As your child grows, you will teach them how to be strong and compassionate without even knowing it.
When I was 20, I was given the news that it would likely be impossible for me to ever conceive a child naturally.
I’d just had my second major abdominal surgery after a life-threatening flare-up of ulcerative colitis. Due to the amount of pelvic scarring I had from the operations, my surgeon said my only chance of having a child would be through in vitro fertilization (IVF). And even then, chances were slim.
I left that appointment feeling shaken and numb. I’d always been keen on the idea of progressing in my career first, and then having children in my 30s.
Though I didn’t want children right at that moment, I felt like I’d had my chances of being a mother ripped away from me before I could even start trying.
I cried myself to sleep that night and for the next few nights afterward.
When my head gets overwhelmed by sadness, my brain has a way of bottling it all up and pushing it to the back of my mind as a way of protecting me. And that’s what happened with this.
I decided I was OK with what I was told. That maybe I didn’t want to be a mom anyway. Kids would be an inconvenience, right? I’d just focus on my career and be successful that way. At least I would have less responsibility.
I carried on with this mindset right up until I got pregnant by accident 4 years later.
I was just 8 months into a new relationship and, needless to say, it was a total shock for us both.
At first it felt like a joke. It had to be a false positive. But I took another test, and another… and another. And sure enough, that big bold plus sign showed up every time.
It didn’t matter that at the time my partner and I weren’t exactly in a long-term relationship — I knew instantly I was keeping the baby. I felt like it was a sign that it was meant to happen, and even though it wasn’t exactly great timing, I had this gut feeling that it was now or never.
My pregnancy was complicated. I spent the first trimester panicking that I was going to lose the baby, like it was some sort of sick joke that I was pregnant and that it would be taken away from me. But that never happened.
“How do you think you’ll cope when you have a chronic illness?”
“What if you need to go to the hospital?”
“What if your baby gets diagnosed with it, too?”
I shut all of these comments down because I knew in my heart that IBD wouldn’t stop me from being a good mom.
Let’s face it: Anyone can need to go to the hospital at any time. And while family history is a risk factor for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, it’s by no means the only risk factor.
I had my baby 4 months ago, and so far I’ve proven myself right.
If you’re a soon-to-be mom with IBD, I encourage you to tune out others’ skepticism, too.
Rather than skeptical questioning or concerns, these are some reassuring words of love I wish I had heard during my pregnancy:
- Having a chronic illness is not your fault. So please don’t blame yourself or feel guilty.
- Dealing with something that’s totally out of your control, day-in and day-out, shows that you have unbelievable strength and determination. These are the qualities you’re going to present to your baby as they continue to grow and understand you.
- Some days are going to be harder than others, but please don’t allow people to convince you that you won’t cope as a mother. You absolutely will. Motherhood comes with a number of trials, but you continue to learn and grow as time goes on.
- People will say things about your chronic illness and raising a baby because they don’t understand it. Don’t allow yourself to absorb cruel comments or criticism from people who have no expertise in what you’re going through.
- Having an IBD diagnosis doesn’t affect your ability to love your child. It doesn’t affect your ability to protect them. And these are the two most important parts of becoming a mother.
- Having a baby when you’re chronically ill can be anxiety inducing. But this is because you’re entering the unknown. An illness has no control over what type of mother you are. And as long as your baby knows that they’re safe and loved, that’s all that matters.
As your child grows, you will teach them how to be strong and compassionate without even knowing it. Your child will see how you manage day to day, and continue to be strong and fight through it for them.
You will teach them about hidden illnesses, and they will become more aware and understanding of the fact that not all conditions are visible.
There are so many people out there who dismiss invisible disabilities, but your child won’t be one of them. Your child will have empathy — all because of you.
And that’s an amazing trait to have.
Having a chronic illness does not make you a bad mom, and it shouldn’t stop you from fulfilling your dream of having children.
You are strong, determined, and inspirational — and any child would be lucky to have you as their mother.
Trust me: You’ve got this.
Hattie Gladwell is a mental health journalist, author, and advocate. She writes about mental illness in hopes of diminishing the stigma and to encourage others to speak out.