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.

Taking care of yourself and your sick child, while battling IBD

It’s never easy to see your baby under the weather. It’s a hopeless feeling when the only way they can communicate is by crying or acting differently. It’s difficult to manage your own chronic illness and keep yourself from spiraling out of control, as you worry about the well-being of your little one. IMG_9473It’s been a rough few days in the Hayden household—our almost 13-month-old son has been battling days of hives and an allergic reaction that we can’t seem to pinpoint.

The perplexing nature of his health and the unknown of what the next hour will bring, is reminiscent of life with Crohn’s disease. Trying to manage symptoms to bring comfort, the mystery of what’s sparked the problem and the emotional rollercoaster that goes along with it.

As an IBD mom, my focus is solely on getting my son to feel better. But, it’s difficult to take this on as you battle your own disease that preys on stress and worry. A disease that tends to surface when you’re going through difficult times. A disease that tries to distract you from the task at hand. It’s been exhausting to carry my son back and forth with me to bathroom as he crawls around and pulls on the toilet paper. IMG_9522As I feel burning sensations in my abdomen at the end of the day, the internal conversation of what could be happening within my own body consumes my thoughts. I can’t help but worry that I can’t go down. I can’t allow my disease to flare when my family needs me most.

I’m going to pause now and say something to all the moms and dads who have children with a complex medical condition. A condition that requires daily care, attention and worry. I simply can not imagine all you endure. Reid has hives. We’ll get to the bottom of it. We’ve talked to the pediatrician, gone to urgent care and have plans to see an allergist. But this reality is NOTHING compared to what so many families face every day. IMG_9472So, the last thing I want to do is sound like I think I have it so bad—because trust me, I keep everything in perspective and know I’ve been blessed with a healthy baby. My goal is to provide insight into motherhood with IBD and the challenges it can present at times.

As we endure life’s unexpected ups and downs—it’s imperative we listen to our bodies, get as much rest as possible and stay on top of disease management. As most mothers do, we tend to put our needs to the wayside. But, in doing so, you set yourself up as an easier target for your disease. It’s a difficult balance, but managing your own illness still needs to be a priority. When you have a spouse and children, your IBD is not just about you, but your entire family. Ask for help when you need it. Take your daily medication and stay away from trigger foods that can ignite additional symptoms. Run an errand by yourself. Take a long shower. Give yourself time to process the stress you are going through and remember to breathe.

As an IBD mom, by taking care of myself, I know it’s part of how I take care of my son. He is completely dependent on my husband and me. If you lose sight of the importance of caring for yourself and doing all your can to control your disease, it will come back to bite you in the ass. Literally and figuratively.

I’m only 13 months into motherhood. IMG_9419Each day is a learning experience. Much like my initial diagnosis of Crohn’s disease nearly 13 years ago, I know I’ll continue to grow and find comfort in my new role. Navigating unknown waters and experiencing illness within your child is all part of it. No matter how many years go by, as parents, we’ll never be experts, but we’ll continue to evolve and discover what works for us personally and as a family.

Find the balance. Use your voice. Your journey as a patient has prepared you for motherhood in ways you never thought possible. Trust your mom gut. As women with IBD, there will be difficult days when the brain fog, fatigue and pain overwhelms you and you have to push through to care for your child. But, there will be many more days where you feel strong and happy—and your child will look up at you with love in their eyes and a smile on their face and remind you that you’re the best thing in their life. Hold on to the feel good days, the magical moments—and know that while the tough times in parenting and as a patient are draining, they are fleeting.

 

 

 

Reflecting on motherhood & Crohn’s: Year One

One year ago—my life changed in the best possible way. I became a mom. But, not any mom. A mom with chronic illness. Parenthood is daunting, no matter what, especially your first time around. IMG_6309Throw in an unpredictable, often debilitating condition and tackling the role is even more challenging.

