My Journey with Celiac Disease

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I can still remember the urgency in which my midwife, Hillary, pleaded with me.

“There is something wrong. With all of the supplements and pills you are on, there is some reason your body is not absorbing the iron that it needs. You must see a doctor and get to the bottom of this!”

That was five years ago today. The very day after my youngest, Thaddaeus Joseph, was born.

I had been somewhat anemic for a while. I remember being turned down in college to give blood because my hemoglobin was too low. At that point I didn’t really mind being relieved of the blood-letting. But throughout college and even into my married life I remember having episodes of having to sit down on the shower floor because it felt like I was about to pass out. Having babies was when the anemia kicked in full gear. I was put on an iron supplement in the middle of my pregnancy with Addie, but because I was delivering at the hospital, my doctor was not so much concerned about low iron. Jeremiah’s birth was a different story because we decided to go the home birth route. However, HIllary had me on so many supplements, including blackstrap molasses and chlorophyll and floradix and liver, that my iron levels improved slightly and I was able to safely deliver Jeremiah at home. When Thaddaeus came around, I immediately started with the iron supplements and kicked it into high gear at the very end because my levels continued to drop. Hillary delivered a shot of pitocin right after Thadd was born in order to help my uterus to contract and to prevent hemorrhaging. And the Lord enabled me to deliver a healthy baby boy at home. But I knew that there was something wrong with me.

My midwife gave me the name of a family doctor who practiced naturopathy up in McKinney, TX. Dr. Chartrand. I made a visit to see him and thus began about a three month journey of trying different supplements with my iron levels continuing to drop. I remember Dr. Chartrand looking at me one day and saying, “Your iron level is about that of an eighty-year-old woman. It is amazing to me that you are still standing up.”

And so I began my own research, which led me to some forgotten website that listed off different symptoms of an autoimmune disease called Celiac Disease. The common symptoms were digestive, but “unexplained iron deficiency” was on the list. So as soon as I met again with Dr. Chartrand, I asked him to do a Celiac screen and that very day he tested me.

I remember being down in Houston visiting my in-laws when I received the call from Dr. Chartrand telling me that the results had come in from the test and yes, I had tested positive for Celiac Disease. So, he told me, allI I had to do now was completely avoid gluten. FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!

The weight of that sentence hung about me like an iron skillet. I had no idea what gluten really was, and what in the world did or didn’t have it in it. But my very first reaction to the news I received that day completely took me off-guard. I responded with thanksgiving. I remember being outside of my sister-in-law, Jen’s house in the early Spring of Texas, the birds busy about me, the live oak trees growing in their new leaves, and I remember breathing in life and audibly praising God that a diagnosis had been found. It would change my life forever, but it was like God had clearly written the next step in my journey. Go gluten free. And I had to walk in obedience to this very difficult discipline.

I cannot say enough about the incredible support my family and friends were to me as we all scrambled to learn all we could about what kinds of food I could and couldn’t eat and O how wondrously so many went out of their way to prepare food for me and make sure things were not cross-contaminated. Jason, most of all, proved to be my biggest support and endless source of research and inspiration as we changed our lives to accommodate to this new diet. He is an indescribable gift to me.

Six months into the diet, my iron levels were higher than normal. “You are cured,” my doctor told me as there was no reason for me to see him again. And so I have been walking gluten free for almost five years now. It has been challenging, but time has carved the rut of daily routine into an almost easy gluten free road.

But now, as is the case in many things, the road is changing again and the path is not as clear cut. Jason and I have just recently been researching the paleo diet and the benefits specifically for those with autoimmune diseases. I resisted this change initially. There’s nothing wrong with me! But all I have to do is look at pictures of me five years ago and compare them to recent photos. I may not be as pale as I used to be, but I am skinnier. Obviously skinnier. And not the kind of skinny people are jealous of. The kind of skinny that people make comments like, “I would hug you, but I would probably break you,” or “When it rains, you don’t get wet, do you?”

So, after painfully coming to terms with my own low body weight and the probability that my gut is not absorbing all the nutrients that it needs because of other dietary factors, I have decided to adopt the paleo diet. SIGH. I so didn’t want to go here! But the more reading I do, the more convinced I am that it is the diet for me. So, I believe that this is another of God’s markers pointing me down another similar and yet difficult road. Not according to my plans. My plans this year were about writing and fostering, not cooking!

But again, I am reminded that it is not my plans, but His that are worth submitting to. Proverbs 16:9 “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” This is the story of my life. And it has proven to be even better than any plan I have ever made for myself, every single time.

So here goes: one foot in front of the other, cutting down a path one step at a time.

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