Autoimmune Pregnancy: My First Trimester with Ulcerative Colitis
When I got pregnant I searched the internet and social platforms like CRAZY. I wanted to find women who suffered from Ulcerative Colitis and were pregnant. I wanted to know their experience, fears, and how they handled it all. I honestly couldn’t find much…it really discouraged me.
Luckily, one of my good friends had introduced me years ago to another friend who suffered from Ulcerative Colitis and has a healthy little boy and a baby girl on the way. I reached out to her and she became my lifeline the first trimester.
I want to be that lifeline for other women suffering from autoimmune disease and want to start a family.
Because I know how scary it can be and how alone you feel in the struggle. So here is my journey through the first trimester and what I experienced….
A Steriod IV that Scared Me to Death
The day after we conceived our son (which we obviously didn’t know at the time) I flared. I was bleeding, passing lining and mucous, and all the energy was sucked out of me. I couldn’t shake the flare. Usually suppositories helped calm the bleeding within 2-3 days but a week straight of suppositories and my flare would not let up.
I was nervous that if I was pregnant the flare going to hurt the baby. So I went to a hydration IV clinic I heard about, hoping to get some fluids and nutrients into my body. I had never been to one of these clinics so I just trusted what the nurse was telling me. I explained there was a chance I was pregnant and that I had been flaring for a couple weeks. She mixed my “IV cocktail” and hooked me up to the machines. She explained to me that she wanted to add a steroid into the IV. I told her that I do not usually take steroids for flares and that my body is extremely sensitive, so it made me nervous. She told me this steroid will have no side effects like other steroids and that it would be fine––again, I trusted her. And honestly I was so tired and sick, I could hardly even keep my eyes open or comprehend what she was all telling me.
After the IV was done I felt super light headed. They told me it was because of the lavender EO that was going through my nose oxygen during the IV. Again, trusted it, and was on my way. I went home and had diarrhea 8 times. I was in so much discomfort. I also didn’t sleep for the next 48 hours. I was so dehydrated, sleep deprived, and felt awful. The next day I went grocery shopping and almost passed out in the cereal aisle.
I called my husband who told me to get home right away and offered to call me an uber because he was out of town. I was so scared what was happening to my body. For the next few days I could not stop shaking and felt like my body was giving out. I luckily had my annual appointment with my OBGYN that week so I could ask her some questions.
I explained what happened and that I may be pregnant (even though we wouldn’t know for another week or so) and she asked for me to get the list of what was all in that IV.
I got the list from the clinic and sent it to her. She called me and said, “please don’t take that steriod again if you are pregnant. It can cause some serious birth defects.” I was LIVID. I could not believe the nurse gave me the steroid knowing I may be pregnant and that it can cause problems––and also saying it would give me little to no side effects when I felt like my body was giving out for 4 days afterwards.
A week later we found out we were pregnant and that IV still haunts me to this day. I felt like I was a failure as a mother. I didn’t protect my baby and take the right precautions or ask the right questions.
The OBGYN did say it was one time and thinks everything will be just fine, but it still will always be on my mind.
If you are getting treatment for a flare while pregnant, or think you are pregnant, do NOT be hesitant on getting second opinions.
Finding the Right OBGYN and GI for ME
My OBGYN retired and I went almost 2 years without a visit…I HATE FINDING NEW DOCTORS. I don’t know why…especially because I wasn’t totally ga-ga over my last one. But I found my current OB and loved her from day one. She made me feel so comfortable and okay with asking questions. I’m someone who likes to know my options and told facts––but also with a level of bedside manner. And she is all of those things.
I also had to find a new GI doctor when we found out we were pregnant. The GI and OBGYN will work together to figure out what birth plans are right for you and also how to handle flares and issues during pregnancy.
Having an autoimmune pregnancy can be really scary and you will have a lot of questions. Find doctors you feel comfortable with and trust. It’s SO important!!
Diet and Autoimmune Pregnancy
There’s a really neat thing that can happen when you have an autoimmune pregnancy. You may be able to tolerate foods you couldn’t before!
When you become pregnant your immune system surpresses. If it didn’t, your body would reject your growing baby because it is a foreign object in your body.
So for some women, this means that your immune system takes a chill pill and you can eat foods that would regularly put you in a flare. For me, it was salad and raw veggies. FINALLY. I love salad and always have such a hard time with raw. Even better, it would help provide nutrients to my growing babe.
Now, to be the downer, I have heard that it’s extremely common for moms to flare after pregnancy or “relapse” after delivery. It makes sense as your body goes through so much during delivery and your hormones shift so drastically. But it’s a scary reality that I’m just choosing to not put on the forefront of my mind at this time!