In talking with fellow women who battle inflammatory bowel disease, there always seems to be a hesitation, a concern and self-doubt about the prospect of carrying a baby. I totally get that mentality. It’s almost inconceivable to imagine your body—the same body that brings you so much anguish—creating a miracle.

Becoming a mom one year ago restored my self love. Becoming a mom has enabled me to see all that I’m capable of, even when I’m weighed down by fatigue. IMG_8727Becoming a mom has made every poke and prod, injection and procedure less of a pain, because now I have so much more to fight for.

When I stare at that focal point on the wall as a needle breaks my skin or when getting out of bed for the day is a struggle, I immediately think of my darling Reid. The boy who changed my life, who shook my world and who shows me every single day that my illness didn’t rob me of experiencing the most perfect gift.

Mom guilt is real. If you’re a mom with a chronic illness, instead of focusing on your limitations—or when the next flare-up could happen—soak in the moments of joy you feel and the happiness your innocent sweet child displays on a daily basis. Know that focusing on your needs and practicing self-care is paramount because by feeding your soul and lowering your stress, you are protecting your health for the sake of being there for your family.

As patients, we evolve. IMG_8815 (1)As people we grow. Each chapter of our lives matters and is part of our story. Embrace the good and even the bad—because it brought you to where you are today. Pain and flares are fleeting and as we all know, so is youth. Our babies grow up so fast, we must hold the feel good moments close and not dwell on past hurt or what could happen tomorrow.

Someday, when my sweet boy is older, he will understand that mommy isn’t like the rest. But, my reids first bdayhope is he’ll realize what an integral role and life-changing impact he’s had on me since the moment I held him in my arms for the first time.

As we sang “Happy Birthday” and my son played with his smash cake, I thanked God for keeping me out of the ER and hospital for Reid’s entire first year of life. I thanked God for showing me that my patient journey is about a lot more than me, it’s about my whole family. And there’s no one I’d rather stay strong or fight for, than them.

Taking on fatigue as a mom with Crohn’s disease

I hear my baby saying “mama” gleefully from the playpen. Anxious for attention and snuggles. I hear this as I’m sitting on the toilet with the door open, paying the price for the cup of coffee I just consumed. It’s one of those days as a mom with inflammatory bowel disease. The all-encompassing fatigue is taking hold. I knew this the minute my eyes opened, and I heard Reid in his crib, despite a restful eight hours of sleep. If you don’t have IBD you may wonder what I’m talking about.

Let me try my bIMG_6729est to paint a picture for you. My legs feel like complete jelly. My brain feels in a fog. I feel so lethargic; the thought of showering seems overwhelming. I’m not in pain. My stomach feels fine. But, there’s something “off” and you feel it with every part of your being.

As my husband helps me unload the dishwasher, I tell him, “I’m so fatigued”…he laughs a little and says, “well, you’re 34…you are getting old.” I explain to him it’s my Crohn’s. Sure, I may be in “deep remission”, I haven’t been hospitalized with a flare since my bowel resection surgery in August 2015 (*knocks on all the wood), but that doesn’t mean the disease doesn’t impact my daily life. My husband is amazing and never says anything malicious, but unless you live it, you simply can’t comprehend it.

I’m going to be vulnerable here. Please no judgement. The clothes I washed more than five days ago, are still in the dryer. Each day I told myself I needed to walk down 13 stairs and bring them up, but it felt like too much. This morning as my husband got ready for work, needing his jeans…I remembered…they were still in the dryer. I felt like a failure. As I rocked my son in his nursery today, it took too much out of my legs to be in motion. All I was doing was sitting, his little body on my chest. But the rocking felt like too much. As I laid him down for a nap, I went back and forth in my mind about whether I could muster up the energy to shower. I chose to. Mid-shower, I had a brainstorm to sit down on the seat and take some deep breaths while the warm water hit my body. When I stood up, I honestly couldn’t remember if I had put shampoo in my hair yet or if I had washed my face. Literally no clue. These are just a few examples. But this is the reality of being a mom with IBD.

