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Being a new mom is a lot like navigating what life is like with a new diagnosis. It’s unchartered territory, you learn as you go. . . and there will be incredible high points and low points along the way. I had to laugh at myself the other day. The morning started with my newborn son, Reid, peeing in my mouth while I changed his diaper. For the most part my little guy is an absolute angel when it comes to eating every three to four hours and sleeping in-between. But this day was different. I couldn’t get him to stop crying. He was inconsolable for hours. As I paced around the house doing a silly waltz and singing ridiculous lyrics to him on the fly, I had to pause and laugh at my appearance in the mirror. For a moment I felt unrecognizable to myself. While being a new mom is miraculous and the best gift—it’s a major adjustment, something all parents can attest to.

As the clock inched closer to the evening hours, I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. I desperately grabbed a leftover fortune cookie on the table from a night my girlfriends came over and brought dinner. The fortune read “Functioning superbly comes automatically to you.” I had to laugh. I kept the fortune as a reminder that no matter how difficult some days may be, whether it’s in the mom department or as a Crohn’s patient, it’s important to remember that we all have what it takes to overcome obstacles that come our way. Change in life is never easy—but attitude and finding the humor of it all are everything.

At this point the doorbell rang and I received a package from a friend in San Diego, a complete surprise and so thoughtful. When I texted her to say thank you, she wrote back and said, “One day at a time, some days one minute at a time.” Those words are so important. As a woman who battles chronic illness and is learning what it takes to be a mom, those words ring so true to me. If we all focus on what’s next and get consumed by fears and worries of the future, we’ll miss all the amazing moments along the way. It’s imperative to celebrate the mini victories—whether it’s having a feel good day or learning how to put your baby in the car seat and explore the outdoors on your own. Each day is a gift.

There are so many parallels between chronic illness and motherhood. Some days are going to be a breeze, while others challenge your patience and strength to the core. Take time to unwind and destress whenever possible and take advantage of the support around you. If friends or family members want to offer a helping hand to ease your burden, don’t be afraid to take them up on it. There’s no telling what tomorrow will bring. Take advantage of today. Remember to breathe. Have faith that while there will be difficult and scary experiences, each will help you learn and grow.

I think back to myself at age 21, frail in the hospital bed, trying to come to terms with the fact that I had a disease that would be part of me for the rest of my life. In that moment, I had no idea what the future would hold. While the disease has tested me and given me immense amounts of pain, it’s also made me strong, resilient and brave.

Now, as a new mom—almost six weeks in, I look in the mirror and may not recognize myself without my hair and make-up done, wearing yesterday’s pj’s, but, I know in my heart my baby boy has already shown me how deeply you can love another human being. He’s shown me what it’s like to know another person’s survival depends completely on you and that you have the ability to shape a life, and a family. . .and that my friends, is magic.

*This post originally appeared at Lights Camera Crohns.* 

Natalie Hayden

Natalie (Sparacio) Hayden, 36, is a former TV news anchor living in St. Louis. Her mission in life is to be an advocate for those battling inflammatory bowel disease and to show that a chronic illness doesn’t have to dull your sparkle. Natalie was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in July 2005. After several hospitalizations, countless medications and flare ups she underwent her first surgery in August 2015. Natalie and her husband have two children, Reid and Sophia.

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