Diagnosed with an Autoimmune Disease as a New Mom

Adorable New Baby
Photo Credit: Forty Seven Moments Photography

I suddenly became very ill at 25 years of age and just two months postpartum with my first child. Managing a colicky baby while my husband was out of the country on a work trip, the symptoms came out of nowhere. Doubled over in cramping pain, fever, nauseous, and running to the bathroom, I found myself afraid and uncertain about what to do.

Relying On Family For Help

Thankfully my parents lived close enough to care for my baby. They also helped me find a doctor who could treat me. After that, I underwent a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Ulcerative Colitis (Inflammatory Bowel Disease).

I was told it was common for postpartum women to experience this as hormones are rapidly changing. Immediately, I was put on steroids and other medications to turn my symptoms around. Up until that point, I had always been a healthy person. Other than the occasional cold or headache, I had no need for daily medication. I trusted the doctors knew best and would steer me in the right direction.

Cute baby 3 months
Exhausted, sick, and headed back to work (wedding photographer).

The Decline

Unfortunately, my symptoms continued to worsen. My body was overcome with dehydration, fatigue, and pain. Next, I was admitted to the hospital to receive IV fluids and stronger doses of medication. My family brought my daughter to visit me. Sadly, I was so weak and exhausted I didn’t have the strength to hold her. By day 8, my symptoms had turned around enough for me to be discharged. It felt so good to be free to recover in the comfort of my home.

Shortly after my diagnosis and into my treatment, I started experiencing excruciating pain in my knees. I was told this was due to arthritis from having an autoimmune disease. The pain kept me up in tears all night long. No amount of pain medication lifted the discomfort I was in. During the night, my husband and I scrolled through hundreds of images of gorgeous beaches around the world. We chatted about a dream vacation to the Maldives with crystal clear waters, blue skies, and luscious palm trees. Holding onto that imagery in my mind helped me relax enough until the pain subsided on its own.

Empowering Myself 

I managed to obtain full remission from ulcerative colitis within the year. However, if you have ever been on steroids for any length of time, you know how troubling the side effects are. To eliminate the excessive weight gain and “moon face,” I decided to research a diet for ulcerative colitis. That is when my health journey made a switch from strictly modern medicine to an integrative approach using natural methods to help me obtain optimal health. I read the book Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall and learned about reducing inflammation in the body through the Specific Carbohydrate Diet.

Visiting our new niece. Steroid treatment side effect “moon face.”

This was a new way of life for me. I purchased a yogurt maker to ferment and ingest as many probiotics as I could. I made my very first pot of bone broth and learned how nutritious and healing homemade gelatin is for the gut. Eliminating inflammatory foods was key, so I cut out gluten, grains, most dairy, refined sugar, and all processed foods. I was determined to take my health back, and this way of eating helped me get there. The diet helped me look and feel more like myself again, and I was immensely grateful.

Growing My Family

Almost two years later, I became pregnant with my second child, and instead of flaring postpartum, I had symptoms develop in my second trimester. My doctor put me on steroids again, which helped get the autoimmune disease under control before it became more serious. Thanks to the medicine, I was feeling back to normal with few side effects (or so I thought). My knees began to hurt again. One morning I woke up with stiffness in my left elbow and couldn’t fully extend my arm. I dismissed it to sleeping on it awkwardly and resumed life as usual. My doctors chalked my joint pain up to arthritis, and I began seeing a rheumatologist for injections in my joints which never seemed to help.

In December of 2009, I delivered a healthy baby girl! This time around, I was able to experience all the joys surrounding having a newborn without any health issues. I enjoyed breastfeeding exclusively, something I had to abruptly stop doing with my first due to severe dehydration, hospitalization, and strong medications.

Side Effects From Medication

One day while picking my oldest up from preschool, I slid on a wet mat outside. Something popped in my knee. Unable to walk, I crawled back into the building and called my mom to get the girls and my husband to take me to the orthopedist. An MRI revealed I had Avascular Neurosis in my left knee (bone death) and cartilage breaking off. I was only 30 years old.

This was all a result of being on high doses of steroids but was more typical in patients who had been on steroids for an extended period of time, as in years, not just one month. With a heavy heart, the doctor told me that there was no cure for this bone disease and that I would need a full knee replacement one day. He also warned that I could never go on steroid treatment again due to the extreme response my body experienced from it.

Miraculously, two years later, I experienced a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum without any ulcerative colitis symptoms or flare-ups and no need for medical intervention. This was such a gift because I knew I could not fall back on steroids to get me into remission had I needed them.

Over time my knees continued to weaken. The three minor surgeries I had on them were just band-aid treatments to hold me over. I made it eight years from the diagnosis of bone disease before it was time to have a full replacement in my right knee at age 36.

Moving Forward

Almost 15 years since I was diagnosed with UC, there have been many ups and downs. I often wish my body would be healed and I could live an easy life without the burden of disease. However, I am overwhelmingly grateful for all I have learned about healing my body naturally.

I am also more in tune with my body than ever before. This struggle with an autoimmune disease has allowed me to meet and relate to others with chronic health issues. We have been able to support, encourage, and learn from one another along the way. I look forward to sharing more about that in future blog posts.

Do you or someone you know have an autoimmune disease diagnosis? I understand how challenging it is and would love to support you along this journey.


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