In fact, I’m embracing the ways living with my illness has helped to prepare me for what’s to come.
I have ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease that perforated my bowel, meaning I had to have my large intestine surgically removed and I was given a stoma bag.
Ten months later, I had a reversal called an ileo-rectal anastomosis, which means my small intestine was joined to my rectum to allow me to go to the toilet ‘normally’ again.
Except, it didn’t quite work out like that.
My new normal is using the toilet between 6 and 8 times a day and having chronic diarrhea because I no longer have the colon to form the stool. It means dealing with scar tissue and abdominal pain and occasional rectal bleeding from inflamed areas. It means dehydration from my body being unable to absorb nutrients correctly, and fatigue from having an autoimmune disease.
It also means taking things easy when I need to. Taking a day off work when I need to rest, because I’ve learned that I’m more proactive and creative when I’m not burning myself out.
I no longer feel guilty for taking a sick day because I know that it’s what my body needs to keep going.
It means canceling plans when I’m too fatigued in order to get a decent night’s sleep. Yes, it may be letting people down, but I’ve also learned that those who love you will want what’s best for you and won’t mind if you can’t meet up for a coffee.
Having a chronic illness means having to take extra care of myself — especially now that I’m pregnant, because I’m caring for two.
Since announcing my pregnancy at 12 weeks, I’ve had a multitude of different responses. Of course, people have said congratulations, but there have also been an influx of questions, such as “How will you cope with this?”
People assume that because my body has been through so much medically, I won’t be able to handle a pregnancy and a newborn baby.
But these people are wrong.
In fact, going through so much has forced me to become stronger. It’s forced me to look out for number one. And now that number one is my baby.
I don’t believe my chronic illness will affect me as a mother. Yes, I might have some rough days, but I’m lucky to have a supportive family. I’ll make sure that I do ask for and take support when I need it — and never be ashamed of that.
But having multiple surgeries and dealing with an autoimmune disease has made me resilient. I don’t doubt things will be hard at times, but lots of new mums struggle with newborn babies. That’s nothing new.
For so long, I’ve had to think about what’s best for me. And a lot of people don’t do that.
A lot of people say yes to things they don’t want to do, eat things they don’t want to eat, see people they don’t want to see. Whereas years of being chronically ill has made me, in some forms ‘selfish,’ which I think is a good thing, because I’ve built up the strength and determination to do the same for my baby.
I will be a strong, courageous mother, and I will speak up when I’m not okay with something. I will speak up when I need something. I will speak up for myself.
I don’t feel guilty about becoming pregnant, either. I don’t feel like my child will be missing out on anything.
Due to my surgeries, I was told I wouldn’t be able to conceive naturally, so it was a complete surprise when it happened unplanned.
Because of this, I see this baby as my miracle baby, and they’ll experience nothing but undying love and thankfulness that they’re mine.
My baby will be lucky to have a mum like me because they’ll never experience any other kind of love quite like the love I’m going to give them.
In some ways, I think having a chronic illness will have a positive impact on my child. I will be able to teach them about hidden disabilities and not judging a book by its cover. I will be able to teach them to be empathetic and compassionate because you never know what someone is going through. I will teach them to be supportive and accepting of people with disabilities.
My child will be brought up to be a good, decent human. I hope to be a role model for my child, to tell them what I’ve been through and what I go through. For them to see that despite that, I still stand up and try to be the absolute best mother I can.
And I hope they look at me and see strength and determination, love, courage, and self-acceptance.
Because that’s what I hope to see in them someday.
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.