Often defined as the transition of a woman into motherhood, it has also been likened to going through adolescence again, mom-style, due to the fluctuation in hormones, the rapid changes in the body, the newly forming identity of oneself and one’s place in society, as well as changes in one’s day to day life. Alexandra Sacks, a psychiatrist, wrote a piece in the NY Times called The Birth of A Mother that covers a bit why this transition is so powerful, but often overlooked as society focuses on the baby and ignores how momentous of a change it is for the mother.
This lack of conversation around the realities of becoming a mother has been suspect in being one of the many factors that contributes to postpartum depression, as a mother may feel she is supposed to be estatic about her newborn baby, without expressing any negative emotions despite the magnitude of change her life has just undergone.
In effort to mitigate that mental divide, allowing mothers to express all their emotions, and to create recognition in society about the magnitude of change motherhood is, many companies, academic institutes, and individual professionals are researching and producing more information about this time, working to get the message across. Another huge player in the field is the clinical psychologist Aurélie Athan, whose focus is on reproductive psychology. She looks at both striving and struggling moms in order to normalize the transition to motherhood and continues to work to revive the term and meaning of matrescence. She has even worked on getting some of the first academic concentrations and graduate-level certificate programs created that focus on reproductive and maternal wellbeing because she recognizes the importance of getting health providers, activists, and others involved in the spread of awareness about matrescence.
So if you are a new mom wondering why you feel so off, so different, and how to deal with these feelings of ambivalence towards your new life, know that you are not alone and that you should definitely speak up about how you feel. It will help cultivate a culture of acceptance around our motherhood adolescence.
I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth, I just no longer subscribe to the spacetime continuum on it. But you’ve heard enough of my excuses about why I’m so untimely and inconsistent with posting, so let’s just skip that rerun.
Today’s topic is things that suck. But literally suck, as in suction, not in that they are uncool. The latter is way too arbitrarily subjective for me.
Anyway, so I’ve been pondering about my skin health, especially that of my feet. As a whole my skin has improved immensely; so much so that going outside in 20 degree weather does not reduce me to being a miserable shivering mess any longer. I feel like each day, despite my diet not being on point and my sleep amounts being wonky, my skin is developing a more human luster again. Obviously this is exciting beyond proportions, however, my feet in particular still look horrendous and itch aggressively at times. Many areas, especially where the foot skin meets the plantar skin surface (bottom of the foot), there is a tough thickened layer of scarred skin, much like a callous but not so strong and mostly still flaky. From staring at it collectively for hours (and talking with my sister, who is good at thinking about skin care), I have come to the conclusion that I sorely lack blood flow in those areas, and so the trick now is figuring how to remedy that. I’ve been trying massage techniques as part of a bedtime routine and maybe it’s working, but at any rate I started envisioning a new “quick fix” direction: leeches!
Here me out. Leeches are small and single purpose-y: they bite to latch to human skin, secrete a light numbing type chemical, and then they start sucking and drawing blood to satiate themselves, and when they are done their fat content selves detach and they fall off. Well, what if they were applied to those thickened eczema spots, like on my feet? Could their ability to draw blood work in my favor to get the needed blood flow to that area to promote better healing? Would it reduce the thick skin build-up?
I then got curious if any medical practitioners have tried using leeches for eczema and recorded their findings. Turns out the answer is yes, but so far only in India (or that I could find). The study I did find had no control group (so no way to control for placebo effects or to compare in general) but they did find that leeches helped the eczema spots. Honestly I’m not sure why though. The study mentioned the leeches’ secretion having a microbial effect and the penetration of the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin, as well as the increased bloodflow the leeches provoked, so maybe I was on to something there.
The next thing that sucks isn’t a thing at all, but my baby. As a breastfed baby, my little one practices her sucking multiple times a day (I don’t pump honestly because I’m not good at it, so it feels like it takes forever just to get a low yield), meaning my schedule is worked around her needs. While I don’t mind this, it has caused me to wonder how I could have a career, as there are not many jobs I could take her along with me in this day and age (or at least not that I know of).
