Breastfeeding with Crohn’s: What I wish I would have known

Breastfeeding. Before I became a mom, I had no idea what a loaded word it was. So many emotions, so much controversy, so much judgement. As an IBD mom of two little ones, my journeys with my kids differed greatly. Ironically, World Breastfeeding Week wrapped up (August 1-7) and so did my breastfeeding journey with my daughter. IMG-5717 Whether you’re a chronic illness mom or not, one of the first questions you often get asked is “are you breastfeeding?” It’s such a personal choice and decision, that really isn’t anybody’s business. Yet, men and women alike act as though it’s just casual conversation.

For many of us in the IBD community, breastfeeding is complicated. We have a lot more to consider than our milk supply coming in and a proper latch. We have to weigh the pros and cons of how our biologic drug passes through the milk, whether or not to pop a pain pill or struggle through the day so we’re able to feed our babies, along with the stress and exhaustion that comes along with the postpartum period, while navigating motherhood with chronic illness. We have to worry about what’s going to happen if we’re hospitalized and unable to feed our baby, our minds race with the what-ifs, even when we’re in “remission”.

My son, Reid, will be 2.5 in September. IMG-5411Before I ever became pregnant with him and up until the moment he was born, I was adamant on feeding him formula. I personally felt there were too many gray areas with the medication I am on and didn’t want to find out down the road that I put him at risk for dangerous long-term side effects. I ended up nursing the first three days in the hospital so that he could get the colostrum. Even though I was confident in my decision at that time, I sobbed when he got his first formula bottle in the hospital, because once again my Crohn’s prevented me from feeling like a “normal” person. Each time someone questioned my decision to formula feed or assumed I was breastfeeding, it pulled at my heartstrings and made me feel a bit embarrassed and less than.

My daughter, Sophia, will be seven months this week. During her pregnancy, it was like a light switch went off. I did my research and I was determined to give breastfeeding a go. IMG-7340I learned about how breast milk would benefit her microbiome, lower her chance of one day developing IBD, improve her immune system, and that Humira was considered safe for nursing, among other remarkable benefits. Many friends and family members offered invaluable advice and support to prepare me for what was to come once she entered the world. No matter how much I thought I was ready, it was still overwhelming and emotional.

Looking back—here’s what I wish I knew as a breastfeeding mama who has Crohn’s.

Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s easy

To go from making a formula bottle with my son to pumping and syringe feeding a newborn was a bit of a shock to our family. As you can imagine—it was all new and foreign to us. The first night home was an absolute nightmare. Sophia was cluster feeding the entire night. Didn’t sleep a wink. Her latch was off. I was bleeding. She’d only nurse on the right side. Tears were falling and I didn’t know how I was ever going to breastfeed. I felt like I was letting myself and my daughter down. The IBD piece of it all made me feel the pressure to push through. IMG-0998I wanted to do all I could to protect her and felt guilt for not doing the same for my son. I remember lying in bed with her on my chest that first night, my husband sleeping, and texting a bunch of fellow breastfeeding moms for advice in the middle of the night. They all responded in minutes and comforted me. Initially, I had been told not to use my breast pump the first few weeks. I ended up using my pump the first week and it was the best decision I made. If I hadn’t done that, chances are I would have never made it through that initial week without changing my mind and formula feeding. If nursing is painful or difficult, don’t hesitate to break out the pump and relieve your engorged chest. Whether a baby is nursing or receiving breast milk in a bottle, it’s all the same at the end of the day.

Introduce the bottle early on

When you live with IBD, you rely heavily on others being able to help you when you’re stuck in the bathroom or fatigued beyond belief. Some days other people are going to need to feed your baby, whether it’s a spouse or your mom. If you wait too long to introduce a bottle, you increase the likelihood of your baby refusing a bottle, which puts added pressure on you. IMG-3793 We gave Sophia a bottle the first week home, since I needed to pump. For the past seven months she’s gone back and forth from breast to bottle beautifully. It eased up the pressure on me and helped make it easier on both of us! We still got to bond and be close, but others are able to feed her as well.

Before you take a pain pill, talk with your GI

Like many IBD moms, the fear of a postpartum flare and flaring in general weighs heavily on my heart and on my mind. I noticed symptoms start to creep up when Sophia was about two months old. I took a pain pill and reached out to my GI, only to find out I couldn’t breastfeed for the next 14 hours. At another point, I had to be put on Entocort for a week to help combat a small flare. Rather than try and be a superhero, I reached out to my GI immediately. While on the Entocort I had to pump and dump in the morning. It pained me to pour the “liquid gold” down the drain, but it’s what I needed to do to prevent a hospital visit. My kids needed mama present more than my baby needed a bottle of breast milk.

