As far as I can remember, I started having stomach pains and headaches about 10 years ago, after having my second child. Sometimes I was nauseous also; and, when the pain was bad enough, I would also experience “brain fog” – like my brain was just processing everything very slowly. I was 22 years old when it all started.
Throughout the years, I’ve seen a few doctors and had some tests done (e.g., ultra sounds, MRI). The only thing they could ever find was a couple of cysts on my ovaries. In 2008, doctors told me that I should just have a hysterectomy because that surely would relieve me of my pain. I was resistant to this idea because I was only 30 years old, and my husband and I still wanted to have more children. I just continued “getting by” with Excedrin Migraine medication (usually 4 doses per day). It didn’t really help my abdominal pain, but it generally took the edge off my headaches.
Later that year, however, the pain became so unbearable that I went ahead and scheduled an appointment to do an exploratory surgery for endometriosis (and possibly the removal of body parts, depending on what they discovered once they were in there). My surgery was originally scheduled for November 2008, but I had to delay the appointment due to my work schedule. I re-scheduled it for January 2009. Much to my surprise, on December 31, I discovered that I was pregnant; and I had to cancel the surgery. As they say, things happen for a reason!
Before my pregnancy, I also had occasional episodes where I would lose my central vision for 15 minutes or so at a time. Out of nowhere, I would start getting little black dots in my field of vision. Gradually, it would form into one big black blob, completely blacking out the middle of my vision, and my peripheral vision would become blurry at the same time. It was impossible to read or to focus on anything. If I tried to look at someone, all I would see is a black blob where their face should be and then blurriness all around them. (This happened to my pre-teenage daughter a few times, as well – several times where she experienced just the black dots and once where she also lost her central vision like me. I took her to the eye doctor, but they could find no explanation.)
My sister, who is really into natural foods, told me that folks often have vision problems from ingesting artificial sweeteners and MSG, but I didn’t really pay much attention to her “food theories.” Really, compared to the horrific abdominal pain and headaches, these vision episodes really weren’t a top concern of mine. I know that must sound silly; it’s a bit difficult even for me to believe when I look back on it now, but I’m a busy mom who works full-time and takes care of 3 young children. I’m sure many of you moms out their can relate – sometimes, you just suck it up and get through the day because there’s just no time for doctor appointments, etc. (especially when you doubt they’re going to have any answers for you anyway).
Throughout most of my pregnancy, my stomach pain was pretty much nonexistent, and I felt much better than I had during the years prior. My headaches continued, though; and I also experienced a few fainting episodes for which no cause was ever determined.
About two weeks after my baby was born, though, I started having a lot of stomach pain, again - the same type of gut-wrenching pain that I had before I was pregnant (but worse)! It’s difficult to put into words, but if felt like someone was stabbing a sharp pole through my navel toward my back and then pouring alcohol in it – a very dull burning sensation. Often shooting pains would also radiate up my back to my shoulder blades, and my arms would feel numb. The pain continued to get worse and worse; some days were unbearable and some days weren’t as bad. But not one of the days did I feel healthy.
I started to feel like a terrible mother because I was on edge and in pain ALL of the time, and I couldn't do all of the things I wanted to do with my kids. I’m usually a very interactive mother. I love to play with my kids and have fun with them. I enjoy hanging outside with the neighborhood and watching all of the kids play together, but now I was forced to lie on the couch or in my bed, instead, with my new best friend - the heating pad. Each night I would lie in bed thinking of things I could do with the kids the following day since the current one had been a complete waste. But, usually a couple hours after the next day began I was right back in the same miserable boat as the day before – excruciating pain and difficult-to-disguise crabbiness. There would be no trips to the zoo, no friendly games of tag…it was all I could do just to engage in a friendly chat with my children or to listen to them tell me about their days because the pain made it really hard to focus on anything.