I started beating myself up over the fact that the past two days I may have overdone it. IMG_6646Living in the Midwest, I didn’t want two winter days with temps in the 80s to pass without enjoying them. I knew the fresh air and exercise would be a welcome excursion for my little man and me. Did those two walks with the stroller push me to my limits? What is too much? What is not enough? At 34, you feel lazy when you can’t keep up or have to admit you’re just too tired. You look perfectly fine on the outside, you feel like those around you wonder if you try and take advantage of your disease.

Here’s my advice for anyone with chronic illness, specifically IBD, especially the parents out there. remedy-nsmith-stlouis-1204

  1. Try not to beat yourself up over it. This too shall pass. You won’t feel this fatigue every day. As a matter of fact, days ago I had the music playing and I was dancing around with my son as I cleaned the house. I felt SO happy and so energetic. Focus on those times to get you through.
  2. Self-care, self-care, self-care. Whether it’s going to get a massage, exercising, sitting on the couch and enjoying some tea or going to Target to shop by yourself. Do what makes you feel at ease. Do something for yourself every day.
  3. Vocalize your exhaustion. If you don’t communicate your struggles, you won’t receive the comfort and help that you need. You are not admitting failure. You’re not waving a white flag and giving into your disease. Rather, you’re being strong enough to realize, in this moment, on this day, you need a little boost from those around you to get by.
  4. Ask for help. Boy do I struggle with this. But, it’s imperative. Especially for first-time moms. Being a parent is hard work. Being a parent with chronic illness is on a whole different level. Hold your tribe close and call on them when you need them. You won’t regret it.
  5. Rest. It’s ok to lay on the couch if you aren’t feeling up to doing chores. It’s ok to say no to a night out with friends. Give your body what it needs. Listen to it. This fatigue is real and by not listening, you’re only feeding into the problem more. You’ll thank yourself later.

I recently came across a statistic this week on Twitter from the Congress of ECCO (European Crohn’s and Colitis Organization) IMG_6342that stated, “Fatigue in IBD is experienced by up to 86 percent of patients with active disease and 41 percent in remission.” It’s crazy how common this is! For people with IBD, fatigue can be physical, mental or a combination of both.

Fatigue has a significant impact on the quality of life and needs to be talked about. If you’re like me and feeling fatigued, I hope you feel empowered to share and do what you can to combat it. Just know you are not weak, you are not lazy, fatigue impacts everyone on this journey differently. And most importantly, you are not alone.

 

Wishing you a very merry, healthy Christmas and New Year

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas! Sorry about missing my normal Monday post– this holiday season has been bittersweet. My grandmother passed away December 22. She and I were extremely close and it still feels surreal that she is no longer on this earth. Stay tuned for a blog post after the New Year about handling grief while battling IBD.

In the meantime, I thought I would share some holiday cheer from my family to yours. Wishing you a healthy, happy, flare-free year ahead! Thanks for all the love and support you send my way, all year long.

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How surgery helped this Crohnie live her best life

Connecting with those who battle inflammatory bowel disease over social media is cathartic and creates friendships–whether you’ve met the person or not. It’s amazing to me how quickly you can share a bond and relate to a complete stranger’s life experiences because they mirror your own. I recently connected with Samantha Rynearson of West Virginia.

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She’s a 25-year-old wife and mom who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 21. She recently had a bowel resection and currently takes Stelara and Imuran to keep her disease in check. This week, Samantha shares an inspiring guest post about why surgery completely changed the course of her life for the better. 

The best way I can try to describe Crohn’s disease is that it’s like an elevated version of Russian Roulette, but with food. In Russian roulette, only one of the guns holds a bullet. Prior to my surgery, for every 10 foods I ingested, eight of them caused me pain or were “triggers.” It was a game that I lived with and played daily for the past three years as I battled living with a stricture in my small intestine the size of a straw.