Supplementing is not failing

Whether you’re pregnant now, aspire to one day breastfeed, or if you’re in the thick of your journey, don’t make yourself feel like it’s all or nothing. For the first three months, Sophia was exclusively breastfed. Once I started introducing formula here and there, it took some of the stress off my shoulders. Was my diet providing her with the proper nutrients? Was she getting enough milk? I have my hands full with a toddler, so sitting next to a breast pump by myself with him running around isn’t all that conducive to my lifestyle. By making Sophia a flexible eater, it made breastfeeding seem like less of a struggle for me and a lot more doable for our family life.

Put your mental and emotional health first

59421BB3-A402-4678-819F-2A1751174DF6As a mom, it’s easy to beat ourselves up about how we choose to feed our babies. There is SO much background noise. Everyone has an opinion. As a mom who has formula fed and breastfed, I’ve had the opportunity to witness both sides. I’ve witnessed a shift within myself. Saying I breastfed felt and still feels like a bit of a badge of honor. Now that I’ve done it, I’m proud, because it was such a labor of love for me. Breastfeeding was blood, sweat and tears and so much effort. While traveling to San Diego I had no choice but to pump in a public bathroom at the airport, right at the sink, while a line of women stood staring at me. I had no choice. I think back to how drained and emotional I was on Sophia’s first night home and can’t believe we made it this far on our journey.

When we took our kids to the zoo last week and I mixed a formula bottle in the food court, I felt a sense of worry—that other parents would look at me and judge my decision to feed my baby this way. Even though in my heart, I know fed is best. There are so many mind games associated with it all!

In the end, if you’re struggling mentally and emotionally, it’s going to take away from the type of mom you are. Don’t allow yourself to get so caught up in the pressure that it’s detrimental to you or your family life.

Lean on fellow IBD moms

While I was pregnant and breastfeeding I found it incredibly helpful to touch base with fellow moms, specifically IBD moms who related to my journey. Do your “homework” and don’t be shy about sending private message or sending an email to ask questions to fellow parents who are patients that you see online. We are all a resource for one another. IMG-7814

In my case, breastfeeding ended up being something I’m so grateful I was able to do for nearly seven months. Unfortunately, once my period started after Sophia was six months, my supply plummeted greatly. I went from making 30-35 ounces a day, to five. Prior to that happening, we had gotten into such a comfortable, easy groove, I was planning on breastfeeding her until her first birthday. My body had different plans, and I’m fine with that. Flexible feeding brought me to this mindset. Pregnancy gave me a renewed love for my body, despite my illness, and now I can say breastfeeding did the very same.

BONUS TIP! Be proactive and set yourself up for success prior to your baby’s arrival. Order your breast pump ahead of time. Have nursing tanks and bras, hands-free bras for pumping and to sleep in, pads for your bra, nipple cream, a Haakaa for catching let down milk, and storage bags. If you’re dealing with extreme nipple pain or discomfort, alert your OB and see about getting a prescription for All-Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO). This is mixed by a pharmacist and contains an antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory, and an anti-fungal. I used this and it worked wonders!

The steps one IBD mom and teacher takes to stay healthy, while being immune suppressed

Biologic drugs have the ability to give many of us in the IBD community a chance to live a much fuller, and well-rounded life. But there are trade-offs, especially when it comes to our immunity and the ability to fight off infections. As a mom of a 2-year-old and 6-month-old whose been on Humira for more than 11 years, I’m extremely cognizant of protecting my kids from sickness to not only protect them, but myself. I often feel as though people may think I’m over the top with worrying about illness in my household, but quite honestly, unless you or someone you love is immune compromised, it can be a difficult concept to grasp.

This week–a special feature from a Maryland elementary school teacher with indeterminate colitis. Meet Lisa Lacritz. lisaShe’s a 38-year-old wife and mom who juggles two autoimmune diseases. She also has Hashimoto’s disease. Since she started on Remicade in 2018 following her IBD diagnosis, she’s experienced the difficulty of  warding off illness while being an elementary school teacher and a mom to a young child.

“Shoes off, hands washed!”  My son knows the routine by heart. Every time we come into the house, shoes come off and hands get washed. I like to think that all of my years spent worrying about germs when I didn’t need to be, were fantastic training for when I actually needed to be concerned.

When I was diagnosed with IBD, I was hesitant to get on a biologic because of my fear of being immunosuppressed. I’m an elementary school teacher and when I started on Remicade infusions, my son was only six. I basically spend my day in a Petri dish. fullsizeoutput_269aDealing with the symptoms of IBD was more than enough–how on Earth would I be able to handle that plus avoid picking up viruses at school and in public?

Taking steps to be proactive 

After I got sick on the second day of school last fall, I decided that washing my hands frequently wasn’t going to cut it. I have always been a frequent hand washer, especially at school, but I needed more protection. At first, I was nervous about how others would perceive me. There were a lot of confused looks by coworkers and students when I would politely decline to use someone else’s pen. I started carrying a pen with me everywhere to ensure I wouldn’t have to use a communal pen. Now people know that I always have “my” pen with me and that I don’t share it with others.

Another thing I’m very careful about is touching door handles and knobs, especially the door to the main office. The main office is where you can find the school’s health room, where every sick kid passes through. I either wait for someone else to come and open the door, or I use a barrier such as a paper towel to open it and then wash my hands right away.

