I’ve partnered with the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) to bring you this blog post. Read on to learn more about a new resource that was just launched to help women navigate IBD and pregnancy.
I think all of us moms can agree that motherhood (especially new motherhood) can be one of the craziest rollercoaster rides that we’ll ever experience. While it’s a time of true joy as you bring your little one into this world and watch him/her turn into their own tiny human, it can also be a period of uncertainty, fear, and sooooo much self-doubt. And I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and it took a while to realize that… you know what? I wasn’t supposed to.
In talking with my Grammie about raising her own seven (!!) children, I realized that child-rearing was much simpler back then. As long as your kids were fed, bathed, and loved, you were a good mother. Now, however, new moms are hit with perfect and unrealistic images of motherhood, especially when it comes to our social media feeds. And don’t even get me started with the “perfect parents” who love to tell you that you’re doing motherhood wrong every step of the way. Geesh, everyone has an opinion!
There really is so much conflicting information about what’s really right for our babies, especially when bringing home a newborn. As mothers, if we don’t keep up with the pressure to “do it right” (which is different for every single mom and baby), if we are unable to breastfeed due to a medical reason (or pure choice!), or if our babies don’t sleep through the night within the prescribed time frame, the first person we blame is ourselves. Because if we can’t immediately figure out the very best way to care for our baby, then we’ve failed as mothers.
I have never felt this way more then when I faced one of the scariest and hardest experiences of my life shortly after giving birth to Quinn. Unfortunately, my ulcerative colitis flared, and I was going to the bathroom 30+ times a day and seeing a toilet full of blood, all while trying to care for a newborn. I knew I needed to do something to get better, but I experienced so much fear, guilt, and shame about trying a new treatment that might negatively affect Quinn.
At the time, I was taking steroids, which both my GI doctor and OB/GYN said were safe for breastfeeding. However, a lactation consultant told me otherwise, which, of course, freaked me out. After that conversation, we started Quinn on formula while my doctors encouraged me to keep pumping, label the milk with the dose of steroids I was on at the time, and freeze it for later if it made me feel more comfortable. We waited for Quinn to get a little bigger (I figured the more he weighed, the less of an effect it would have on his body), and eventually began mixing small amounts of breastmilk with his formula. I still felt uneasy, however, and I never really was able to determine if it was truly safe.
Eventually, because the flare I was experiencing was so bad, I made the decision to start a biologic and to stop breastfeeding. I still remember crying big ol’ alligator tears when I finally came to this conclusion. It was also, by far, one of the hardest, gut-wrenching decisions I’ve ever made because I actually felt terrible for taking care of myself.
During this time, I felt every emotion ever: from inadequacy as a mom, to fears that I was doing something wrong or harmful to my baby. Much of this was due to the fact that I had no real resources to turn to as a new mom who also suffered from IBD. I didn’t really know how treatment would impact pregnancy or breastfeeding, and I had a lot of doubts about the information I did have. Looking back, if I had known what I know now about IBD and the treatment options, I would have given myself far more grace for taking care of myself. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that in order to raise a healthy baby, I needed to first be a healthy mom.
That’s why I’m so excited about the IBD Parenthood Project. The resources on this site are absolutely invaluable to women with IBD at all stages of family planning – from a patient toolkit that contains everything you need to know about IBD and pregnancy, to answers to FAQs such as what treatments are safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. I was saddened to learn that the percentage of women with IBD who are voluntarily childless is three times greater than the rest of the general population, and I can totally relate because I was hesitant to start a family as well.
With a resource like the IBD Parenthood Project, women with IBD can rest easy knowing that they have a supportive place to turn to when they have questions, concerns, or just want more information. Knowledge is power, and the more informed we are, the more comfortable we can be with the decisions we make for ourselves and our children.
For me, the best choice was starting a biologic to get my flare under control. For another mom, the best choice might be completely different – and that’s ok. Mommy-shaming is REAL and sometimes the worst offenders are other moms themselves. A lot of attention is given to doing what’s best for your baby, and while I wholeheartedly agree, we can’t ignore the other half of the equation, which is making sure that mom is supported as well. Part of this is encouraging mothers to take care of themselves during this special (yet stressful) time because we need to be the healthiest versions of ourselves to take care of our babies to the best of our ability. Ultimately, our jobs as mothers is to love our children. We’re all doing our best, and “best” looks different for everyone.