I was on maternity leave from work which gave me 6 weeks off after the baby was born. Because I had a C-section and was still in so much pain at the end of the 6 weeks, I was able to get an extension for an additional 2 weeks. Presumably, I was in so much pain because I just hadn't healed completely from the C-section; doctors said some women don’t heal as quickly as others. But as days and weeks went by, I felt worse and worse. With my return-to-work date looming a mere 2 weeks in the distance, I had to do something, so I started going back to the doctors to get a better handle on the cause of my pain. I started with my family doctor. He sent me to an OBGYN. She did x-rays and sent me to another OBGYN. They agreed that I had completely healed from my C-section and that ovarian cysts wouldn’t have grown back in just 2 weeks postpartum, so they did an MRI and CT Scan with dye to look for other answers. And as a last ditch effort to offer me some sort of assistance, they prescribed me some Vicodin for my pain. They also scheduled me to see a neurologist and a urologist because they thought they saw some type of nerve damage or something with my spine and also some kidney stones.
I was so excited that they’d found some answers! Nerve damage and kidney stones?! No wonder I was in such pain!! I anxiously waited for my appointments and to see what these specialists would have to say. Unfortunately, the neurologist said everything looked fine and that the “damage” my doctors had suspected from the MRI was nothing that would be causing me this pain. In fact, he was even so bold as to ask me, “Are you sure you’re not making this whole thing up?” (Oh my gosh!) But he did offer to prescribe me some narcotics for the pain. Ugh! I didn’t bother filling the prescription; I was looking for a cause and a solution at this point, not a band-aid for my symptoms.
I was devastated. When a neurologist cannot figure you out, you start to lose a little hope. By this time, my sister was downright begging me to please try a change in diet, but I was resistant. She clearly did not understand how much pain I was in; this was not like any stomach ache I’d ever had just from eating something. She did convince me to at least cancel my urology appointment and to keep a journal of my symptoms for at least a week, and visit a chiropractor/natural health doctor. Funny thing is that when I called urology to cancel my appointment, they told me that they didn’t understand why my doctor was sending me to them, anyway, because my kidney stones were so tiny that they wouldn’t be causing me any pain…even when I pass them! Glad I saved that time and co-pay! Ugh!
I was really feeling frustrated at this point thinking about what a waste of time and money this whole ordeal had been…and with NO answers! I had basically exhausted all “solutions” offered to me by the medical world, I felt NO better, and I was supposed to return to work in ONE week. I applied for disability but was denied (long story, but I’m pretty sure this was a misunderstanding with one of my doctors). Once my maternity leave expired, I was still unable to return to work, so I used up all of my remaining vacation time for the year. After that, I was stuck taking unpaid time off. It was a desperate situation. I work full-time because I need to do so financially for our family. Staying home from work was not an option, but I couldn’t even stand up straight most days due to the pain, so returning to work really wasn’t an option either.
It was all I could do just to take care of my children – and most days I didn’t feel I was even successfully managing that. Luckily, my oldest two children were able to be fairly self-sufficient at the ages of 9 and 11. They were also very helpful with the baby. Thank goodness the baby was a newborn because there is absolutely no way I would’ve been able to chase after a toddler…or even lift one for that matter. And, newborns sleep a lot! Some days, it was all I could do just to roll over to my baby in bed and grab him when he was crying. I would get such incredible pressure in my abdomen; it felt like my insides would rupture if I rolled over.
By this point, my sister was really pleading with me. “Please,” she begged, “just give it FIVE days….eat nothing but REAL foods approved by me, and I’ll bet you’ll feel way better.”
Before I finish my story, I’ll pause here for a bit to share some of my journal entries. The journal proved to be very useful. For one thing, it helped me make sure I was mentioning all of my symptoms at my appointment with the chiropractor. Also, by keeping a journal, I also realized that I was in a LOT more pain than I had ever realized, and it was affecting my ability to be the kind of mother that I like to be!
Here are the notes I kept at that time (before changing my diet). Note – I was using a scale of 1-10 to rate my pain (10 is “unbearable”).
8:00am - Woke up and felt fine all day; cleaned around the house.
6:00pm - Made dinner. Started to have an irritating pressure in abdominal area (pain 2-3). Felt tired.