I never touch my face and I keep my phone in a plastic bag (quart size bags work great!) so that I keep school germs at school. Kids are definitely puzzled by that last one, but I explain that I need to keep germs away as much as possible, and if I need to touch my phone then my phone gets the germs on it so I protect it with a plastic bag.

Worrying less what others thought and making my needs a priority

fullsizeoutput_3800I really needed to stop caring about what others think and prioritize my health. One of the most surprising things to me was that people really don’t understand what immunosuppression means. Some people think I’m just a paranoid germaphobe even after I’ve explained that I’m immunosuppressed. They don’t understand that a simple cold for them, can mean days of sick leave for me due to a secondary infection. Or a fun day swimming in the bay can mean a bacterial infection for me that lasts for weeks and causes symptoms similar to a bad flare.

Yes, it is mentally exhausting to worry about immunosuppression on top of all the other things chronic illness brings. Plus being a teacher. Plus being a mom.

As much as I hate getting sick, the worst part for me is missing out on doing fun things with my son. IMG_0580Somehow my body knows when we have something fun planned and chooses those times to conk out on me. When I’m lying on the couch at home feeling sorry for myself while my husband and son are at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party or Memorial Day BBQ (both events I missed this year), I try to remind myself that Remicade is what allows me to lead a relatively normal life and be able to do things like go sledding with my son on a snow day and take him Trick or Treating. I couldn’t do those things when I was in a bad flare before treatment and definitely can appreciate them more now. I just make sure shoes come off and hands are washed right when we get home.

 

Another one bites the dust: My latest colonoscopy tips

Save the date, it’s time for your annual colonoscopy! Ugh. From the moment I schedule my scope I make a mental note and the dread and anguish looms over as the day of the procedure grows near. It’s so much more than a procedure to me though. The entire process—from getting the prep, to taking the prep, to getting prepped at the hospital is a painful reminder of my reality. I have Crohn’s disease. A day, not even an hour, usually passes where I don’t think about my chronic illness—but this is a stark reminder that I’m different. Different from other people my age. Different from all the “healthies” in the world.

For me, downing the magnesium citrate is physically painful. The moment I smell it. The moment the disgusting liquid touches my lip, the hair on my arms stands up and I instantly start to dry heave. Then, I remember I have 20 ounces to get down, plus 64 ounces of Miralax mixed with Gatorade…all within a few hours. It’s overwhelming and daunting. 4C27B95A-9514-472E-84F2-70A78A8AC020

If you’ve had a colonoscopy, you get it. The prep is the worst, the procedure is easy. When you live with IBD, the worry about what can be discovered weighs heavily on you. This time around—along with the prep, I had some additional “obstacles”. This time—I was home with my rambunctious (but oh so sweet) 2-year-old and my 6-month-old, while going more than 72 hours on clear liquids. Along with being an IBD mom, I’m breastfeeding. That in and of itself is exhausting and zaps your energy. Nothing like burning 500 calories while you’re not eating!

As patients, each experience throughout our journey impacts us in a unique way and toughens our skin a bit. Each test, each poke and prod, each surgery, desensitizes us. Every person is different, no journey is the same.

But, I want to share a few helpful “work arounds” I used this time.

  1. GUMMY BEARS!! IMG_5276Boys and girls, this is a game changer. Gummy bears are considered a clear liquid because they liquify upon digestion, much like Jello. In the days leading up, you can eat all the colors, but 24 hours before your scope stay away from any red, orange or purple as those colors are not allowed during prep. I used gummy bears to chase the magnesium citrate, two bears for every sip! It was also a nice treat and it felt good to actually chew something after only having liquids for days.
  1. 72-hour liquid diet. This is aggressive, it’s not easy. But, it can be done. I impose this on myself and for years have seen what a difference it makes with my prep. Much less to pass, and if you aren’t able to drink all your prep—less chance of needing to redo the scope.
  1. Daydream about that first meal, eyes on the prize. There’s nothing quite like that first morsel of food you get to eat after your colonoscopy. Use this as a reward and something to look forward to. IMG_5286Look up menus and decide where you want to treat yo’self. Along with that first meal, I try and plan something fun to do. This time around my husband and I went shopping after breakfast and then we went out to dinner and to a light show at the Botanical Gardens (where we got engaged!). Knowing I had that to look forward to, helped me a great deal!
  1. Lean on your village. It’s nearly impossible to go through this process alone. My husband took my toddler out for dinner this week so I wouldn’t need to see them eating or smell food. (Greatly appreciated). My mom flew in from Chicago to take care of my kids the moment I started prep and so that my husband could take me to the procedure. I shared my experience on Instagram and connected with hundreds of people publicly and through private messages. People shared their “tricks”, offered words of encouragement and made me feel empowered. IMG_0913My compassionate little 2-year-old even held my glass of prep with me and didn’t want to leave my side when I went to the bathroom. (lucky him!)
  1. Rather than lemon lime Gatorade, check out the Cherry Frost flavor! I learned this from a virtual friend. The mixture of the Miralax is SO much better this way. Much more palatable and I tolerated it much better. It allows you to enjoy a “red” flavor, without drinking something that is red in color.
  1. If you’re breastfeeding, get ready to pump and dump and supplement if you don’t have a stash in the freezer. The day of the prep, I pumped and dumped and then 24 hours after the procedure you need to do the same, so the anesthesia is out of your system. IMG_5214In the days leading up, my GI recommended I drink whole milk or chocolate milk to get some protein for the baby. (I chose not to do this because my stomach can be sensitive to dairy.) I made sure Sophia got a couple bottles of formula each day, since my breastmilk was probably lacking it’s normal nutrients.
  1. Wear a robe or a dress on prep day. It’s much easier to make a mad dash and not have to pull your pants or shorts on and off every time. I wore a casual summer dress that didn’t press on my stomach or slow me down in the bathroom.

