An open letter to all new moms with Crohn’s Disease
Dear Fellow Crohn’s Moms,
I have been a parent for eleven weeks and there’s no denying its the best job in the world. But it’s also so difficult when trying to battle a postpartum flare at the same time. Everyone finds being a new mom overwhelming I’m sure, but it's not something we see talked about too often with Crohn’s Disease. I thought I’d write a letter to all of you who are in the same boat as me; in the hope, it brings some comfort and reassurance.
I am in awe of all my body was able to do during pregnancy
First of all, it’s ok to look back on your pregnancy longingly. Actually, I have no idea if it is but its something I keep doing, so I do hope it's normal! Being pregnant with a chronic illness feels extra special. Because not only are you thinking: ‘I can’t believe my body is doing this,’ but you’re also thinking ‘I can’t believe, despite my illness, despite all my medication, despite all those years I felt like my body was failing, it’s really doing this!’ I am still in awe that I actually had the perfect pregnancy; since my body has never felt perfect since my symptoms started at 16 (and even then, I didn’t exactly love my body as a teenager!). And my bump symbolised all of that; a sign that my body was growing and nourishing something else-so I miss it! A lot!
For some of us, pregnancy also represents the time when we feel healthiest. It can feel like we come down to earth with a real bump after having a baby. Whether it’s days, weeks, months or for the lucky ones, years after; it's common to experience a postpartum flare-up. But this one is most likely the hardest one you’ll ever get through-since not only does it seem a cruel contrast to how well you might have felt in pregnancy but you don’t necessarily have the time and resources to help yourself. It’s hard enough surviving on zero sleep and dealing with a crying baby as it is; without worrying about where on earth you can put the baby whilst you dash to the bathroom (note: the bathroom floor-with a changing mat of course- is fine; they won’t be scarred for life!)
I learned to accept help
One of the things I learnt so early on is to accept help. I know some moms really struggle with having time without their little one or having others feed and hold them. For me, I had to throw that out the door pretty quickly. I could not have coped without my mom, mother in law, friends who would hold the baby whilst I showered/napped/tried to feed myself nutritious food/ went to my counseling and doctors appointments.
Sometimes, I feel guilty as my baby is 11 weeks old and he’s already had several ‘sleepovers' at his grandmas. I know moms who would never dream of leaving them until they are much older. You have to do what works for you but at the same time, there are no prizes for the mom who refuses help. Sometimes I don’t want to leave my baby so I’ll go with him to my mother's who will cook my dinner, take him so I can nap and just fuss over me like all mom’s do. For the rest of the week, I am such a better mom for it and I can always guarantee the following day that my belly is so much happier than the rest of the week-since I’m fed, had a good night sleep, am calm and can devote my energies to my son. It takes a team to help me live with my illness, so why should it be any different to help me raise my baby with it?
Mental health with Crohn's and a new baby
As I mentioned counseling earlier, do remember your mental health at this point too? Mental health problems are common in those of us with Crohn’s Disease and its also likely for those in the ‘fourth trimester’ too. One thing I have struggled with the most is my illness impacting my baby. I think everyone loses that feeling of invincibility when they have a baby. It is terrifying having someone relying on you and fearing you might be too ill to take care of them. My anxiety of not doing my best by him or something terrible happening to me is only heightened by the cycle of blood tests and doctor appointments we go through with Crohn’s. So I am continuing with the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy I started during my pregnancy in the hope it helps.
We are fighters because of Crohn's disease
But finally, although it is such a difficult period, I take comfort in the fact us Crohnies have plenty of qualities that make us good mothers too. If nothing else, we’re fighters; and I know I’ll fight for him to have the best life just as much as I fight my body to be healthier. We’re resilient, we’re strong and we know how to cope with adversity. So whilst it is difficult to be a mother with Crohn’s Disease, perhaps we should take comfort in that living with this illness has actually prepared us for the biggest challenge of our lives?
How open are you about being diagnosed with IBD?