Let’s rewind to January 2017 – I made a News Years Resolution that I was going to lose the dreaded Prednisone weight. So, I wrote a meal plan, went shopping for healthy foods and was cutting out processed foods as much as possible. Unfortunately, four days into the New Year, I was admitted to the hospital with a small bowel obstruction. Apparently junk food from New Year’s Eve, mixed with a drastic change in diet, mixed with not being on steroids anymore – my intestines were not having it. So, nine LONG days of steroids, CT scans, bowel series, lots of morphine, and a new medicine, I was released to go home. I was told I couldn’t eat any raw fruits or veggies, nothing high in fiber and basically nothing healthy at all. No more New Year’s Resolution.

IMG_9327We tried new medications, but after eight months of no change in my small bowel, my gastroenterologist thought it was time to say goodbye to the diseased portion of my intestines. I remember the phone call from her just saying “I’m going to give this to you bluntly, you need to get them out.” At first, I was shocked, then angry that my body was failing me. I brought my husband to my surgery consultation, and I’ll never forget the look on his face as the surgeon was asking me very detailed symptom questions and I was answering them honestly. It was a look as if I had by lying to him for years. Even my husband, the person I spend every waking hour with, have been with for almost six years and since I was diagnosed, didn’t fully understand how bad my disease had gotten in the last three years.

As the time got closer to my surgery, I got more and more nervous. I know the statistics… 75 percent of Crohn’s disease patients that have surgery will need surgery again… 20 percent will have a reoccurrence of symptoms after two years, 30 percent after three years… I was second guessing myself and remember thinking “it’s fine, I can live like this…” image1 (4)As a mom and a wife, I questioned how my family would make do without me… But as surgery drew closer and I was in so much pain that I could only eat liquids and was basically confined to the fetal position, I knew it was time.

When I woke up from surgery I was in the worst pain of my entire life (YES, worse than childbirth!) It took more than two hours to get my pain to a tolerable level and I remember thinking I made the wrong decision and that I was an idiot for doing this to my body and I should have just sucked it up and dealt with the flares and the pain. But man was I wrong. Once I could tolerate food and pass it, I was released after just FOUR days in the hospital!

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Every day of my recovery, my daughter would ask to see my “boo boo.” She was super careful around me, and gave me so many kisses and hugs that I realized children really do understand more than we think. My husband was overprotective because he was so afraid something would go wrong during or after surgery and I would get so frustrated because I was only thinking of how it affected me, but in reality, it was a terrifying experience for him too.

Prior to surgery, I would eat and then pain would come. Now I eat, and I sit there waiting for the pain to start, but it doesn’t. It’s a hard concept for me to grasp. I can eat food, and not be in pain afterwards. It’s bizarre to me after three years of food = pain that it just changed by having my intestines cut out.

Now, I am almost 12 weeks post-op. I went back to work full-time after six weeks and was literally doing everything I was doing prior to my surgery and then some!!  I have so much more energy to play with my daughter. I’m able to eat food when we go out to eat and not regret it later. I feel like surgery has had a positive impact on my marriage and that I have a better relationship with my husband. I feel like my daughter is getting to know a new “fun” mommy that isn’t always laying on the couch with a heating pad. I feel like my friends don’t even know what to do when I respond to their text messages or say yes to hanging out!

Image-1Getting surgery has changed my life in just 12 weeks. I can’t even imagine how much it’s going to change my life in the next year or two. I know the statistics aren’t in my favor, but until then I will totally be living my best life with a foot less of intestine and a bigger smile on my face!

You can connect with Samantha on Instagram: @crohnicallyfabulous.

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The dread of the next Crohn’s flare as a new mom

One of my biggest fears as a mom with Crohn’s disease is my next flare up. I know how it goes. It’s going to come out of left field. I’ll start the day feeling well—going about my business taking care of my son and then it’s going to happen. IMG_2007The relentless and all too familiar pain will take my breath away. I’ll call my husband, frantic, scared and emotional. My mind will race. This can’t happen. I can’t leave my baby. I can’t walk out this door doubled over in pain and not know when I’m going to be back home. This flare up will be worse than any I’ve encountered in the past. This time it’s not just about me anymore. It’s about him.