The play-by-play of how this colonoscopy experience measured up to others

Overall, I handled the prep much better than normal. I was able to get about 90% of it down without a problem. I slept four hours and was on the toilet from 2:15-3:30 a.m. At 3:30 a.m. I tried to take the remaining 10 ounces of magnesium citrate. This is where things started going downhill.

Up until this point, I hadn’t shed a tear or vomited. This was a first for me! As soon as I held my nose and started pacing in the darkness of my kitchen as I tried to get it down, I puked in my kitchen sink and started crying. I felt miserable. Exhausted. Nauseous. Weak. I was ready to wave the white flag and just be done with it. When I puked again, I decided I couldn’t take anymore. I was nervous about being cleaned out, but physically and emotionally I had checked out.

As the nurses prepped me for the procedure, I told them about my bad veins and horrible IV experiences. (At one point, during a hospitalization for an abscess the size of a tennis ball, it took 4 people, EIGHT tries to get my IV)…ever since, I have slight PTSD about getting IVs. The nurse grabbed a vein finder and decided to go through my hand. She tried getting four tubes of blood drawn through my IV, but it was making me too weak, it burned, and the blood wasn’t flowing, so they waited to draw labs until after my colonoscopy.

A9483E68-0059-4CA4-94C8-B37217FBF6FDIt’s in these moments where I pause and reflect with positive internal self-talk. I think about family members and friends who inspire me. I pray to God for a smooth procedure and good results. I try and breathe and relax the best I can.

I was worried about whether I was cleaned out enough. My GI rated my prep a “9” on the Boston Bowel Preparation Scale (BBPS). It’s the scale used to judge the quality of bowel cleanliness and replaces subjective terms such as “excellent”, “good” and “fair”. Three segments of the colon are looked at for this, with the highest rating being a 3. I was pretty pumped to get a 9 this time around, despite throwing up the last 10 ounces of mag citrate! Now, in the future, I’m not going to beat myself up the morning of if I can’t get it down.

Drum roll please…The Results!

Honestly, I could not ask for better results. My ileum and entire colon looked “normal”, no specimens were collected, and I am in mucosal remission. Hearing you’re in remission is amazing, and something I don’t take for granted. I take that word with a grain of salt though. To me, remission is fleeting. It can be robbed from you quickly. I was once told I was in remission after a colonoscopy and then less than a week later, I was hospitalized with a bowel obstruction.

IMG_5282Rather than rely so heavily on achieving remission, focus more on how you feel each day. Are you having more “feel good” days than symptomatic days? Are you able to function and complete tasks personally and professionally without your health getting in the way?

I am sensitive to the fact that many people in the IBD family won’t ever be told they are in remission. It took nine years for me to ever hear that word uttered out of a GI’s mouth. So, trust me, I get it. Don’t beat yourself up over this. Trust in how you feel. You know your body best.

Why you shouldn’t put ‘self-heal’ and Crohn’s in the same sentence

This article was written earlier this month, while getting my hair done. 

I hear her cry. I glance at the clock that reads 4:55 a.m. I clutch my abdomen. The pain I went to bed with hours earlier is amplified. IMG_4409It feels like a fiery pain inside my rib cage that travels all the way down my stomach. The gnawing makes me feel raw internally and externally. I put my glasses on and as I’m standing up and rocking my daughter in her nursery, I try to think of her warm little body as a heating pad.

I wrestle with my thoughts about how to handle my pain. Last time I took pain medication I couldn’t breastfeed my daughter for 20 hours. I decide to take one 600 mg ibuprofen left over from my C-section recovery, with the understanding that as someone with IBD I shouldn’t be taking that. But I’m desperate. Desperate to get a reprieve from the pain and the inner monologue racing in my head as I lay back down. While at the same time, trying to keep my painful moans quiet so I don’t wake my husband.

