To the Working Mom with Constant Stomach Problems & IBS
I am here to reveal my dirty little secret, and ask you to make a pact with me.
We talk a lot about poop at my house. Not only is my toddler potty training, but I have IBS. When my son is looking for me, he heads for the bathroom. He wanders in and sits next to me on a little stepstool. “You makin’ some poop?” Yeah, it’s pretty glamorous.
I was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome at 23, soon after I began a new relationship. If I were a normal person, being head-over-heels would’ve meant my stomach was full of butterflies, but mine was full of gas. I finally saw the doctor about my abdominal woes: bloating, awful cramping and alternating diarrhea and constipation. She confirmed my suspicion, stress-induced IBS, recommending more exercise and sleep, and fewer processed foods. Despite my embarrassment about it, my boyfriend dealt like a champ. He even invented a word for my tummy rumble: arhoo. He wrote it in the card he gave me on our wedding day.
Life settled down and my IBS kept a low profile until I started my dream job. The symptoms returned right away, at a daylong meeting where I was trying like hell to impress my new boss. At first I blamed the noises on hunger, but they persisted, rivaling a garbage disposal after I caught my boss and a coworker exchanging awkward glances. I finally chugged a ton of water so I could escape to the restroom. In the blessed privacy of the stall, I worried, Can anyone hear me? What if the stench seeps into the hallway? What if they notice I’ve been gone for longer than the time it takes to pee? So, naturally, nothing happened. Back I slogged, to the world’s most mortifying meeting. The workday finally ended (I wasn’t sure it would). I farted the whole drive home.
As I became more comfortable in my new career, the IBS symptoms subsided. Now, when I have attacks, they typically start after an intense situation. I’m lucky not to be stressing and suffering at the same time, but that means my flare-ups usually happen at home, interrupting precious family (or even-more-elusive couple) time. And with just one bathroom in our house, everybody's keenly aware of my intestinal ups and downs. Instead of being crabby from lack of sex, my husband and I joke around. When I run to the bathroom after work, he'll jokingly yell, “I’m like an upside-down volcano in here!” quoting Howard’s mom from The Big Bang Theory.
My latest attack has been the worst of my life. True to form, it began the day after an incredibly stressful event. And it hasn’t stopped. I’ve canceled date nights and get-togethers with friends, missed bedtimes with my son, co-opted my own tube of Butt Paste, and taken two sick days.
I could’ve been absent a lot more if my awesome boss hadn’t let me work from home on bad days. “You’ll be happier if you’re near your own bano,” she texted me one morning. I can’t remember why I confided in her—probably because I felt guilty about leaving work for a doctor appointment—but she’s been nothing but understanding. Her attitude has helped me feel comfortable at the office, whether I’m working away or making a beeline to the restroom.
Besides having a TMI confidant, I keep my IBS in check by packing healthy lunches when meetings don't get in the way. I also own a desk drawer pharmacy: Immodium for D-Days, Pepto for gas, and rosehip tea for times when I’m stopped up, plus an essential oil rollerball that wards off stomach discomfort and an electrolyte powder, Drip-Drop, that tastes way better than Pedialyte. Quick yoga breaks help, too. My coworkers know I practice, so when they see me doing Cat-Cow in my cube, they may even join in.
I doubt I’m the only person in my office with IBS, because it afflicts 10 to 15 percent of Americans. So, dear reader, if you’re a colleague, let’s make a pact. We shall not interrupt someone who’s speed-walking to the restroom. We shall finish meetings on time if a colleague is perspiring and squirming in her chair. We shall share our desk drawer stash with friends in need. And we shall absolutely not giggle if we hear tooting in our echo chamber of a bathroom. We’ve been there.
According to Harvard, studies have shown that a low FODMAP diet improves IBS symptoms. One study even found that 76% of IBS patients following the diet reported improvement with their symptoms. Learn more about the low FODMAP diet here.
Ann Dawson lives in Milwaukee, WI. She's a proud mother, happy wife, fair-weather gardener and at-home sous chef.