I once asked my mother if there is a perfect time to start a family. “There isn’t,” she said. It reminded me that planning is good, but always be flexible and understanding with life. Life is fluid. It will change on you. So far, I’ve learned that life is in a constant state of flux. And parenthood with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is completely unpredictable.
In 2008, I was on track to becoming a television director and producer when suddenly I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I remained determined to continue my life as it was, and I wasn’t proactive in learning about living with IBD. A year later, I gave birth to a baby boy, whom I've nicknamed Hippo, and my life and disease changed overnight. I spent most of that time trying to blend motherhood and life with IBD — with little success.
But now, after seven years of life as a parent with IBD, I’ve learned some tips and tricks to help me through my days so I can better enjoy my life with my son.
1. Ask for Help
When my son was born, family and friends were eager to help. People would come by and watch the baby, pick up my meds or dinner for us, or take Hippo for a few days when his father worked out of town. We often used a local service that provided amazing last-minute babysitters that were available if I needed to go to a doctor’s appointment or the ER.
You should never be ashamed of asking for help, especially right after a life-changing event like having a baby. And if none of your friends or family members are available, you can always hire a babysitter to come and watch your little one for a few hours, or hire a cleaning service to tidy things up.
2. Find Baby Products That Will Help You Manage Flares
When I returned home from the hospital with Hippo, the baby carrier and stroller were my best friends. I had one carrier and stroller for inside the house only. Because of dehydration, arthritis, and malnutrition, my baby was often too heavy in my arms, so I wore him in a carrier at all times. I wore Hippo to the bathroom when I was home alone with him and experienced urgency during a flare.
I also kept something I called “The Flare-Up Box” next to my bed for days when I was feeling ill. “The Flare-Up Box” had dry snacks, drinks, formula, and food pouches for both of us ready at a moment’s notice. Whenever I was stuck in bed on a flare-up day, I took comfort in knowing that everything I needed for myself and my son was neatly stored in a box just inches away. That definitely helped alleviate stress, too.
3. Map Out the Best Playdate Locations Before You Leave the House
When I was figuring out where to go with my son on playdates, I quickly learned that an indoor playground was the perfect solution. The enclosed space meant he had a safe place to play where I didn’t have to worry about struggling to chase after him. A lot of locations have food, coffee, and wine for parents. And if you're lucky, they may even have free Wi-Fi!
4. Consider Buying Memberships to Save Costs
The idea of a museum or amusement park trip can be daunting if you have an IBD. It’s a lot of money and you may not be able to make it through the entire day. A membership to a museum or an annual pass to an amusement park is not only a cost saver, but also helps ease the pressure of spending an entire day at one location.
We have annual passes to Disneyland and all of the local museums we love. Being able to say, “We are just going to Disneyland for the evening to ride a few rides,” is a freeing feeling. We’ve been able to enjoy the entire park over the course of a year.
Also, most amusements parks have scooters you can rent, or disabled passes, which I sometimes use. That way I can get through the park without having to stand in long lines when the urge to visit a bathroom hits. It makes the whole experience a lot more enjoyable.
5. Tell Your Child About Your Condition
I am very open with Hippo about IBD and my surgery. I needed him to be as comfortable and open with the situation as I am. He understands that sometimes he can’t rely on me to take care of everything for him, so we work together to make him more independent. I leave items like cereal, yogurt, fruit, bottles of water, and individual milk containers in places he can reach in the cabinets and refrigerator. He also knows how to find all the important numbers in my phone and draft simple text messages and emails in case of an emergency.
6. Create a Support Network of Other Parents
The stresses of parenthood, along with the emotional and financial burden of a chronic condition, led Hippo’s father and I to separate. Suddenly I was a single mother. I moved back to my home state to be closer to my family and one of the best IBD centers in the country. But in doing that, I lost my daily help from local friends. Outside support became crucial. Hippo and I have built relationships with people in little league, at school, and at church. If ever there's a time I can’t pick him up from school or get him to practice, I have people I can call. It’s great to know that Hippo and I are never alone.
These are just a few tips I’ve learned over the years that have helped soothe the storm of fear and anxiety. Hopefully they will bring you some comfort and relief, too. Every day, I experience joys and frustrations as a mom with ulcerative colitis. But the joys of mom life always outweigh the frustrations of IBD. Every time.