I wake up and the pain is still there, but I have no choice but to take on the day. Thanks to my mom being in town, I’m able to head to the hair salon for a much needed hair cut and color. The stylist asks me questions and my Crohn’s comes up fairly quickly in the conversation. Her response—“one of my best friends has Crohn’s and she’s completely self-healed herself by eating very strictly”. She goes on to say her godmother has Crohn’s, too—and constantly posts pics on social media eating and drinking, so it’s no wonder she struggles, acting almost disgusted by her godmother’s lifestyle and patient journey.

I bite my tongue. The pain from the night before and the worries weighing heavily on my mind and heart are still fresh. Self-healing and Crohn’s, if only it were that easy, that simplistic. But I don’t have the energy to get into that discussion. IMG-3099The fact that so many people without IBD are under the assumption that our pain and symptoms are self- imposed upsets me. We already beat ourselves up mentally as it is. My husband and I took our son for ice cream last night, so immediately I wonder if all of my pain is a result of the choice to have ice cream with my 2-year-old.

As a mom who’s battled Crohn’s for nearly 14 years, the background noise and ignorant comments about IBD tend to bounce off me. I have thick skin, now. But, it’s worrisome at the same time. What if the girl getting her hair done wasn’t me? What if she was newly diagnosed and struggling? What if she chose to go off all medications and “self-heal” because someone cutting her hair told her it was possible? This is what we’re up against as patients. Everyone tries to relate and thinks they are offering “words of wisdom” or assurance, when really they’re just contributing to the hurt and feelings of being less than. IMG-4410

Luckily, I’m not that girl. But—if you’re reading this, know that your patient journey is unique to you. What works for one person, will not necessarily work for you. Needing medication to manage symptoms and keep your disease from progressing is not a sign of laziness or weakness. You need to take the steps necessary to improve your quality of life and overall health. Living with IBD is not black and white. There is so much gray area. Trust in your physician. Trust in the support available both online and in your community from fellow patients. Be patient in discovering what works for you, be flexible, and do what you need to do to self-heal.

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.

IMG_0787

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.

 

 

How it feels to be hospitalized as a mom with Crohn’s

It’s my greatest fear, having to be hospitalized with a Crohn’s flare as a mom of two little ones. It’s something I think about all too often. The thought alone scares me. It’s difficult to imagine the reality of the experience. Since becoming a mom, I’ve been fortunate enough to stay out of the hospital. Unfortunately, for a friend of mine in the IBD community—she’s had to face this reality all too often.

Her son, Beckham is two months older than Reid. Our little guys could pass for brothers. This week—a guest post from Brooke Retherford, a fellow IBD mama from Wisconsin. She shares the raw emotions she’s experienced since her diagnosis at age 13.

IMG_2014I’ve had my fair share of surprises and obstacles with Crohn’s disease. My patient journey includes numerous surgeries, multiple doctor appointments a week, sitting in hospitals getting Remicade infusions, switching up medications to tame a flare and my all-time favorite, hospitalizations for days at a time. Please note the sarcasm in that last sentence.

These instances are not by any means convenient or something I or anyone else with Crohn’s looks forward to. Hospitalizations are such an emotional time for someone fighting this disease. The uncertainty, the physical pain, being absent from work and home and causing those around you the inconvenience of throwing off schedules for a week at a time. But, the absolute worst part is adding an infant to the mix.

When my son was just 4 weeks old my Crohn’s reared its ugly head and sent me and my disease packing to the hospital for a week. IMG_2015When the pain presented, I tried everything I could to avoid the trip. I just wanted to stay home and live my life with a newborn, enjoy the snuggles and oddly enough the 3 am feedings. Then, the time came when I couldn’t even get through a feeding without needing to set him down so I could run to the bathroom. I knew it was time.

It was no walk in the park having to be away from a little one. I cried. I was upset and mad at my situation. I felt like a terrible mom for letting the disease consume my life and take me away from my child. Luckily, I have a great support system that understands the emotions behind a hospitalization. My husband always brings our son Beckham to the hospital. I get to FaceTime my family to say goodnight and get pictures of my son throughout the day. Family (1)

Unfortunately, that wasn’t my last stint in the hospital for Crohn’s. Now that our son is two, I have officially lost count of my time spent away from him. Hospitalizations never get easier. Especially now when he knows I am physically absent from his life and he asks, ‘where did Mommy go?’ It’s heartbreaking and frustrating.

There are always tears involved, mostly mine, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am a better mom for realizing that I need to make myself healthy and not let this disease define what type of parent I am.

The IBD Parenthood Project: A Guiding Light for Family Planning

This post is sponsored by the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). I am a paid program Brand Influencer; this post is sponsored and includes my own personal experiences.

When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 21, finding out I had a chronic illness put my hopes and dreams on hold. I could barely think of the next day, let alone daydream about the future and the family I would one day hope to have. As the years went on, having a family was on my radar. I knew I wanted children, but wasn’t sure if my body already riddled with a chronic illness would be able to make that possible.IMG_6037

I had so many questions, so many worries. I wasn’t sure where to turn for accurate information. Advice from doctors tended to be conflicting. The internet was/is, well…the internet. I yearned for truthful, evidence-based information that would comfort me and guide me as I started my journey to motherhood.

