Why I Didn’t Let My IBD Diagnosis Stop Me from Becoming a Mom

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Jessica Caron was a carefree college student on spring break when she first noticed what would later be revealed as the symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Just 20 years old and heaing off to a relaxing week in the sun with friends on Grand Bahama Island, the symptoms hit her out of the blue: nausea, stomachaches, intense vomiting.
The unpleasant reality of living with Crohn’s suddenly became, as Caron calls it, “the new normal.”
On her popular blog, Chronically Jess, which chronicles her experiences with the disease, Caron writes that she was suddenly “thrown into chronic illness with force,” going from life as usual one day to suddenly dealing with the stigmas of Crohn’s right away.
She describes it as a “loss of control, fear of my own body, embarrassment, pain, sadness, anxiety, hiding the truth of my experience, and the guilt of how MY illness could quickly ruin things for everyone around me.”
She received a formal diagnosis at 21.
Flash forward nearly a decade later, and Caron is now a mother of two, sharing her experiences living with Crohn’s with a wide audience through speaking engagements and her writing.
She’s working with the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) as a patient advocate for its new IBD Parenthood Project, an online resource that tries to dispel misconceptions and answer questions that women living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — and their healthcare providers — might have while juggling family planning, pregnancy, and managing a condition like Crohn’s.
“It’s incredibly important that women don’t feel they have to go through this alone. There are tools out there to reference, and women should talk to their doctor about this as early and often as they can,” Caron told Healthline. “It’s great that there is this resource out there for women.”
Thinking about it early
IBD is an umbrella term for a group of conditions, such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, that cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.
IBD can be highly variable. There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. At the moment, there’s no known cure.
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 1.3 percent of adults — or 3 million people — received an IBD diagnosis in the United States.
The numbers have been increasing. Diagnoses stood at 2 million people in 1999.
Living with the complexities of Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis while planning to start a family can be stressful. All of the usual work and care that goes into ensuring a healthy pregnancy is coupled with worrying about flare-ups, eating the right foods, and collaborating with a team of medical professionals.
Caron, who’s currently working on a master’s degree in healthcare delivery sciences at Dartmouth College, wasn’t even ready to start a family when she started asking her doctors about how to manage the disease and pregnancy.
Like many people with IBD, Caron says her road to diagnosis was frustrating.
She had doctors early on who dismissed her concerns as stomachaches and common colds. In fact, she writes on her blog that one doctor waved her concerns away with an explanation that she just had the flu.
“During our brief encounter,” she writes, “he feigned interest in my file, looked up, sighed, and replied with a sense of boredom, ‘Jess, what you have is the flu. I need you to suck it up here.’”
It took a year between the appearance of her first symptoms during that college trip and her official diagnosis.
It was a relief to be able to finally put a name to her symptoms.
“Crohn’s wasn’t even on my radar when I started experiencing symptoms. I had never even heard of it,” Caron said.