If you read the last blog post, you’re familiar with Bryce’s story. In the previous post, Bryce was interviewed for his perspective on growing up with a sibling diagnosed with IBD. He actually has two sisters with Crohn’s disease, and one of them was diagnosed at a very young age. Because of this, IBD was considered to be a normal, consistent part of his childhood from the time he was six years old. Some of the topics that were discussed in his interview include: the impact IBD had on his sibling and parent relationships, how IBD affected his family’s day-to-day activities, and the overall culture of his home during periods of high stress. If you would like to read his interview, you can click the link at the bottom of this page. For this blog post, we will be continuing our discussion on the impact IBD can have on family life. This time, however, Bryce’s mother Lisa will be the one answering the questions! Lisa Fournier is the founder of IBD Connect Inc. She is the mother of two children diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, one diagnosed at the age of four, the other diagnosed at age twenty-eight. Whereas Bryce provided his unique insight as a sibling to a diagnosed child, in this interview, Lisa provides insight into her perspective as a mother. She also discusses how she came to create and expand IBD Connect. This is an interview you will not want to miss! Let’s dive in.
Can you please introduce yourself? Give us a little bit of background about who you are!
So, my name is Lisa Fournier, formerly Lisa Lataille. I grew up in Woonsocket, RI, the 4th child of a family of 5. I graduated from Rivier College in Nashua, NH, moved to Las Vegas, NV for a bit and then settled in Uxbridge, MA. I am the proud mother of 4 amazing children (5 with our adult adoptee) and have 5 grandchildren. Family is the very center of my life and I love spending time with all of them. I work as an accountant/operations manager and in my spare time, I work with families through IBD Connect.
Why did you decide to start a nonprofit organization for IBD? How did IBD Connect begin? Why did you choose the name IBD Connect Inc.?
Going through life with a child living with Crohn’s Disease is a very difficult journey, for the patient and for the entire family as well. I had searched for a support group for my daughter Randi when she was about 14 years old. She had been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at the age of 4 and was struggling with social interactions. Children did not understand what IBD is or how it impacted a life. She often felt different from the other kids and I wanted her to be able to connect with others who were on the same path. I could not find a local support group so I decided to start one. It became extremely successful and I thought about how many other ways I could begin to help families living with IBD. I also discovered that the families were bonding beyond the meetings and the connections were becoming a vital part of a patient’s family life. Everyone truly understood what the others were going through. I decided to start IBD Connect so that I could expand the manners in which I was serving the IBD community. I struggled with so many issues along the way with my own journey with Randi that I thought it could benefit other families to have the information and resources that I did not. I did a bit of research about starting a non-profit and decided to jump in. It has been an amazing journey, not without bumps in the road and mistakes, but amazing nonetheless. The name IBD Connect stems from what was the most important to me along the way, which are the connections that I made. To have a person you can turn to who understands your particular role in this journey is a priceless connection.
Let’s talk about being a parent to a child with IBD and take a trip down memory lane. Can you briefly share your journey of discovering that Randi has IBD? How did you feel during the initial diagnosis process? What were your immediate concerns and fears?
Randi began her struggles with IBD at a very young age. She had issues with bowel movements from the time she was a toddler. When she was about 4 years old, she would have frequent bouts with bloody stools and awful cramping. The bloody stools were not just a few drops of blood, she would often fill the entire toilet with blood. It was extremely scary to say the least. Her pediatrician recommended a pediatric GI and our journey began. She had her first colonoscopy at the age of 4. It took a while to get a firm diagnosis as she was so young and there were not too many cases of children her age being diagnosed. I was terrified because some of the other illnesses that they questioned were life threatening. Once we received her diagnosis, it took a while for the concept that it was chronic to sink in. My initial reaction was to want to give her medication to “cure” her. Since it is 21 years later, I think we all know how that turned out!
How did your family as a whole react emotionally when you received the diagnosis of IBD?
It was difficult for everyone to understand not only the “what” of IBD but the “why” of it as well. Bryce, who is only a couple years older than Randi, was too young to really understand, but Nick and Jaimee, who were older children at the time, understood. They were so amazingly helpful and empathetic. I think they were scared for her as this was definitely unchartered territory for all of us.
Randi was diagnosed with IBD at such a young age. You also had three older children to care for. How did you navigate balancing the needs of your child with IBD with the needs of your three other children? Do you have any practical tips for parents who may feel as though they are constantly juggling with this tension? How did you maintain a sense of normalcy and fairness within the household?
This is probably the most difficult part of a child with an illness. Although my other children were wonderful about it, the parental guilt of not giving everyone equal attention is really hard. There were times I remember angry moments from them when things had to change or be limited by what Randi could do. Everything seemed to be planned around her needs, and there is definitely a resentment that happens with that. I did try to give one on one time with each child when I could, even if it was just a pizza date or a trip to the store together. There really isn’t a total fairness with regard to time, no matter how hard you try. I do remember telling them all that if it was one of them, I would be doing the exact same thing for them. It had nothing to do with it being Randi, it had to do with trying to maneuver this illness. Being honest really helps. Although the others may not have always liked it, I did my best to help them understand.