The IBD Parenthood Project is just that. Rather than feeling like you’re wearing a blindfold and hoping for the best, moms-to-be in the IBD community can now feel at ease by having resources and a patient toolkit that answers all of those questions, and serves as a roadmap for family planning—from preconception to taking your baby home from the hospital and postnatal care.

IMG_6370One of the most helpful pieces of the toolkit is the FAQ, related to IBD and pregnancy. If I had this information readily available and at my fingertips prior to my previous pregnancies, I would have known about the importance of seeking care from a maternal-fetal-medicine (MFM) subspecialist at the start of my pregnancy. While I saw a high-risk OB, a “regular” OB and my gastroenterologist throughout my pregnancies, I wasn’t aware of what an MFM subspecialist was, or their role throughout pregnancy. After checking out the IBD Parenthood Project website, I found out there was an MFM subspecialist in my doctor’s practice, but I was never under his care. Moving forward, if I were to get pregnant again, I would want my care team to include him

The information in the FAQ about breastfeeding and medications is also extremely helpful. I felt a bit in the dark when I was pregnant with my son in 2016. I was nervous about breastfeeding while on a biologic. In the past two years, I’ve learned more and been able to educate myself on the benefits and the precautions associated with it. Now, my second child has been exclusively breastfed the first eight weeks of her life, despite my biologic injection, and I’ve been able to see how the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the risks for me and my family. It is resources like the IBD Parenthood Project that have helped guide my decisions. 09-untitled-9103

A common question I am often asked is “how likely it is for my son and daughter to have IBD in the future?” It’s a thought I hate to think about, but it’s always in the back of my mind. According to the IBD Parenthood Project and its Clinical Care Pathway recommendations, “up to 3% of children with one parent who has IBD will develop the disease (this means about 97% will not get IBD). If both parents have IBD, a child’s risk may be as high as 30 percent.” To me—since my husband does not have IBD, these odds are SO reassuring. While there’s a chance it can happen, it’s a reminder that IBD patients should not hold off on having a family out of fear of passing along the disease.

As a patient advocate and IBD mom, I hear from women around the world with questions relating to pregnancy, motherhood and life with Crohn’s.

The IBD Parenthood Project provides so many helpful tools. Whether it’s the IBD Checklist of Questions to ask your care team, the Myths vs. Facts Fact Sheet, or the After You Deliver Fact Sheet, The IBD Parenthood Project covers it all. From now on, women with IBD never need to feel alone as they take on their most important role of all—being a mom.

For more information, you can access more helpful resources by visiting: https://goo.gl/UY5r5r.

Breastfeeding as an IBD mom: Why I’m trusting my gut and following my heart

Before I start this article, I want to include a disclaimer. Breastfeeding is a very emotional and sometimes controversial topic. By no means are my words meant to make you feel guilty or ashamed if this way of feeding your baby doesn’t work for you. I’ve fed my children both ways. My son was breastfed for three days and then given formula. He is a picture of health. IMG_6935My daughter is 4 weeks old today and has been exclusively breastfed. I’m by no means writing this as an expert or to point any fingers. I am completely of the mindset that ‘fed is best’. No judgement here, ladies.

Through the years I’ve experienced the guilt and the worry, I’ve had to explain myself time and time again. I sat in labor and delivery classes at the hospital prior to the birth of my firstborn and felt like an outcast when I was the only one who didn’t raise my hand about planning to breastfeed. I’ve been on both sides of the ‘issue’…I write this article to share my perspective, my journey, and how my thinking has evolved as a mother. It’s a way of showing fellow IBD mamas that I understand the hesitation and all the inquiries. I get how it feels to wonder if you’re doing what is best for your baby and for yourself.

I can’t quite pinpoint when it was during my pregnancy with Sophia that I decided to try breastfeeding. I just woke up one day in the third trimester and decided it was something I wanted to experience this time around.

My son, Reid, turns two next month. During my pregnancy with him, I was adamant on not breastfeeding. IMG_6402I was worried about the lack of long-term studies on my biologic drug (Humira) and I was concerned about the risk of having a postpartum flare that would land me in the hospital and interrupt my ability to feed him. Being a new mom, I was worried the stress that comes along with breastfeeding could cause me to flare. I ended up breastfeeding him the first three days in the hospital, so that he could receive the colostrum. After that—he was given formula until he turned one. It’s a decision I was confident in, but that tugs at my heartstrings at times, especially now as I breastfeed his sister.

Biologics, pregnancy and breastfeeding

Since I was pregnant with Reid, I’ve done a fair amount of research. I’ve talked with fellow IBD moms, educated myself on the benefits of breastfeeding for baby and me and consulted with my care team ( ObGyn, high risk ObGyn and my GI). _F6B0561According to MotherToBaby, mothers who breastfeed their infants while using adalimumab (Humira) have very low levels of the drug in their breast milk. Adalimumab is not well absorbed by the gut, so any of the medication that gets into breast milk is unlikely to enter the baby’s system from the gut. Side note: MotherToBaby is a wonderful resource. I have participated in pregnancy studies for both of my pregnancies—it’s always helpful to contribute to research, share your journey, and help pave the way for future chronic illness moms so that there is more clarity for families in the future.

