Well, the cat’s out of the bag. I’m 14 weeks pregnant (tomorrow) with a baby BOY! We will be family of five in mid-July. Since as long as I’ve remembered, I’ve envisioned my life with three children, I just never thought it would happen in the middle of a pandemic! Bobby and I feel extremely fortunate with all the outpouring of love, support, and congratulations during this exciting time for our family. As an IBD mom, I feel constant gratitude that my remission has held strong these 5-plus years and enabled me to have healthy, uneventful pregnancies. So far, out of all four of my pregnancies (miscarried between Reid and Sophia), this one has been my “easiest”. Aside from too many migraines to count, the nausea and fatigue in the first trimester were minimal and I feel great most days.
While I plan to be transparent and share content over the next six months about my experience being a high-risk pregnancy during these crazy pandemic times, I also want you to know I’m cognizant of the fact that pregnancy announcements, and pictures of baby bumps can be a trigger for our community. I am empathetic to the fact that family planning can look differently for those of us with Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. Because of this—I’m excited to announce I’ll be launching a special series on Lights, Camera, Crohn’s entitled “IBD Motherhood Unplugged”.
IBD Motherhood Unplugged topics will include (but are not limited to):
The decision not to have children due to IBD
Being told you can’t carry a child and coping with that loss
IBD pregnancy after loss
Single parenting with IBD
Biologics and pregnancy/breastfeeding
The list goes on…
If you want to share your experience of navigating family planning or motherhood with IBD, please reach out. I already have several women lined up, ready and willing to share their personal journeys. I’m anxious to share their brave and resilient words with you.
My advocacy focus has always been to be the voice I so desperately needed to hear upon diagnosis and through all of life’s milestones. I want you to feel seen. I want you to feel heard. I also want you to remain hopeful that pregnancy and motherhood is possible for most women with IBD, we all just get there in different ways.
When you have IBD, the path to motherhood can look different for many. There is added stress about whether your body can create and sustain a new life successfully. There’s worries about flare ups and medications and how to stay well-managed while keeping the health of your unborn child in mind…just to name a few. For 30-year-old, Audrey Bolton, of North Carolina, adoption had been a calling in her life since high school when she stood at the airport and watched a family friend bring home their daughter from Guatemala.
She knew from that day forward, she would adopt one day. What she didn’t know is that she would be diagnosed with Crohn’s disease 10 months after getting married and struggle to conceive. This week on Lights, Camera, Crohn’s, Audrey shares her journey of becoming an IBD mom through adoption and what she wants others to know about the process.
NH: Many women with IBD fear their bodies are incapable of carrying a child/or are told they aren’t well enough. What would you like to say to them?
AB: “I would tell them that every journey to parenthood looks different, but at the end of the day, we are all moms. I think it depends on everyone’s situation and it’s a conversation they need to have with their doctor(s) and their spouse. For me, I was sick at the time my husband Crawford and I wanted to have a baby. I was not sick enough to where I wouldn’t be able to parent, but I do not think my body at that time could have been healthy enough to carry a child without problems. With that said, I’m nearing remission so I do still hope that one day we can have a biological child. If a person wants to be a mom, I fully believe that there are many different avenues a person can take to be a mother.”
NH: What are some of the struggles/challenges about adoptions that you wish other families knew?
AB: “Adoption comes from a place of brokenness, so while it is so beautiful that our son Camden made me a mother, it is not lost on me that his birth mother made a huge sacrifice that left a piece of her heart missing. It can be beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time.”
NH: Was the fact you had IBD ever an issue with adoption agencies?
AB: “Not at all! I love this question because I wasn’t sure what to expect when we started the process back in 2017. For all adoptions, you must complete a home study which includes health questionnaires, a physical, and several meetings with a social worker. In those meetings, we talked about my Crohn’s disease and how I was working with my doctor to treat it. If a person is well enough to parent and take care of a child, there are not any issues with having IBD and being eligible for adoption.”
NH: What are your tips for navigating the adoption journey with a partner/spouse?
AB: I could write a book on this one, but the truth is, Crawford has been my rock. He had no idea when he married me that I would be facing a chronic disease that would land me in the hospital multiple times a year for days on end. He has truly stuck by his vows “in sickness and in health.” I think the best tip I have for navigating Crohn’s with a partner/spouse is to communicate. Crawford knows when I’m not feeling well, the best thing for me is to rest and he makes it happen. He also is my voice of reason and tells me if I’m doing too much or if I need to say no to some obligations so that I can properly rest. Communication is key!
NH: What was it like when you first met your son Camden?