I am also going to note, I still leave out MANY triggers in my pregnancy diet. I still am 100% gluten free and stay away from dairy. I also still don’t tolerate red meat very well so have stayed away from that.
My advice: If you notice you can eat things you couldn’t before, maybe pasta sauce or smoothies, still eat these in moderation. I learned the hard way! Too much and your body can still reject it. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.
It’s important to have a balanced, healthy diet during your pregnancy. Eat the very best you can while still keeping your autoimmune in mind. Just because you don’t flare from chocolate all of a sudden does not mean you should go crazy and buy every kit-kat bar you pass in the grocery store!
Supplements and Autoimmune Pregnancy
I wish I had started taking my prenatal earlier. That’s a big regret and something I will definitely do before we try to conceive again.
Start planning and prepping your body now! Take your prenatals, get your flares under control, and take care of your body. It will make for a much smoother pregnancy!
But I am not gonna lie, I’ve killed it at the supplement game. I’ve been very strict on making sure I get my vitamins and supplements in every day. With Ulcerative Colitis I do not absorb nutrients that well––so getting these in my body every day are crucial for my little one’s development. I even take extra folate because I want to be sure it’s getting absorbed.
I will go into detail in another post on my specific supplements and why I’m taking them, but right now I’m taking a Prebiotics, a Prenatal, Vitamin D, Calcium, and Folate. I also took magnesium first trimester but stopped that in my second trimester. My doctor also recommended a B Vitamin to help my morning sickness.
First Trimester Symptoms
Tricky thing about Ulcerative Colitis and pregnancy, some normal pregnancy symptoms are 10x scarier because you don’t know if it’s the colitis or something happening with your little miracle.
I experienced A LOT of cramping in my first trimester. I was mortified. I constantly thought I was losing the baby and every trip to the bathroom I prayed I would not see blood.
I made sure to keep in close touch with my OBGYN if things got worse. Luckily, everything was fine. My friend who I mentioned above with UC also experienced a lot of cramping in her pregnancy and reassured me that it didn’t always mean the worst.
I also just had so much fear in general of losing the baby. I know so many women who have lost babies and it was always in the back of my mind. Not to mention, no one really talks about the first four weeks of pregnancy before you even get the positive on the test! That was SUCH a stressful month for me. Especially with the IV fiasco.
I also had to stop taking a lot of the natural sleep aids that helped me tremendously before pregnancy. CBD oil helped me go from waking up 10-15 times a night to about 5––HUGE improvement! Also certain essential oils I loved weren’t safe for first trimester so those had to go––along with some of my favorite herbal teas. So needless to say, I’ve slept like shit all through the pregnancy so far. But I’ve come to accept that. No pregnancy pillow is helping this girl!
Another huge symptom for me was my morning sickness. Correction, all day sickness. I felt SO queasy my first trimester. The food aversions were so real too. The THOUGHT of food made me want to vomit.
Even the thought of pizza made me almost throw up on my dogs head once when we were snuggling on the couch.
That part worried me because all I was able to eat was my gluten free bread, crackers, and potatoes. Nothing else. I was afraid I wasn’t getting enough nutrients to our growing baby. But my OBGYN reassured me that the baby was SO tiny then and that he didn’t need that much food from me yet. She encouraged me to keep taking my supplements and just do the best I could.
Now the fatigue. HOLY EFF. I have never experienced exhaustion like that before. And I know, having a newborn is going to be way more exhausting (if one more mom tells me this I will pull my extensions out). But let me just sit in my first trimester sorrow here, people. I WAS TIRED. I don’t think I got off the couch much that whole first trimester. I worked from the couch and pretty much stayed there.
I’ve never been an adult napper. Maybe took 2 in college when I was hungover. But you bet your sweet ass I was napping HARD that whole first trimester!!
I also experienced HORRIBLE hormonal acne. My back was covered in cysts for months and they have even left scars. I plan to do a pregnancy acne post soon so keep an eye out for that!
Can we talk mood swings??? I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to punch my husband or hug him more in my life.
I cried over not having mac and cheese in the house, I cried over a toothpaste commercial, I threw my wedding ring at my husband (that was a bad night!), the littlest stupid things would happen and I would laugh so hard I would be in tears, I needed my husband to cuddle me for hours at times, I had to leave the house and go park for an hour listening to music in my car in a parking lot––just so. many. hormones.
Dr. Google. He’s always there to tell me that I’m dying and that my baby will have 5 arms and probably be neon green. It’s just how he rolls.