In short, I started coursework to become a postpartum doula. It will probably take me a few years to finish it all, mostly because you need to spend 5 hours minimum with 4 separate families and Fiona isn’t ready for that duration of separation yet, plus I don’t have any families lined up. That and also Fiona has developed complete object permanence, and so we are drastically having to readjust her sleeping routine again.
In other news, I have also started a role as a research writer for a site called PPDJourney, which features stories from moms about their experiences with postpartum depression. I’ll be doing monthly pieces on things that relate to maternal mental health.
Also I may be possibly developing a course with my favorite herbalist group, but I’ll keep that under wraps until it becomes more concrete.
Lastly, yes I know the cover picture is a slug, not leech, but in the immortal words of Rick the Hormone Monster “What’d ya gonna do?”
A while back I wrote a post about what it’s like to have eczema and be pregnant, followed by another post after my little one was born all about living life with eczema and a baby. But today’s topic isn’t about the mom, but rather, about the baby and the baby’s risk of inheriting eczema from his/her parents.
The inspiration for this post comes from the eczema community on instagram. Many ladies have been asking about this topic, so I figured I would try to search for an answer. I apologize if it isn’t the clearest of posts. It’s a culmination of a bunch of witching hour moments over a few days, when Fiona decided that midnight, 1am, 2am, 3am, etc are equally important times to wake up each day.
Most of us know that there is a genetic component to eczema but what does that actually mean? There are a few different ideas being studied about where genes come into play with this condition that are lumped under the “outside-inside model” which look at skin barrier dysfunction (as opposed to the “inside-outside model”, which is about the gut health). Some examples of the outside-inside model, which I’ll go over individually, include:
FLG (a gene, that makes the protein filaggrin). I mentioned this protein in an older post, talking about how there were treatments for eczema being developed that made use of it. The gist was that a loss-of-function in the specific gene results in less filaggrin being made, and filaggrin is an essential player in keeping the skin barrier intact.
Th2 (a cytokine, or a protein that impacts cell signaling). Th stands for T helper cells, and they help with host defense, but also impact inflammation. Some, like Th2 are know for being (pro)inflammatory, while Th1 is known to be anti-inflammatory. I mentioned this a little when talking about pregnancy and eczema. Research from 2015 showed there are many different Th types, that all may have their own impact on inflammation.
interleukin-1 (a protein from a family of inflammatory and regulatory cytokines). Many studies are still showing that breastfeeding reduces your child’s risk of eczema, because of some components (interleukin-beta specifically) in the breast milk that the child consumes. One such study went so far as to say that breastfeeding halves the risk for children between 0 and 3 years of age (and no you don’t have to breastfeed for 3 years for that to be the case!). The way interleukins work is that they are released when there is bacteria or immunological disturbances. The interleukins show up and affect cells like capillary endothelial ones, making them release chemicals and attract monocytes (large white blood cells that help kill bacteria). The problem with these is that certain types can be associated with Th2 (like IL-22 which is made by Th-22), or they can be known to be associated with inflammatory diseases like IL-17.
To be honest, I am still a bit skeptical of the studies done that show no effect because, from what I can tell, they have the parents give the babies probiotics for say 6 months, and then continue to see if there is a benefit at some later date like 2 years of age. If a modern western diet (high carb, especially in refined sugars) can alter an adult’s gut microbiome fairly rapidly, why would the probiotics a baby takes at 6 months still be helping the gut at 2 years (the biome diversity would have changed due to diet by then, and the gut must stay healthy for it to help the skin)? Wouldn’t one expect the gut microbiome diversity to change and said “good” gut bacteria to not be able to survive the environment anymore?
So essentially I am still thinking, as the studies show no negative effects of taking probiotics, after talking with your baby’s pediatrician of course, what would be the harm in giving your baby probiotics? That and making sure to keep your baby on a diet that creates a gut environment more conducive to good bacteria flourishing.
Also note, I wasn’t able to access the whole study so I’m not sure how the probiotics were administered unfortunately. On a tangent, that’s always a frustrating point to me. I don’t think studies should cost the public to access because we should want to encourage people furthering their health in any way possible. I understand scientists need go make money too but I do wish there was another way besides charging subscriptions to databases of research.
