I’m a 39 year old homeschooling mama of three (ages 8, 6, and 4), and I’ve been married for 15 years. I was a public school teacher for eight years and during that time I completed my Master’s Degree as a K-12 Reading Specialist.
Once we began having children I decided to stay home with them full-time and we live west Michigan. I love the Lord, my family, photography, and the outdoors. Nature is truly my therapy! I have a heart for helping women (especially moms with young children!) feel HOPEFUL despite living with chronic illness! I love sharing what what works for me with the hope that it helps others too!
I was officially diagnosed with RA in the fall of 2017, but I experienced a host of health issues that started in my late teens/early 20’s. I spent much of my early adult life feeling generally unwell and didn’t really know why (although I do now). I spent years going from specialist to specialist with my “mystery symptoms.”
My RA came on slowly at first after the birth of my first child in 2011 when joint pain in my wrist first began. After the birth of my third child in a four year timespan, my RA hit full force after I stopped nursing my last baby. By the fall of 2017, I was nearly bed ridden and was living in excruciating pain every day.
At the height of my RA onset, I could barely lift my children, buckle them into their car seats, zip up their zippers, button their little buttons, or complete basic jobs around the house (like simple cooking and cleaning tasks). I had trouble dressing myself some days and often needed my husband’s assistance. My feet and hands hurt SO badly that I would cry every single day and night from the pain.
My morning stiffness was debilitating and I would wake up every morning with a new joint or set of joints hurting due to migratory joint pain. I was also completely addicted to NSAIDS and at one point I was taking 12-16 Advil/day just to function and take care of my household and children. It was during this time that I was literally clinging to the Lord for strength to get through each and every day.
I felt extremely alone and suffered in silence much of the time. My diagnosis came after my husband urged me to go to the doctor and finally figure out what was wrong because I couldn’t live like that any longer and it was really starting to take a toll on our family.
With a passion for natural health and wellness dating back to my childhood (thanks, Mom!), I had a deep desire to try and treat my RA medication-free from the start. I figured I would exhaust all of my natural options first before taking any medication (but my Rheumatologist did recommend Methotrexate and Prednisone at first).
After my diagnosis, I dove head first into investigating the root causes of my RA. With the help and under the guidance of a licensed Functional Medicine Practitioner in my area, I was able to pinpoint several root causes including leaky gut, significant nutrient deficiencies that caused things like Pernicious Anemia (as a result of my leaky gut and genetic factors such as MTHFR), trauma, candida overgrowth, gut parasites, heavy metal toxicity, improper eating habits. etc. Along with my practitioner’s supplement recommendations for my case, I also began the AIP (Autoimmune Paleo/Protocol) diet and eliminated many of the inflammation-causing foods that were triggering my RA symptoms.
There is no one-size-fits all diet, but following a higher fat/moderate protein/lower carb diet happens to be the one that works best for me personally based on my medical history and nutritional needs (which are different for everyone!). To date, I have been able to avoid taking medication for my RA by managing my symptoms naturally with diet/lifestyle changes/taking high quality supplements, managing my pain using natural alternatives, and focusing on attacking my root causes, but I know that taking medication is not out of the realm of possibility for the future. I work closely with my doctors (including my Rheumatologist) to ensure I am acting in a responsible manner in regards to my health.
Please keep in mind that I have moderate (not severe/aggressive!) RA, and it was a very personal decision to not take RA medication. I am a firm believer that everyone needs do what they feel is best for them, and there should be absolutely NO SHAME in taking RA medication to avoid further joint degeneration and potential deformity. RA medications in conjunction with diet and lifestyle changes have given SO many people their lives back, and I am grateful that everyone is given the freedom to choose what option is best for them.
Everyone is different, our lives and root causes are different, and what works for some may not work for others and that’s OK! I am just thankful and try to find the joy in every day when I sit back and see how far I have come…from being nearly bed ridden to thriving and living a full life again!
I find myself continuing to struggle with making proper food choices 100% of the time (old habits die hard, right?!), but I am extremely diligent when it comes to treating my RA flares quickly with what I know about my body and what it needs (rest, hydration, nutrient dense foods/avoidance of inflammatory foods, proper supplementation, movement, etc) so they are short-lived!
My flares are now few and far between and I live in minimal pain for the most part! I am not pain free 100% of the time nor am I in remission (yet!), but my labs continue to improve with each visit to my Rheumatologist. I also struggle with the fact that many conventionally-trained doctors do not focus on looking at autoimmune conditions from a more holistic standpoint and many times they focus more on the patient’s symptoms than getting to the bottom of what actually causing the autoimmune response in the first place.
This is why I believe that multiple medical perspectives and philosophies are necessary when treating autoimmune conditions like RA. We know our bodies best and I want women to know that they can absolutely be their own health advocate and speak up for themselves. It’s also important to find a team of doctors that you trust, that listen to you, who respect you, and work WITH you to come up with your ideal treatment plan..
My relationship with God and my faith is truly what carries me through and gives me strength to face each day in a positive way and with gratitude. I have a deep desire to help those who are suffering in the same ways that I have suffered. I want other moms with RA to know that I truly understand what they are going through because I deal with the same struggles. Living in chronic pain and raising young children can be especially taxing, and I just want moms to know that they aren’t alone in this battle!
I have often said that “everyone has a story to tell.” My story is no more or less important than anyone else’s story or journey with autoimmune disease. I originally started my Instagram account because I didn’t know anyone outside the geriatric community that suffered with RA and I felt alone (and somewhat scared!), so I reached out into the Internet with the hopes of finding the support I needed so desperately at the time of my diagnosis.
Struggling with an autoimmune disease can be an emotional rollercoaster, but I am so grateful that I “put myself out there” and shared my story because by doing so I have found amazing friends and an incredibly supportive community of fellow RA warriors! I personally love encouraging and giving hope to others who are fighting the same battle. Empathy goes a long way when it comes to autoimmune illness and it’s important for women with chronic illnesses to know that are supported, cared for, seen, and understood. We are in this together, sisters!
Find Renee | @the_rheumatoid_arthritis_mama