AB: “I always envisioned the moment we laid eyes on our son to be beautiful and the best moment of my life. When we arrived at the hospital, we had not slept in 24 hours and had driven straight through the night. We thought we would be meeting our son, but we were told he was being transferred to a Children’s hospital for further testing on his heart. He was hooked up to all kinds of wires and it was one of the scariest moments of my life. We only got to see him for about an hour before the ambulance came and took him to the Children’s hospital. It was whirlwind of a day, but God saw us through it and the next day, he passed all of his tests with flying colors and I was able to bond with my baby for the first time and have my “beautiful moment.”
NH: What’s been the most magical aspect of being an adoptive parent?
AB: “Most days, I forget that Camden is adopted. He looks just like Crawford and he’s been with us from his second day of life, so he belongs with us. Every now and then, I will have a moment and remember that he has another mom somewhere out in the world. I always say that she is my hero because she chose life for her baby boy and I would say that has been the most magical part for me. Knowing that I owe everything to a woman that I have never met. I pray that she has peace in knowing how loved he is on a daily basis.”
NH: If someone is on the fence about adoption–what would you tell them?
AB: “Pray, pray, and pray some more. If it is God’s will, he will give you that peace. I receive messages every day asking how the process works and people are scared about the cost. If it’s meant to be, don’t let the cost stop you! There are so many ways that it CAN be done.”
NH: You recently announced you’ll be adopting baby number two in 2021, you must be so excited! Did that process differ at all from Camden’s?
AB: “We are extremely excited. So far, it is the exact same because we are going through the same agency. I’m sure there will be some bumps along the way, but we are so excited to bring home baby #2.”
NH: How has already being an adoptive parent helped you through the experience this time around?
AB: “I know what to expect this time, so I am better prepared for the timeline and the traveling that is involved. With that said, our adoption with Camden was extremely quick. I was at work one minute, waiting for the phone call to meet a birth mom and the next I’m told that there is a baby waiting for us to come get him. There was no time to think or for anything to really go wrong. That makes me a little more nervous this time, as I know that it doesn’t normally happen that fast. I’m just praying that everything happens the way it should in the Lord’s timing.”
NH: How has faith played a role in how you navigate your IBD and motherhood?
AB: “I would be lying if I said I never questioned why God would allow a 25-year-old newlywed to be diagnosed with a chronic disease with no cure. It has been a tough journey, but I think God has shown me a glimpse of how strong I can be in tough situations and it ultimately prepared me to be a mother. Not long after we brought Camden home, I had a full circle moment one night while rocking him to sleep. I realized that Camden would not be in my life if it had not been for all the trials I faced with my health and months and years of seeing only one line on a pregnancy stick. While the journey was really difficult in the moment, it is the privilege of a lifetime to know God handpicked me to be Camden’s mother and that He was with me through all of the really low times.”
Twenty years ago, Katy Love, was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. She was a sophomore in college. She could barely make it out of bed some days, due to the enormous amount of pain and overwhelming fatigue. After her diagnosis and subsequent surgeries, she wondered if she’d ever be able to have a “real job” – like many of us in the chronic illness community, she worried about how she would be able to work and manage her illness. Katy didn’t allow her diagnosis to prevent her from following her personal or professional dreams. Now as an IBD mom, running her own PR business from home, in the middle of a pandemic, she has some advice to share about being successful in the face of adversity.
After graduating from college, I took a job at an interactive advertising agency. My dream job. Then, reality set in. I needed to ask for accommodations for my Crohn’s disease– I had to ask for a flexible schedule – one where I could work from home when needed.
I was elated when the agency agreed. Since then, I’ve been blessed to work with several teams (for other companies) that understood my illness and trusted me to work remotely when needed. As someone who has worked from home quite often during my career, due to a chronic illness, I’ve learned a few helpful best practices that have helped save me time… and my sanity.
Create a realistic routine and office hours. If you know you can’t start working until 9 a.m., due to family obligations, don’t start your work time until 9 a.m. Then, plan accordingly for your end time each day. Be sure to share your office hours with your family and colleagues. It’s important for everyone to know when you’re working. Also be patient with your new schedule. As with all new things, it will take some time to become a true routine. This is all new territory – working from home is a normal occurrence for me, however, having all my children and my spouse at home, while trying to work from home, is a new challenge.
Get Dressed. Every single day. I know this may sound silly, as you haven’t left the house in weeks. But I find this extremely important. It sets the tone for the day. When you look the part, you’re much more likely to feel the part. Plus, with all the Zoom calls, you want to look like you aren’t wearing yesterday’s PJs for the weekly team meeting.
