems to belittle your patient experience, it’s easy to get combative and think the worst. But, recently—while on Twitter, I saw a fellow patient advocate and friend of mine respond to a tweet by saying “Assume Positive Intent” (API). This is the first time I had ever heard of the concept. It intrigued me immediately. Like most people, sometimes when words are said or actions are made—I immediately jump to conclusions and internalize what I think the person meant. Part of this is being sensitive and part of this is life with a chronic illness. office-620822_1920There aren’t a whole lot of “safe spaces” for those of us to feel understood and connected with.

Social media allows complete strangers and even those close to us to be keyboard warriors. People often feel like they can hide behind a screen and be hurtful. At the same time, just like with texting—posts on social media can be interpreted incorrectly. Rather than lash out or get defensive, take a moment to pause, gather your thoughts and remind yourself that most people wake up each day with a desire to live life in a positive way and do good in this world.

By not getting caught up in others’ actions and intent—we’re freeing ourselves of the stress that can be a key trigger to our inflammatory bowel disease and that has detrimental effects on our mental health. You will feel empowered simply by taking a moment to think about how you’re going to respond to someone else. You can’t control others, but you can control how you feel and how you react. say-yes-to-the-live-2121044_1920

No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. At the end of the day, by giving others the benefit of the doubt—you’re able to change the way you approach conflict and you’re able to rid some negativity from your life. I’m not saying never stick up for yourself and let everyone treat you how they want, but use this strategy as a way to handle your personal relationships and how you respond to others. It will say a lot about your character and make you feel in the driver’s seat, at a time you normally may feel out of control.

So, here’s my challenge to you. The next time you feel a guard go up or when you feel disappointed by another person’s words or actions—assume positive intent. bob_natalie_proposal_6615-107As someone who’s battled Crohn’s disease for over 13 years, I constantly find myself needing to take a step back and remember that the only person who’s lived my journey is me. It’s up for me to tell my story. It’s up for me to share it. It’s up to me to communicate to those when my feelings are hurt or I’m disappointed. But before I jump to conclusions, I need to assume the other person is trying to help me or learn more about my experience—rather than ruin my day or hurt my feelings. API all day, baby. Try it. Trust it. Live it.