I dread packing a hospital bag with the necessities. It makes my stomach turn to imagine kissing his little cheeks and handing him over to someone else as my husband races me to the emergency room. As much as I hate to think like this and don’t like to be a Debbie downer, I know there will be a time it’s going to happen. Since Reid was born almost eight months ago, I’ve told my husband that my goal is to stay out of the hospital until Reid can physically walk into the room to visit me. I know that’s a hopeful goal. It’s been 27 months since I’ve been hospitalized due to my Crohn’s. I feel like a ticking time bomb. When will the next time be?

As parents, articulating chronic illness to little ones is difficult. You want to protect them from your pain and pretend all is perfect. You don’t want them to worry or think you’re unhappy or sick. On the rough days you hide behind a smile. IMG_2005When you’re hospitalized, wearing a gown, attached to an IV pole and looking less than stellar…how do you pretend? How do you protect your little ones from the unknown? This isn’t the mommy they know and love. Kids are more intuitive than we give them credit for.

As my son grows up I want him to look at me and be inspired by my strength. I want him to think of his mama as being a tough cookie. I want my injections and nightly medication to be a part of our normal routine. Something he doesn’t think twice about. I never want him to worry or wonder the next time mommy will have to go to that place that keeps her overnight. I want to make light of colonoscopy preps and blood draws and let him know that just because mommy has a disease, it doesn’t stop her from living a full life.

As a new mom, I can’t anticipate all the questions and all the emotions that will come with each passing year. What we can do as parents with chronic illness is be open and communicate. IMG_2006As much as we want to protect our loved ones from knowing how deep our pain lies, sharing and allowing them to be a part of our patient journey is important. It’s a big part of who we are and God forbid someday they too inherit the disease, we have to set an example that it’s nothing to be ashamed of and that it doesn’t have to rob you of living a beautiful life.

As I write this and look at sweet boy on the monitor, sleeping peacefully in his crib, I am thankful for another healthy day at home. And I’ll be thankful for every single one that I get. While I dread that next flare up, I have the best reason ever to fight like hell and get back home.

Patient Education Day: Speaking from the heart

Inspirational. Resilient. Strong. Those are the first three words that come to mind when I think of the Crohn’s and Colitis community. This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend and speak at a Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Patient Education day event in St. Louis. Sitting in a roomful of patients, doctors and caretakers—surrounded by a group of people who “get it”. A group of people who share the same struggles, triumphs and life experiences.

There’s something to be said for making connections with this close-knit community face to face, rather than over the internet or social media. We laugh together, we shed some tears together, we meet people who are complete strangers who in a matter of hours feel like close friends.

In the days leading up to the event I had drafted a speech—all about preparing for a family with Crohn’s, pregnancy and motherhood. It was a busy week, so I never had a chance to look it over. In the minutes before I took the stage I kept going back and forth in my mind about whether I wanted to bring up my speech and hold the papers in my hands or just speak off the cuff.

I brought the papers up and as soon as the microphone was handed to me, I looked out the in the crowd and saw several young kids and teenagers. In that split second, I decided my speech should be motivational for them. I talked about how Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis enable us to have incredible perspective about life. I shared details about my experience being diagnosed and how I didn’t allow my disease to rob me of my dream of being a news anchor. I talked about the importance of caretakers and having the superpowers to see which family members and friends step up to the plate when you need them the most, and which fade to the background.

Most importantly, I spoke from the heart. If you’ve battled inflammatory bowel disease for any amount of time you have a story. Your story has the power to lift up others and show them they are not alone. It’s so easy to isolate ourselves and pretend that we’re feeling fantastic, when in all actuality our insides are inflamed and constantly leaving us in pain. As I looked out in the crowd, wearing a dress, standing tall with my hair curled—looking like a completely healthy person. I said—little would you know looking at me, that this morning at 2 a.m. I was stuck in the bathroom in excruciating pain, on the brink of throwing up. Those are the moments nobody sees, that we need to talk about.

