Natalie Hayden is a #teamHealthyWomen Contributor and this post is part of HealthyWomen's Real Women, Real Stories series.
One year ago, my life changed in the best possible way. I became a mom. But, not any mom. A mom with chronic illness. Parenthood is daunting, no matter what, especially your first time around. Throw in an unpredictable, often debilitating condition and tackling the role is even more challenging.
In talking with fellow women who battle inflammatory bowel disease, there always seems to be a hesitation, a concern and self-doubt about the prospect of carrying a baby. I totally get that mentality. It's almost inconceivable to imagine your body—the same body that brings you so much anguish—creating a miracle.
Becoming a mom one year ago restored my self-love.
Becoming a mom has enabled me to see all that I'm capable of, even when I'm weighed down by fatigue. Becoming a mom has made every poke and prod, injection, and procedure less of a pain—because now I have so much more to fight for.
When I stare at that focal point on the wall as a needle breaks my skin, or when getting out of bed for the day is a struggle, I immediately think of my darling Reid. This is the boy who changed my life, who shook my world and who shows me every single day that my illness didn't rob me of experiencing the most perfect gift.
Mom guilt is real. If you're a mom with a chronic illness, instead of focusing on your limitations—or when the next flare-up could happen—soak in the moments of joy you feel and the happiness your innocent sweet child displays on a daily basis. Know that focusing on your needs and practicing self-care is paramount because by feeding your soul and lowering your stress, you are protecting your health for the sake of being there for your family.
As patients, we evolve. As people we grow. Each chapter of our lives matters and is part of our story. Embrace the good and even the bad—because it brought you to where you are today. Pain and flares are fleeting and as we all know, so is youth. Our babies grow up so fast, we must hold the feel-good moments close and not dwell on past hurt or what could happen tomorrow.
Someday, when my sweet boy is older, he will understand that mommy isn't like the rest. But my hope is that he'll realize what an integral role and life-changing impact he's had on me since the moment I held him in my arms for the first time.
As we sang "Happy Birthday" and my son played with his smash cake, I thanked God for keeping me out of the ER and hospital for Reid's entire first year of life. I thanked God for showing me that my patient journey is about a lot more than just me—it's about my whole family. And there's no one I'd rather stay strong or fight for, than them.
A version of this article originally appeared on Lights Camera Crohn's.