Laid down for 40 minutes. Started feeling better. Went to babysit neighbor kids for evening.
10:00pm - It hit from nowhere! I was just sitting and holding the baby. Within about 5-10 minutes, the
pain was about an 8! Hurt to talk and even to breathe, and my arms were numb.
12:30am - I am home. Thank God!!!! Straight to the heating pad I go! That brings the pain to around a
4 after about an hour.
2:00am - Awake feeding the baby. Pain is a 7. Put heating pad back on.
4:30am - Woke up to feed baby, and there's no pain.
10:45am - I feel great! Getting ready to cook breakfast.
12:30pm - Abdomen is full of pressure. Back hurts inside ribcage (pain is 3-4). Lots of pressure. Will take
a hot bath to try and relieve the pain a little. Pain stayed the same in bath, no better & no
worse. Got out, and within about 5 minutes, the pain is up to an 8. So I lay down on the
2:00am - I've been laying down for 1/2 hour. Pain is the same, and now is starting to hurt my upper
back (shoulder blade area).
2:30pm - Still in bed. Don't want to move.
3:15pm - Pain finally down around a 3 if I stay still!
4:00pm - Had to walk to the kitchen to check on one of the kids, and the pain is back at a 7-8, so I'm
back on the heating pad.
5:00pm -The pain is slowly driving me insane!! My kids are still outside, and I have no clue what they are
doing because it hurts too bad to get up and look. Just took 2 Vicodin to try and take the
6:00pm - OMG!! So much better (maybe a 4-5 when moving around), so I'm off to make dinner ;)
6:30pm - Feeling a little nauseous, and pain is getting worse. Going to lie back down.
8:20pm - Pain is a 0. Yippy!
11:30pm - Still 0 pain!
8:00am - Getting up with the kids. Pain is at a 0. Feel great.
11:30am - Did the dishes. Starting to feel some pressure and pain under belly button. Pain is 2-3.
2:00pm - Ate about half hour ago. Pain is 0.
4:30pm - Pain in mid back, feel nauseous. Really, really tired.
5:30pm - Pain is 0. Just some low pressure and a little nausea.
11:30pm - Just some pressure.
On October 13, 2009, I had one of my worst episodes ever. I awoke around 2am to my baby crying. I went to the kitchen to make a bottle for him, but by the time I got there, the pain started in – big time! There was no way I could make the bottle. I was doubled over in pain (that excruciating stabbing navel pain) and felt super nauseous. I stumbled into the living room and slumped down onto the couch. The baby was still in bed crying, and there was nothing I could do. My husband was at work, and I was in agony on the couch. I felt horrible. Soon, the nausea was so strong that I knew I was going to vomit. I literally crawled to the bathroom because I couldn’t bear to stand up. I tried to slouch over the toilet, but I was too weak to hold myself up. I laid down on the bathroom floor, knowing that if I vomited, I would just have to lie there in it. I felt like I was going to pass out, so I debated what to do. Should I call out to awaken my oldest daughter? At least she could get the baby a bottle, but seeing me in this condition would totally freak her out! What was I going to say to her….mommy might “fall asleep” for a few minutes, but don’t worry I’ll be fine???? There was no way I could do that to her. Then again, I could have her call someone for help. But what if I passed out before they got there and she was left here alone thinking I was dead or something? Well, before I could make any decision, I must have passed out because I remember “coming to” and finding myself on the bathroom floor. I don’t know how long I was out, but I did know that I never wanted this to happen again!
The next day, I shared what had happened with my sister. Needless to say, she was absolutely horrified! She went on and on…”Oh my GOSH, Kelly, do you understand how serious this is???? If you are in so much pain and are so weak that you don’t even care if you have to lie in your own vomit, then you are really sick. This is not okay, and we’ve got to do something about it!!” So that was it; I finally took her up on her offer to create a 5-day trial diet for me. Of course, I didn’t think it would work at all, and I just knew that I would be sacrificing ice cream and candy bars for nothing. I committed myself firmly to the 5 days and was determined not to cheat, as she assured me that if I gave this 100% commitment, then at least I’d know either way. (I didn’t find out until months later that even she didn’t really think five days would be enough….it was just her way to get me to agree to her plan.) So I stopped eating any processed foods with “mystery” and chemical ingredients. If I didn’t know exactly what a word meant in an ingredients list, then I didn’t eat it.
