“Don't feel like you are alone in your struggle.”

Natalie Hayden
Chapter 1
Sudden Chaos

I was completely healthy growing up and all the way through college — I’d never even had an earache. But then I was blindsided with symptoms a couple of weeks after graduation.

I started having terrible stomach pains, to the point where any time I put food in my mouth, I would immediately feel pain. I was dropping weight left and right. I had 104-degree fevers. I was lethargic and weak.

My mom, a nurse, was getting concerned about my symptoms, so we went to the doctor. At first, they thought it was my gallbladder. Then, they thought it was my appendix. They did a bunch of ultrasounds, but all those organs looked fine. I was perplexing everyone.

One evening, my mom came home from work to find me just lying on the couch — I had been there all day. She said, "We are going to the ER. We have got to figure out what is going on."

In the ER, they did a rectal exam and an abdominal CT scan. The doctor walked in and said, "It appears you have Crohn's disease. You are malnourished. You are dehydrated. You are getting hospitalized immediately and you will be getting a colonoscopy tomorrow." I must have blacked out from shock in that moment, because I have no recollection of him telling me that.

Later, they confirmed it with a colonoscopy. It was a tough hospitalization. I had my first colonoscopy while I was flaring up, so I just remember rocking back and forth on the toilet in excruciating pain, throwing up on the bathroom floor. It was very traumatic.

When I left the hospital, I was on 22 pills day, including an extremely high dose of steroids, which really took a toll on me. The steroids make you angry and hostile. You are starving all the time. You have insomnia. Your face swells up and you’re bloated. It was awful, but I was glad to finally know what was wrong with me.

Chapter 2
Finding Fulfillment

When you’re 21 years old and you’re told you have a chronic illness for which there is no cure, it hits you like a ton of bricks. I had dreams of being a news anchor on television, and I had thought I would be picking up and moving soon, making those dreams a reality — but then I was told I had this disease.

I didn't know anyone else with Crohn’s, and I felt isolated. All of these new fears flooded my mind: "Am I ever going to be a news anchor? Am I ever going to find a man who loves me?" It was a very difficult moment in my life.

I ended up landing my first television job that year, so I moved to Minnesota from Chicago. I started out behind the scenes, because the steroids made my face swell, and that‘s a big deal if you’re going to be on air. Instead, I was a producer, doing the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. news. But I kept telling my boss, "I really want to be on the news someday. I really want to be a reporter. I really want to be an anchor.”

I started getting off some of the medications, down to six pills a day and no steroids. I ended up becoming an evening and nighttime reporter there. Then, in 2007, I became an anchor of "Wake Up Wisconsin,” and I was there until almost the end of 2010.

While working there, I had a couple of hospitalizations, and it was really difficult. When you are in the public eye and you're off the news desk for two weeks, people start speculating. Some people thought I must be pregnant. I kept my disease to myself, never telling anyone except close friends and family, so my viewers never knew.

As a news anchor in Springfield, Illinois, a couple of years later, I had even more hospitalizations. I started thinking, "Is my career playing a role in my disease process?" Being a morning news anchor, you have to get up at 2 a.m. five days a week. You are fatigued. Your meals are all off. You want to eat a hamburger at 8 a.m. It’s a difficult lifestyle.

I also had a long-distance boyfriend at the time, who is now my husband, and he was in St. Louis. I started to rethink my priorities, knowing I wanted to get married and start a family. So I decided to leave the news business in November 2014.

I ended up having three bowel obstructions from 2014 to 2015. After some scans, the doctors discovered that I needed a bowel resection. They took out 18 inches of my small intestine just 10 months before my wedding. I knew I wanted to start a family right away, so I met with my GI doctor and with my OB doctor, and they started me on prenatal vitamins and made sure I was in surgical remission.

We did a colonoscopy two weeks before my wedding — on the day of my bachelorette party, actually! Luckily, they told me I didn't have any active disease. So, one month after our wedding day, we got pregnant. We had a baby boy named Reid on March 29, and he is perfectly healthy.

I chose to stay on all my medication while I was pregnant because a mother's health has to come first. Luckily, I had a flawless pregnancy and Crohn's was silent the entire time. I almost felt the best I’ve felt since I was diagnosed.

Chapter 3
Becoming an Advocate

When I left the news business, I became an advocate for Crohn's disease.

I started sharing my story on social media, telling the world about how I’d lived with this disease for a decade. I explained that I never wanted anybody to know what was wrong with me before, because I didn't want to be labeled “The Sick News Anchor.” I didn't want any sympathy for what I was going through. In hindsight, I wish I had used that as my platform. I would have been able to reach a lot of people, and it would have been amazing to know I was helping people by sharing my story and showing that having a chronic illness doesn't mean you can't follow your dreams.

I started a blog on July 23rd, 2016, which was the 11th anniversary of my diagnosis. It’s called, "Lights, Camera, Crohn's: An Unobstructed View," and every single Monday since then I have shared fresh content with my readers. I’m getting amazing feedback from people around the world, and it has been so incredible to be a voice for people, to inspire them and show them that you can have a full life with this disease.

Living with Crohn’s is tough. It’s no walk in the park, but it doesn't have to keep you tethered to a couch or a bathroom stall. You can make your life what you want to make it if you have the right attitude.

My blog is a transparent, honest explanation of what it is like to be a patient on this journey. I try to show the life you can lead and stay positive. I share inspiring stories of people: athletes, famous people, people that have written books about the disease. My goal is to empower others.

My husband, Bobby, is also on the blog quite a bit. He is my rock, my support. He has stayed on a hospital cot, on a hospital couch, even in my hospital bed. He has never left my side. He brushes my hair and puts it in a ponytail for me when I am too weak to do it on my own. Even when I am home and healthy like I am right now, he brings my pills to me on a paper towel. Or if I am on the couch after I have had a long day taking care of my son, he is just there for me. He is my biggest supporter.

I never want to take him for granted as my caretaker, because for me, his love is the best medicine of all.

Chapter 4
A Bright Future

My advice to others dealing with Crohn’s is to find someone to talk to. Don't feel like you are alone in your struggle. There are so many avenues online. There's HealthCentral, there are social media channels — you name it. The IBD community is extremely close-knit.

With chronic illness, you never know what the next day will bring. You have to live in the moment and enjoy what you have right now. I am currently 34 years old, so I’m coming up on my 13th anniversary of having Crohn's disease.

I have a colonoscopy soon, and if I get cleared from that, then we’re going to start trying for baby No. 2 in the spring or the summer. We are excited for this phase of our life, and I’m just hoping for another healthy pregnancy.

I haven't been hospitalized since August 2015, other than for having my baby, so that is a big win for me. My goal is to not be hospitalized until Reid is able to walk into the room and visit me. I am just hoping I can stay healthy and strong.

I’m interested to see where my advocacy efforts take me in the future, too. I’m going to be doing some conferences soon, and I have been connecting with different GI doctors around the country, doing some different studies, and working on some apps that are being created.

There’s a lot going on in my life right now, but it’s all exciting. I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me next.