Like many moms who depend on biologic medication during pregnancy, that in and of itself can be stressful. I stayed on Humira for both my pregnancies—from start until finish. For Reid’s birth, I did my injection two days before my scheduled c-section at 39 weeks, 3 days. For Sophia, my last injection was at 37 weeks, 3 days. My injection was due the day of my c-section with Sophia, but a matter of days before—due to cold and flu season, my GI instructed me to wait to do my injection until I was home from the hospital. IMG_6937That way—the baby did not receive a burst of the immune-suppressant drug through the placenta, the day she was entering the world and I would be at lower risk of developing an infection as well. Timing your biologic medication is key and a conversation you’ll want to have with your care team so it can be tailored to your pregnancy and your personal journey.

The challenge of the journey

Breastfeeding is intense. It’s emotional. It’s rewarding. It’s exhausting and time consuming. I like to call it a labor of love. There are so many expectations, opinions and judgements that come along with the way we decide to feed our children. Until you experience breastfeeding, it’s hard to truly appreciate all the blood, sweat and tears (literally) that goes into it. Today marks four weeks I’ve been breastfeeding my daughter. For me—each week that goes by is a huge accomplishment.

I pump mostly—and put the milk in bottles. That way—anybody can feed the baby, especially if I’m feeling fatigued or if my Crohn’s is acting up. I wanted to introduce a bottle early on, just in case I were to be hospitalized with a postpartum flare. Sophia had her first bottle at six days old and has done a great job and has not had any “nipple confusion” when I nurse her.

It can be a bit overwhelming when you are the sole food source for another living being, especially when Crohn’s symptoms strike, and you feel like you may need to make a mad dash to the bathroom.

In my research, I learned that people with IBD were often not breastfed as infants and that breastfed babies develop healthy bacteria in their digestive tract. Those healthy bacteria can be beneficial in helping the body’s immune system fend off many different diseases. It’s my hope that breastfeeding will help create a healthy gut and microbiome for my daughter.

IMG_6936When it comes to breastfeeding as IBD moms, whether a child is going to latch or if our milk supply is going to be sufficient, tends to be the least of our worries. Our chronic health condition, plus the medications so many of us are dependent on to treat them—adds another layer of stress. In the end, you need to do what you feel comfortable with, what works for your body and for your family. Always know you are not alone in your struggles. Celebrate the parenting wins and accomplishments along the way—no matter how big or small. Lean on your support system—especially fellow breastfeeding mamas who can answer your questions and calm your fears. I can’t tell you how long I’ll continue my breastfeeding journey. For now—all I can do is take it one day at a time. What I can tell you—is how rewarding it is to see what my body is capable of, despite my disease and how amazing it feels to know I’m nourishing my little girl and providing her with a healthy start.

Helpful Resources:

IBD Parenthood Project: A one-stop-shop for everything you need to know leading up to conceiving, pregnancy and motherhood.

Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation

Online Communities for Chronic Illness Moms:

IBD Moms—Website coming soon! Social media channels: Twitter: @IBDMoms, Facebook: @IBDMoms, Instagram: @IBDMoms

Mama’s Facing Forward—Social Media Channels: Twitter: @MamasForward, Facebook: @mamasfacingforward, Instagram: @mamasforward

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discovering Gratitude While Living with IBD

When you think about life with inflammatory bowel disease, are you able to think beyond the pain and suffering? Are you able to pause and take time to reflect on how your illness has shaped you into who you are today? Are you willing to look at something that continually challenges you, scares you and leaves you drained—and think…you know what, I wouldn’t have my life any other way? _F6B0037

It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience to come to this place of realization. Until recent years, I’m not sure I would have ever been able to say a positive word about what it’s like to live with Crohn’s disease. But now, more than 13 years later with this disease, I feel my vision has gone from black and white and changed to color. I have peripheral vision I never had before. I’m able to see how my past shaped me into who I am today. I’m able to recognize how the pain and hurt has altered my perspective and forced me to take the blinders off. I can see moments where I’ve risen above and shown courage and bravery. Some memories are painful, some make me feel sad, others make me feel proud.

There comes a time in a chronic illness patient journey that you stop thinking “why me” and instead “why not me.” I don’t like placing pity on myself. I don’t prefer to fantasize about the days before I was diagnosed. Instead—I enjoy reflecting on how I’ve evolved through the years, despite the setbacks and the scares. wedding1Chronic illness, while physically, mentally and emotionally taxing, also has the ability to show us the beauty of the world around us and all that we’re capable of. Instead of thinking how my Crohn’s holds me back—I think about how I’ve lived despite its restraints.