Establish a defined workspace. You need an area where you know – this is my desk, my work zone. Your family members know that when you are there, you are working. Working from bed sounds delightful…I love my bed. However, it’s easy to be distracted if you’re not in a specific workspace. Also, surround your workspace with all that you may need during the day. Computer, chargers, phone, etc. I like to also put candles or fresh flowers near my workspace – they smell great and elevate my mood. With spring finally here, go outside and pick a few flowers and put them in a mason jar. Anything that makes you smile and motivates you.
Communication is KEY. I learned this early on in my career. Just because you’re not in physical sight of your team, and your employer, you want them to know you’re ON and working. The worst thing you can do is go dark. If they don’t see you, hear from you, it’s easy to assume you aren’t taking working from home seriously. So, over-communicate with your team during this time.
Take breaks throughout the day. When you’re setting up your new routine/office hours, schedule breaks into the day. Personally, I like to work out in the mornings. So, finding 30 minutes to hop on my bike sets my day up for success. In the afternoon, take a walk outside, or bake with your kids. It’s extremely important to incorporate self-care into your routine right now. There’s so much uncertainty and doom/gloom in the news. Make sure you are taking time to appreciate yourself, your team, and your family, while keeping your health as a top a priority.
Motherhood provides perspective. Motherhood shapes us in a way we didn’t know possible. When you’re a mom with IBD, your past and current struggles make you look onward to the future in a different way. Meet Sam Zachrich. She’s a 30-year-old mom and wife from Utah, who works full-time outside the home. She’s battled Crohn’s disease since December 2011.
Even though she was officially diagnosed a week before her wedding (imagine that!), Crohn’s is something that was a part of her life long before that. Her mom, also has the disease. This week–Sam shares her experience taking on motherhood and marriage, while juggling everything that comes along with a life of chronic illness.
Like someone with a bad knee before a rainstorm. I knew I was not feeling well and the results of my colonoscopy would reflect that. More medication and more doctors is all I heard from my GI. My husband Nate will tell you a different story. He is always my biggest supporter and remembers way more than I do after waking up from a scope. He heard “Sam things look better… your colon is healing… but there are some issues.” All I heard was “issues”. As a Crohnie, it’s easy to focus on the negative of our disease. It’s easy to forget to celebrate how far we’ve come and the milestones we’ve accomplished throughout our journey.
Growing up with a parent who has IBD
I knew my mom had Crohn’s from an early age, but I didn’t fully understand how much pain and hardship it caused her, until I was in college. I had a wonderful childhood, filled with amazing memories. I don’t remember my mom being sick very often. There were hospital visits here and there, I just always had faith that she would get better.
My mom did an amazing job making sure our lives did not revolve around her disease. She did her best to stay healthy and support us. I want my daughter to have the same experience as I had growing up. I don’t want her to ever feel the burden of my disease. I want her to know that no matter how difficult life gets, there is always hope. My mom is the one person I can call who fully understands my struggles. To have another family member that has and is dealing with the same chronic health issues is a huge support. I am very grateful for her.
A mother’s love
My mom was with me for every scope and doctors appointment leading up to my diagnosis of Crohn’s. She was a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear because she completely understood. Feeling guilty is not something we do easily in our family. We try to stay the course and figure out next steps. I think to some degree she had guilt, but she wanted me to stay strong and knew I would be alright. She has always told me to focus on what I can change in the moment.
To this day, she reminds me: Crohn’s will always be apart of your life, it’s what you do with it that matters.
I try not to focus on passing this disease to a third generation. I know that one day I might be in the doctor’s office with my daughter listening to the same talk I received December 2011. Hopefully we will never have to go there, but if we do, I know that the support and perspective that I’ll be able to provide my daughter can make or break a diagnosis.
In sickness and in health, literally
My husband, Nate, was there from the start of my Crohn’s journey. I remember explaining to him at one point that this disease would be something I will deal with my whole life and it was okay for him to leave me. It’s really hard to put my relationship with my husband into words. When it comes to Crohn’s, the thought of all he does to support me, makes me tear up. He knew that after our wedding day he would take my mom’s place at all my appointments and be my sole caregiver. Nate never shied away from the challenge and it makes me love him more and more everyday. He is my number one and having support from him means the world to me.
Despite receiving the IBD diagnosis a week before getting married, our wedding day was amazing! I look back and don’t remember being sick (thanks to the steroids!). Throughout our lives there will be days we get to be “normal” and we try to embrace those times as a couple and as a family. Don’t allow for this disease to control all aspects of your life. Have that amazing wedding and find a spouse who loves you regardless of your illness. You deserve that and so much more!