As I looked out in the crowd I saw so many people nodding, so many people crying. I talked about how my husband Bobby has been there with me every step of the way since we met in 2013. Explaining his daily efforts to make sure I am ‘ok’. I saw tears in his eyes as I shared our story. After the speech I was approached by patients, parents and doctors. I was told countless times how my genuine and heart-felt words meant so much. Each of the conversations I had made me feel overwhelmed with joy. It was such a special day and such a special experience for my family. On the way to the event, I talked with my husband about how I wish I didn’t suffer in silence for over nine years and wish I would have shared my story from the start.

I don’t want you to have the same regrets as me. I know it’s easy to hide behind your invisible illness and think people will judge you, pity you and look at your differently. But what I’ve come to find out is that it’s the complete opposite. You will feel so empowered by sharing your story and you will quickly find out how strong and incredible the IBD family truly is.

“Don’t look back”: A mother’s tips for dealing with a daunting diagnosis

Being in control. Knowing what tomorrow brings. Understanding why. Unfortunately, when it comes to inflammatory bowel disease, we don’t have those abilities or those answers. This week, a guest blog from a California mom of six girls named Cait. Her 13-year-old daughter, Natalie, was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I connected with Cait on Instagram and look up to her as a mom who’s trying to navigate her daughter and her family’s new normal.

As a mom, I always want to have the answer or know just the right thing to do to help my kids along their own path. caitSo, when all of that seemed to crash around us in May I felt lost. I felt alone. I didn’t know which way was up. This wasn’t in my plan nor did I wish for Natalie to journey it.

But here we were. Months and months of tests and researching late at night on my phone. Was it a tummy bug? Was it a parasite? Was it a food allergy surfacing? Mono? So many questions and not enough answers. The one test we all felt Natalie needed, our insurance denied us.

We could not keep watching our precious daughter fade. Something was terribly wrong. When we saw her doctor one last time in hopes of finally knowing a reason, it was still unclear and we all decided it was best to go to the Children’s hospital so this could finally be resolved. cait4

Long nights, early mornings, no sleep, tests after tests and the same questions asked over and over again. It was exhausting. I have never felt so helpless. I tried to stay strong, encouraging her, supporting her, talking to the doctors and being by her side while my husband and both sides of our families cared for our five other daughters. Our family came to visit as much as possible, but the drive was far. I sat alone with Natalie when she went for her first scope. I sat alone with the doctor and received the awful news. But I was somehow relieved in those early moments. We finally had a name for what we were dealing with. Crohn’s disease. We now had a team of people who wanted to help us manage and get her disease under control. Such relief to no longer feel alone.

There have been hard days, and really hard days and then days it seems nothing ever really happened. And although we are so new to all of this, there are some things I have been learning along the way. cait2

It’s ok to cry with them. They need to know they are not alone. I tried to stay strong, but being able to weep with her was soothing for both of us.

Keep the lines of communication open even when they are hurting and may say they don’t. Those thoughts and emotions have to be worked through. This is a tough diagnosis.

Find ways to laugh. In the hospital everything was so depressing for us. So when we got the results we made a Snapchat video to share it with everyone. Somehow it lightened the mood and helped us embrace our new reality. cait6

Soak up these moments of bonding even though we all know we would rather bond over coffee dates and shopping trips and not hospital stays and long trips to see her specialist.

Do research and don’t be afraid to go with your gut (no pun intended). You know your son/daughter better than anyone else. Respect the doctors, but don’t be afraid to ask questions and have a voice in their treatment. You are your child’s best advocate.

My biggest encouragement is this, stop looking back. As a mom I want to turn back time. I want to fix it somehow. I want to change it all. Looking back only brings unnecessary guilt, sadness and regret.

Look forward. Find things to be thankful for. Do your best to give them the brightest future and speak life over them. Cherish every moment. And help them plan their future–which can be as bright as any other child.

To follow Cait and her family’s journey, check out her blog.