“Mommy has a tummy ache,” I told my daughter as I lay on the floor next to her while she played with her baby dolls. I was in the midst of an IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) flare-up and waves of pain were tearing through me. I felt exhausted and weak. Like a shell of myself. I was struck by an avalanche of thoughts. “I’m lazy. I should have more energy. What is wrong with me? I brought this on myself. She will never have the mother she deserves. I will never feel better. It’s all my fault.”
I had been diagnosed with IBS at age 23 and it seemed to get worse over time. I wanted to be a fun, energetic mom but I often felt tired and depleted. During flare-ups, I became a hermit and avoided social situations and often had to cancel plans with friends last minute due to symptoms. I’m so lucky that I have an amazing family and support system because I don’t know what I would have done without them. I struggled to appear “normal” so I could give people the illusion that I was fine, but inside I felt anything but fine.
The emotional distress IBS caused was almost worse than the physical discomfort. This paired with my anxiety disorder made things feel unbearable at times. I now know that gut issues can also make anxiety worse because of the gut-brain connection.
I wanted to get better for myself and my family but I didn’t know how or if it was even possible. After all, I had been through the ringer of invasive tests and treatments for years that often left me feeling worse than when I started. At the age of 23, I had a GI doctor tell me that I had the disease of a 90-year-old woman (what does that even mean??) and people my age shouldn’t have these symptoms. He prescribed me corticosteroids and when this didn’t work, he told me there was nothing he could do to help me.
Now I know that what I felt (and still feel) is real and that it’s ok to talk about it. The pain, the exhaustion, the shame, the guilt, the anxiety, the inconvenience and the frustration. These are REAL and valid feelings.
I am so thankful that I found naturopathic medicine a few years ago. My naturopath has helped me improve my health through guidance on nutrition, targeted supplements (that balance hormones and vitamin deficiencies) and by diagnosing and treating my SIBO, (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth). SIBO is now known to be a cause for IBS in many people.
I also worked with a holistic health coach who shifted my thinking to see food as a tool for healing and nourishing the body and the importance of mindful eating and living for that matter). Because every person is so different there are different answers for everyone which may involve a team of medical professionals that can provide the specific support you need.
Over the last year, I’ve had months at a time of feeling great! Not just ok, but great! I still have rough days/weeks and I may never be at 100% but knowing that my body has the ability to heal gives me hope. And the fact that the research in this field is growing by the minute (because there are so many people affected by it). Through this journey, I have learned that my health is worth fighting for.
As moms, we are all fighting our own invisible battles as we navigate motherhood. Whether it’s physical or mental, it is REAL and we should never feel ashamed about our struggles because they make us who we are. I used to feel scared to share my story but now I know that sharing my story, connecting with others who are struggling, and asking for help when I need it are actually signs of strength, not weakness.
If there are other mamas out there who struggle with chronic illness, I want you to know that you are not alone. Please feel free to share your story in the comments below. I want to send all my fellow mamas that are dealing with health issues (or just difficult times) healing energy and a virtual hug.
If you have IBS, check out the #IBelieveinYourStory campaign created by dietician and digestive health expert, Kate Scarlata. She believes that telling your story can be healing and can also help others feel less alone.