I have mixed emotions about Mother’s Day. Part of me sees the immense value of taking time to thank and appreciate those who gave us birth, who raised us, who taught us, who loved us—whatever motherhood has looked like in your life. These women are strong, brave, and loving and, damn it, they should be celebrated! As a mother, a daughter, a woman, I definitely think that the role mothers play is often undervalued and underappreciated. But part of me feels this day merely sets women up for disappointment, as we are bombarded by social media as to what Mother’s Day is supposed to look like and how your day is just not measuring up.
And that’s not to mention all of the emotions that this day brings up for some. There are many who have lost their mothers, to death, estrangement, or mental illness. There are many who have found the road to motherhood to be more challenging than they had imagined. There are those who have chosen not to become mothers themselves, and find themselves having to defend the personal decisions they make.
Sometimes we forget that motherhood takes on a variety of forms. There are those with more kids than you can count on your fingers. There are those with sons, daughters, or a combination of both. There are those who hope to be mothers one day. There are those who desire to be mothers now, but have had difficulty in their journey. There are those who are mothers, but have never been able to bring their child home. There are those who have had to bury their children, something no mother should ever have to do. There are those who have birthed children, but those children have gone on to live with others. There are those who did not carry a child themselves, but welcomed them into their home. There are those who have joined other families already in progress. There are those who do not desire to have children of their own, but have a mother’s spirit for other children they encounter. There are those who mother as part of team and others who stand on their own. There are those who have used medical assistance to conceive children. There are those who have birthed children through medical procedures. There are endless possibilities for what mothering may look like for you and for others.
As someone who is a part of the chronic illness community and the surgical intervention community, I have seen my share of women who have experienced setbacks and challenges in their motherhood journey.
For those with IBD, there is no impact on fertility and the ability to carry a child, but there are still studies that show these patients are less likely to bear children. This is most often due to concerns over their own health conditions, concerns about the medication they take and also concerns about the heredity of their disease. So even though fertility may not be affected, this diagnosis still influences their motherhood experience.
Thankfully studies show that the risk of passing along IBD to children is low (less than 10%) for couples where one individual has IBD. Furthermore, most medical treatments have also been shown to be safe during pregnancy, and those which are not considered safe can be replaced with other options, if necessary. So if your desire is to have children, talk to your physician about determining the best options for you!
And those who have undergone surgery, whether it be for an ostomy, a j-pouch, or a resection, still have a strong chance of being able to conceive and carry a child, but there is a higher risk of an impact on fertility. This may eventually require further medical interventions or exploration of other options for becoming a mother.
Fertility is a difficult topic for many women, because the ability to conceive and bear children is often tied to their identity and sometimes their feelings of worth as a woman. I am not saying it should be this way, but this is how it is for many women. I know when my husband and I first decided we wanted to have kids, I was so hard on myself every month it didn’t happen. Every negative test felt like failure.
And in the grand scheme of things, my conception story was much simpler than many women out there. I conceived both of my children following two surgeries: removal of the colon (colectomy) and removal of the rectum/anus (proctectomy). It didn’t happen immediately for us, but conception was not something we struggled with ultimately.
After fairly uneventful first half of the pregnancies, I ended up in the hospital due to intestinal blockages both times. I had to undergo bowel rest, CT scans, X-rays, and strict dietary changes in both instances, and a premature inducement in one. I felt an incredible amount of guilt for feeling that I already was not being able to protect my child and having to make the decision to do something that could be potentially harmful to the baby because of my health issues. It was a deflating feeling and something I have struggled with as a mother.
My story is just one in a vast expanse of mothers all around the world. We all have a story to share. Our journeys to and in motherhood are all different, and difficult and heartbreaking in their own ways. But we are all in this together. So today, whether you are a mother, long to be a mother, or none of the above—You are seen. You are loved. You are in our hearts.