As the years go by, and the diagnosis “anniversary celebrations” roll on, I continue to grow and feel a renewed sense of self within my illness and within myself. As you experience procedures, self-injections, surgeries and the unknown, you get desensitized, but you also gain strength. The day-to-day management of an invisible chronic illness is exhausting and can be overwhelming, but there comes a time when you feel a sense of harmony with your body. You know what it’s trying to tell you. You know when you need to listen. You understand when you need to act.

_F6B0340My disease has helped me take on motherhood. It’s made me soak in the feel-good moments, take mental snapshots of the happy days and celebrate the beauty of life. My disease has forced me to press pause when I’m doing too much, it’s reminded me of the importance of self-care and taking time for me. It’s shown me which people are meant to be in my life and which are meant to be in the backstory.

It’s a season of gratitude. A season of thanks. A season of family, friends and celebrations. This year—I’m choosing to celebrate how Crohn’s disease has guided me to the present. Beyond thankful for a husband who’s my rock, a son who is healthy as can be and a daughter on the way in January. My body may not be “healthy” …but, it’s still managed to create miracles.

It hasn’t always been a fun ride, it’s been brutal at times. But it’s my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Please do yourself a favor and give yourself time to reflect on how your disease has shaped you into the person you are today. By showing gratitude about living with IBD, it’s one of many moments where you can show your disease who is in the driver seat and continually rise above.

Operation “Good Health” with IBD through finding love, raising kids and building your dream

“Crohn’s isn’t what I’d call a “sexy disease” – it’s hard to invite the love of your life to share a bathroom with you. You are scared, embarrassed, worried and everything in between. However, my bathroom habits are out of my control. And, even though I’d give my arm for my incredible man, I don’t want him to know what goes on in the bathroom. I want to be sexy, a woman of mystery … and IBD sometimes isn’t… well, hot.”

If that didn’t get your attention, then I don’t know what will. Katy Love is an IBD warrior who recently tied the knot October 21 with the love of her life. Katy+Vince-12Sickness and health truly take on a whole different meaning when you live with a chronic illness. Katy witnessed her husband Vince’s compassion and character while they were dating.

She had a wound vac that was loud, smelled and made it impossible to shower. Vince loved her despite her health complications and Katy said her Crohn’s brought them closer throughout their courtship.

“I’m extremely blessed to have a supportive partner. As anyone with IBD knows, you have great days and horrible days, sometimes within the same week. I truly believe IBD has made me a better, more understanding partner. I value each day, especially days without pain. And I value Vince and his support. From day one, he’s wanted to be involved in my Crohn’s journey. Going to doctor appointments, infusions, participating in fundraisers and holding my hair when I get sick,” said Katy.

While Katy doesn’t allow her IBD to define her, it’s a huge part of her day-to-day existence. It impacts her as a mother, a business owner, a partner, a friend…and especially as a wife. Diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 17, more than 21 years ago, she’s endured 40-plus colonoscopies, multiple bowel surgeries and removal of more than 75 percent of her bowel.

Preparing for the big day

Leading up to her wedding day she instated Katy_Vince_Family_137“Operation: Good Health.” She made it a priority to get a minimum of eight hours of sleep a night, as lack of rest tends to be a trigger for her. She was on a mission to hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more. To set herself up for success and limit any surprise flares, she planned out her meals the entire wedding weekend. For example, she does well with bland foods, like noodles, rice, chicken and (big one) avoiding alcohol. And finally, she delegated responsibilities (aka stress) to friends and family. Katy admits she’s pretty Type A and would much rather do things herself than hand them off. However, she wanted to enjoy her wedding and because of her proactive planning, she was able to do just that!

Katy is a shining example of living life to the fullest, despite her disease. She was blessed with three, beautiful, healthy children. Fall 2017 Family 1Reagan, Grayson and Carter may not understand why their mommy is in bed or why she needs to pull over on the side of the road when she gets sick, but Katy’s Crohn’s has taught her children a great deal of empathy at a young age. A few weeks ago, she was in debilitating pain and her nine-year-old offered to make dinner for her brothers. She poured them each a bowl of cereal and that was everything.

Along with motherhood, Katy has managed to have a successful career in public relations, including serving as Vice President of Global Communications for Crocs, Inc. Recently, she launched her own PR firm, Comm Oddities Inc. that specializes in food, fashion and footwear. There is nothing this woman can’t do.

Advice after living with Crohn’s for 21 years

As far as advice for the rest of us? Boulder_Headshots_043

“Be kind to yourself. I’m very guilty of getting frustrated with myself. I want to do it all, all the time. Give 100 percent to my job, my family, my friends … and some days just getting out of bed is challenging.

One of my favorite quotes about living with a chronic illness (that’s most of the time invisible) is “Those with chronic illnesses aren’t faking being sick, they are faking being well.”  That really hits home. You don’t want to burden others, so you simply say, “I’m fine” and smile. But, asking for help isn’t a weakness. Those close to you want to help, they simply don’t know how.”