This month we’re raising funds and awareness for those living with IBD (inflammatory bowel diseases).
Our CEO, Ashley Freeborn has Crohn’s disease and is passionate about sharing her story. We chatted with Ash to learn more her experience with IBD, advocating for her health and how this diagnosis has changed her life.
When were you diagnosed with Crohn's? Tell us a little bit about your journey to this diagnosis.
I had consistent struggles growing up. I once vomited every night for almost two years in my early 20s. Doctors continued to tell me it was indigestion and I listened. The day of my comprehensive exam for my master's degree, I started to experience severe pain and cramping in my stomach. I passed on congratulatory beers that night and tried to make it home safely from the university, all the while doubled over in pain. I spent three days like this before it shifted to lower cramping, severe diarrhea and bleeding. The doctor ruled out a parasite and again told me it would likely just go away.
After about four months I had lost 45 pounds. I had intense pain and weakness in my joints and could barely eat. Finally, my old family doctor saw me and immediately sent me for a colonoscopy. I took the first available appointment and met with a GI Specialist. I remember him having the worst bedside manner and misdiagnosing me with Colitis, saying I would struggle to have children or lead a normal life. I was devastated. I did my research, changed doctors and embarked on a new journey towards wellness and self-discovery. I realized the importance of self-advocacy.
Fast forward 10 years, and here I am with two beautiful babies, a fulfilling career and business, a wonderful husband and a killer team at S+T. Every day I am healthy and can care for my babies is a gift.
How has Crohn's impacted your day-to-day life as a mom and a CEO?
There have been several points in my life where I have been shut down because of my Crohn’s. One of these times was after I had my first child, Frankie. I decided to go off my medicine because I was breastfeeding. I unfortunately took a turn for the worse after going off my meds. I was very sick and was having trouble caring for Frankie. I felt defeated and weak, and my mom guilt was pervasive. I had developed antibodies to the medicine I had been on, making it lethal for me to start taking it again. I was struggling to try various medications to get me back into remission. I continued to care for Frankie to the best of my ability with the help of my loving husband. I sometimes had to parent and work on building Smash + Tess from my bed, but I did it. I administered my own IV prednisone for a week so my husband and I could go on vacation. I used to take Imodium to get on a plane or go on a stage for a speaking engagement but would pay for it later doubled over in bed, writhing in pain. Finally, after two years and several failed medicines, I found one that worked and was able to get pregnant with Stella. PURE JOY! That two-year period stands out as a dark time for me, but one that was dusted with so much joy in my new role as a mom and owner of a growing business.
Do you have any words of advice for people living with IBD or other chronic conditions?
To advocate for yourself, ALWAYS. It’s tough and it involves reading and asking lots of questions, but it’s essential. I’ve challenged gastroenterologists several times because they wanted to take out my entire colon. I wasn’t ready for that, and I’m so thankful that I trusted my gut. It’s allowed me to hang on to my colon for the past 10 years and find medicine that’s allowed me to do so healthily.
I also have a fighter mindset. Even when I’m at my sickest, I work to fight through it. I don’t want to live in a state of victimhood, it distracts me from my goals—and I have a lot of BIG goals! I focus on all that I can accomplish and give myself permission to rest when I need to.
How do you practice self-care when you are experiencing a flare?
I rarely bounce between flare and normalcy. When I’m sick, I’m VERY sick. I haven’t flared on my current medication, that said, I’ll admit that my joints are really bugging me! As I type this I am wincing in pain. In the past when I’ve suffered through a flare, I find the best medicine is simple soup and some TLC which looks like warm baths, lounging in bed and ROMPERS, of course!
We know that advocating for IBD is important to you—how do you work to raise awareness and donate to those living with IBD?
I leave it in my Instagram bio deliberately as a cue to other IBD fighters that they aren’t alone. IBD is coined as an invisible illness because the symptoms aren’t visible, and people don’t always love talking about the shitty symptoms. I am passionate about fostering open conversation about IBD and have had lots of great dialogue with people also on this journey. I continue to raise funds for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada—you can donate yourself when you checkout on our website any time this month!
Why do S+T Rompers work well for people with IBD?
When I’m experiencing a bad Crohn’s flare, having something digging into my stomach is a HARD NO. I love the comfort and freedom of a loose S+T Romper. I know that sometimes us Crohnie’s have to hit the bathroom in a hurry and our Rompers are easy to get off and on in a pinch. We also know from Ginger Sue (read her full story here) that our Rompers help to camouflage an ostomy bag.
We love you Ash, thank you for your vulnerability in sharing your story! Through the month of May, you can add a donation to Crohn’s & Colitis Canada at checkout.