Parenting a child with a chronic illness can be emotionally taxing. What self-care strategies did you, or do you, practice to ensure your own well-being and mental health?
Good question. I don’t think I focused enough on this. I feel like I spent so many years in survival mode. There were so many nights that I would just go to bed so exhausted and glad to be successfully through another day. It definitely takes a toll on your own personal well-being as a parent and an individual. What did help my mental health was the fact that the support group families were so amazing. Being able to share the journey with other parents in the same situation keeps you sane.
Could you share some of the biggest challenges you've faced as a parent of a child with IBD? How have you overcome these challenges or adapt to them?
There are so many facets of challenges for parents of a child with IBD. There are physical challenges, emotional challenges, financial challenges. The physical challenge ends when they take over their own health care as adults. The unending trips to the doctor, hospital, etc become their challenge at that point. The same can be said for the financial challenge. When they learn to maneuver the insurance and expenses, those become their challenges. The emotional challenge never goes away. When Jaimee was diagnosed at 28 years old, I had that same emotional reaction as I did when Randi was diagnosed at 4. It truly comes from loving them so much and not wanting to see them ill. It is a process to learn to let go of part of that. I still have moments when I want them to come home so I can cook the foods that I know soothe their body and soul. But they are adults and I relish seeing them continue their care.
Can you share some heartwarming or positive moments that have emerged from your experience as a parent of a child with IBD? How has this journey brought your family closer or taught you valuable life lessons?
There is so much positivity that can come from my situation. First, my family is amazingly close. We know how much we value each other and that is truly a blessing. Having to depend on each other is not necessarily a bad thing. It taught us resiliency, how to make the best of situations, and how to be flexible when we had to. Our family never hid the illness, we chose to make the best of it by advocating and raising awareness. We have met so many wonderful people along this journey and for that, we are all grateful.
For parents who are new to the journey of raising a child with IBD, what advice or words of encouragement would you offer based on your own experiences?
First and foremost, I would encourage them to try to take it one day at a time. Each day is different and you need to learn to celebrate the small wins. It is an up and down path, some periods of time are easier than others. If you are struggling with a portion of it, reach out to another parent, family member or someone familiar with the illness. There is help out there, but you have to seek it. Most importantly, don’t let a diagnosis ever stop your child from achieving their goals. Accommodations may help, excuses do not. The path may be different than either of you planned, but it is always achievable.
Finally, what is your ultimate goal for IBD Connect? What do you see for the future of this nonprofit organization? What would you like people to know about IBD Connect?
My goal for IBD Connect is to continue to reach families all over the country and help them maneuver this journey. Whether it be through a support group, a financial resource, or even a connection that forms a bond, we have something to help. I would like to expand some of the financial programs so that more families can take advantage of them and reach out into more hospitals with our products and services. IBD Connect is my way of serving the IBD community by ensuring that “no IBD patient ever feels alone.”
This concludes our interview with Lisa. It is my hope that her honest, raw answers are able to give you some comfort and hope as you navigate your own family’s unique IBD journey. If you are looking for more information or would like to receive support, please feel free to contact me or another member of the IBD Connect team. My email is linked at the bottom of this page. Additionally, even though today’s post was not clinically heavy, I still want to remind everyone not to use this page as a substitute for a professional medical opinion. For more detailed information regarding IBD or if you have questions pertaining to your child’s individual treatment plan, please seek out the professional medical advice of your child’s doctor. Before we wrap up this post, I want to give a huge thank you to IBD Connect’s founder for her willingness to participate in this interview! Lisa’s empathy, compassion, and drive are what has grown IBD Connect to be able to serve over seventy families in several different states. She truly wants you and your family to feel loved and supported in this journey. On that note, stay strong IBD Warriors/IBD Warrior families!
Hi! My name is Emily Fournier, and I am a wife, mom, and registered nurse currently living in MA. I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing in May of 2020. Since graduation, I have had experience working as a registered nurse in both a hospital intensive care unit and a community health center. Throughout my nursing career, I have had several opportunities to care for IBD patients of all ages, which has allowed me to gain a thorough understanding of IBD from a medical perspective. Through my friendship with an individual diagnosed with Crohn's disease at a young age, I have also been able to see how IBD affects every aspect of an individual, whether it be physically, socially, mentally, or emotionally. With Emily’s Gut Check, I hope to combine my medical expertise with a more holistic approach to IBD care in order to provide support and encouragement to anyone affected by IBD, but especially to parents of a child diagnosed with IBD. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at email@example.com if you have any questions, need advice, or have an idea for a blog topic to cover. Thank you all for being on this journey with me!