I’ve always turned to him for any ailment. My body does some WEIRD stuff and I always want to know what it could be. Sadly, there’s always the horror stories and worst scenarios that pop up first.
I’ve Googled A LOT during this pregnancy. Even last night I was googling blood clots in legs because my right leg has had a knot in it for like a year, and well, yeah. So of course I find the most terrifying stories about pregnancy and blood clots and didn’t fall asleep for hours.
My advice is to limit your Googling as much as possible during your pregnancy––I know, that’s going to be very difficult. Especially if this is your first pregnancy.
Turn to close, pregnant friends or family and your DOCTORS. My OBGYN has an online messaging system that they get back usually within 24-48 hours. So if I have some questions or symptoms I always shoot her a message. She has told me that if somethings seems really off and is a pressing matter, to call the office and don’t hesitate.
Do not be afraid to get a hold of your doctor. If something is causing you worry, ask them for guidance, not Dr. Google.
Learning to “Let Go” of My Lady Boss
Autoimmune disease and pregnancy scared me. Pregnancy and being a business owner? That mortified me.
When we found out we were pregnant I was SO happy. I couldn’t believe that little pee stick actually said “Pregnant”.
But the happiness was short lived. All I could think about was my clients, and how (I thought) this pregnancy meant I would let them down.
Here I didn’t even know if I could get pregnant or have a healthy pregnancy––and was given the most amazing miracle––but I wouldn’t allow myself to enjoy it. I was mortified to tell our clients I wouldn’t be able to photograph their weddings alongside my husband. I was so afraid of their reactions. Would they hate me? Would they think I ruined their wedding day? Would they bash us on social media for starting a family? My mind went to every dark place.
I had no energy, no drive, and was feeling depressed. The most depressed and low I’ve felt in a long time.
I spent days and nights crying to my husband about all of my fears about our business. When those pregnancy symptoms started to hit I couldn’t function. I tried to edit some wedding photos and the moving of the cursor on my screen made me instantly head to the bathroom. I also came down with the flu (and currently in it for the second time) and was bedridden for ANOTHER week once I started to kind of feel better from my pregnancy symptoms. I thought I lost it all for us. Everything I built and we built together. Gone.
Then one night my husband told me something that will stick with me for the rest of my life. He said, “Heather, you are allowed to be pregnant. You are allowed to be a mom. And you are allowed to have a family of your own.”
I spent a decade building this business and thought I was going to lose it all. I was so blind as to what I was gaining––A SON.
Any time I worry about my business future and where I want it to all go, I remind myself of what my husband told me, “I’m allowed to have a family.” I’ve even taking the root of his amazing encouragement and applied it to everything else, “I’m allowed to have a family AND have a career. I’m allowed to be a stay at home mom IF I want to be. I’m allowed to take days off to heal. I’m allowed to be happy and enjoy my life. I’m allowed to do whatever the eff I need to for my family to be safe, happy, and thriving.”
Pregnancy will make you start to question many things in your life, good and bad. My advice is to take my husbands advice, start with saying, “I’m allowed to…”
You ARE allowed to be everything you want to be in this life. A mother, a lady boss, both, or neither. It’s your life. And you deserve to life it in the ways that bring you the most joy. Life is too damn short not to.
A Strong Support System
I’m not gonna lie, this one has always been hard for me. I have so many wonderful people surrounding me and I know many are always willing to lend a hand, an ear, or anything else I may need.
But I’ve always felt like a burden. I am very strong-willed and don’t like to come off as weak or needy.
I don’t want to speak for other autoimmune sufferers, but it can be a lonely disease. You have so many people around you but for some reason you still feel like you’re battling it all alone. And I had always been so afraid to show that I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t want to ask for help. I felt bad complaining if I was in pain or taking time to heal. I didn’t want others to think I was being “dramatic” or “emotional” over what I was going through.
If you are feeling this way, friends, please know you are not a burden. Those who love you are more than happy to help you. I didn’t realize this until I went through a self-development course earlier this year. I now know that I am worthy of love, just as much as I give it out. And as a mother, when I ask for help, I’m only strengthening my growing child.
I do still struggle with this from time to time. And my old fears and habits come creeping in. But I’m continually reminding myself that I am not a burden, I deserve love, my baby deserves love, and I CAN ask for help.
This journey of an autoimmune pregnancy IS NOT easy. But know it’s possible. You are WORTHY of being a mother. You are WORTHY of healing. And you are WORTHY of everything you’ve dreamed of in this life. Please don’t ever forget that.