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).

 

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.

Click here to follow her blog.