We sat down together and plotted out 5 days worth of recipes that I found appealing; we drafted a grocery list and went shopping, too. For those 5 days, I followed the many recipes that she gave me, and even made homemade salad dressing. Eating REAL food wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be, and it tasted way better than I’d imagined. I was also able to eat “normal” things, I just had to make them myself and use specific ingredients. Some of my favorite meals were: scrambled eggs, fruit smoothies, veggie salads with homemade balsamic vinaigrette, baked chicken with melted cheese, chicken and noodles, spaghetti, steak and potatoes and an occasional slice of pizza from Whole Foods (where at least they post all of their ingredients!). For snacks, I chose things like apples, grapes, celery, popcorn, nuts and Lara Bars. I even enjoyed some “junk food” and desserts as long as I made them myself from scratch. Sugar cookies were my favorite!
Much to my surprise, just four days later, my terrible abdominal pain was completely gone; and I felt good enough to return to work. While I still had occasional headaches, my abdominal pain was completely gone! I could not believe it! I returned to work as soon as they were able to get me worked back into the schedule, and I jumped right back in working 10-12 hour shifts. As long as I stuck to eating real foods, I felt great. But I soon learned that if I indulged in processed junk, then I’d have a price to pay! There were some nights I’d be up late with the baby and fall prey to the temptation to have some Frosted Flakes or something. Inevitably, within 6-8 hours, my abdominal pain would return with a vengeance. But the only times I’ve had this pain since changing my diet is if I eat something “bad.”
I still have the headaches, though. They aren’t as frequent or as severe as before, but most days I do still take one dose of Excedrin Migraine. Even when the pain is not bad enough to take the Excedrin, I still often have a little constant inkling of a headache that feels like a lot of pressure, especially at the base of my skull (top of my neck). I must confess, however, that I have not given up chewing gum. This is a thorn in my poor sister’s side because she’d love to have me feeling 100% better and she’d really like me to give up the gum for a while to see if that would work. I did try once for about 4 days, but I saw no difference. I understand it could take up to a month to know for sure, but it’s been really hard for me to give that a try. I work directly with customers all day long, and I sure hate breathing my garlic breath all over them, but we’ll see.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t “perfect” with sticking to the diet by any means. Especially at first, it was very challenging. I was trying to take care of 2 kids and a newborn and also flip my diet completely around. Further compounding the problem, my husband and children were still eating their usual diets (because I was the guinea pig for our family), so that meant planning, preparing and purchasing foods for 2 separate menus. It also meant that I was constantly surrounded by temptations. Also, I wasn’t as fortunate as my sister to have the support at home from my spouse. My husband has slowly come around…but at first he just couldn’t really believe that food could do this to a person, so it was tricky.
As I share my story, it is August 2010, and nowadays I feel really good! And I haven't had any body parts removed!! I hang out with the kids, and I’m loving life. I plan my day’s events freely without that nagging feeling in the back of my mind about whether or not I’ll be glued to my heating pad by the time an event arrives.
It’s been 8 months since I started changing my diet. Now, I will admit I do not stick to it 100% of the time. I’ve found that if I try to eat way less processed food, I feel much, much better - mentally and physically!!!! I readily admit that I am a “slow learner” (and this drives my sister absolutely nuts!). I just want to have fun and let loose every once and a while, but usually there’s a price to pay. Sometimes when I “cheat,” I escape without any pain. Other times, the abdominal pain hits me within 6 hours or so. Sometimes I get a headache, instead, but that symptom usually appears much more quickly (often within 30-60 minutes of eating).
Please click on this attachment to view the rest of my story (this box doesn't allow enough room!) the rest of my story.pdf
If you have a similar experience or have any thoughts to share, please feel free to comment below!