Finding peace through support and letting go
Fast forward to this month. Following my scope, I had surgery to remove an abscess. My husband and I had planned a date night for that evening and already had a sitter. We traded our dinner and play tickets in for a night out at the hospital. This was my second surgery to remove an abscess. It doesn’t get any easier, but I have a different mindset now that I am a mom.
It’s always hard to leave our daughter Kamryn. We are very blessed to have an amazing support system that we can rely on. It’s so helpful to know that when you are going through a medical procedure, the person taking care of your child loves them as much as you do. We do not have any biological family in Utah. However, we have an amazing church family that really loves and takes care of us just as well.
My advice to fellow IBD parents is to find peace in knowing that your child will understand one day how much sacrifice you have made to fight this disease. There will come a day when they will ask you questions and you can share your experiences with them.
I am healing well and my doctors are monitoring things to make sure my Crohn’s stays under control. I have had routine blood work since the surgery and it looks like I will be going in for an MRI this week to check on my liver. While these unexpected twists and turns in my patient journey don’t get easier, I’ve learned not to focus on what I can’t control.
The bright spot of my journey
I was blessed to be able to have a baby girl in January. After so many years of hating my body and being sick, my body finally showed me what it’s capable of. I know that my journey with Crohn’s has made me the best mom possible for my sweet Kamryn. Even though my body may be riddled with illness, it was still able to create a perfect miracle.
I have learned to deal with life in a completely unorthodox way, because of my disease. I am a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, coworker, employee, and friend. Don’t get me wrong, there are days I wonder ‘God, why me, why this disease?’ But I know deep down I am stronger for it and He will see me through the tough times and setbacks. As someone who grew up with an IBD mom, it’s my hope Kamryn will someday look at me the same way I look at my mom.
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. It 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. The 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.
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.
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.
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.
One 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.
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.
Pregnancy is a magical miracle. You witness the creation of life within yourself and see your body transform in ways you never knew possible. When you live with a chronic illness like Crohn’s disease and experience a pregnancy, there are added layers. A layer of worry. A layer of concern. A layer of wonder. When you have a chronic illness that can flare up at any given moment—it’s one thing to have the ticking time bomb feeling when it’s just you…it’s entirely different when you have a family to care for and a baby in your belly.
This Friday, I’ll be 27 weeks complete with my baby girl. My January due date is quickly approaching. Time is going both fast and slow. For the most part, my Crohn’s has behaved itself. But, there have been multiple times where I can’t seem to decipher if what I’m feeling is related to pregnancy aches and pains or my IBD. The burning and gnawing feeling in my abdomen often feels so reminiscent of the beginning of a bowel obstruction that I can’t help but fear the worst.
With my son, Reid, I was lucky enough to never have a contraction, never dilate or efface and went into my scheduled c-section without having any pain. This time around, I’m not so sure things will go as smoothly. How are we supposed to determine the difference between round ligament pain and Crohn’s? What about a contraction and Crohn’s? So many IBD mamas who have gone through a flare and labor say the pain is very similar, if not worse than delivering a child. Yeah. Take that in for a second.
Even after more than 13 years of living with Crohn’s, I feel like a fish out of water at times with this pregnancy. It’s as if I’m relearning my body and the relationship I have with IBD all over again. It’s difficult because every single pregnancy is different and so is every single person’s IBD. My OB tells me that with a contraction the pain will come and go, and I’ll be able to see a pattern and time it, whereas Crohn’s pain will be constant.
I’ve noticed a few times in the last week that the pain will exacerbate if I eat something while my abdomen is burning. To me—that would be more Crohn’s, than pregnancy. I know I can’t be the only chronic illness mom who feels challenged by pregnancy symptoms and disease symptoms.
All of this is happening now, then there’s the looming fear of the all too common postpartum flare. I was nervous after my firstborn and have luckily stayed out of the hospital his entire life (he’s 18 months!), but this time could be different. You just never know when the disease is going to rear its ugly head.
My advice to myself and to all of you who may be dealing with these same fears and thoughts is to listen to your body. Be mindful of when you hurt, why you may be in pain and how often it’s taking place. Don’t turn a blind eye to your aches and don’t feel like a bother to your GI or OB. Reach out to your healthcare team and alert them when you have a concern, so they are aware of what’s going on. This is not a time to internalize your pain. This is a time to be vocal, be your own best advocate and start being the strong IBD mama that you are for your unborn child.