But I digress. So what is the takeaway for all those future mamas worrying about passing eczema on to their children? Do they have cause for concern? Perhaps. The way I see it (noting I could be interpreting this incorrectly) is for:
filaggrin: If the loss of function filaggrin gene is passed on, the child would probably have an increased risk.
Th2: the Th1/Th2 dominance seems to be more dependent on estrogen than genetics (though I could be wrong) so my guess would be that having a girl would make her more susceptible in that case (again I definitely could be wrong).
MATT gene: The atopic dermatitis shows up is because of that misstep (mistake) in the common SNP of the gene. As a result I think the answer is yes, it probably is a risk for one’s children, because missteps (I believe) would be passed down since they are mutations.
interleukins: I believe the pro-inflammatory ones that are problematic are a product more so of consistent stressors on the body (both from invaders like bacteria, and from literal stress). If the baby/child is relatively healthy and isn’t too stressed out, in tandem maybe with the mom breastfeeding her baby (so long as she is able to, aka isn’t on chemotherapy or radiation or something), then I do think the risk of eczema from this perspective, is decreased.
But the real question now is how do all these components balance out in an individual, in a baby? Does having a loss of function filaggrin gene guarantee a lifetime of eczema? Or does it just make you more susceptible but you are fine if you don’t have the MATT gene’s SNP misstep (or one of the other 33 SNPs mentioned that are related to eczema susceptibility)? It would be interesting to see a study done that investigates all these components together, so we could know which are still present when you have people with severe eczema, topical steroid withdrawal systems, etc. As for the initial question, sure, there are genetic components that you pass down to your baby, but it seems like not all the heavy hitters are genetic so your baby may still be fine.
One more thing to leave you with: the American Academy of Dermatology made a post a while back saying a few ways to reduce your baby’s chance of eczema (minus genetics naturally), which included:
having a dog at home before the child’s 1st birthday
moisturizing a newborn’s skin
not eliminating a bunch of things in your diet
eating a health diet while pregnant, and
breastfeeding (and having a healthy diet during it too)
All in all, know this: if you do have a baby and he/she has eczema, the research body is growing in the field and more understanding of what causes eczema are coming to light, which means better ways to treat it will follow.
A long while back I came across this article called From IUDS to IVT – Designing for Women’s Health on medium a while back, by Emilie Lasseron. In a nutshell, she talks about the new innovations in women’s health and how it is important for creators in this realm to be mindful of their audience. Naturally I tried to pattern match this to blend into the eczema realm as well, to combine my two interests/where I’m at in life now.
Lasseron’s big 5 bullet points were to “design:
– for passive engagement”, which was where she explained how we have a culture where we don’t really think about fertility until we start trying. This is similar to what we see with eczema (with eczema being a negative thing that people don’t try but experience). People don’t really think much about it, until it starts to take over and disrupt their way of life.
– for myths, not just the facts”, in which she explained that we have to meet people where they are at, even if that means from a perspective that may be incorrect or grounded in myths. This is huge for eczema. From dispelling the idea that we have contracted some contagion, to explaining that no, coconut will not cure the skin, there are so many “old wives’ tales” and other myths to slog through that when talking to someone new to having eczema, it’s important to be able to calmly and concisely explain the basics and why some of the commonly heard remedies may be wholly ineffective.
– for the conversation women want to have with their doctor”, in which she described creating tools to help women feel comfortable getting their questions out to doctors and to help them reclaim their agency. Which is also CRUCIAL with eczema. Patients with eczema are already feeling terrible about their skin. And so it is so important that they can feel able to openly talk with their dermatologist and not feel judged or scrutinized for their choices, where they are coming from in their educational journey, etc.
– with as few assumptions as possible”, in which she talks about not assuming women know everything about their bodies (most of us don’t), and uses the example of a period tracker app that expected you to know your cycle length before you could sign-up (I never personally know how long my cycle is). This is like if there is an app made for eczema and it keeps requiring the patient to know exactly when the flare started, what we ate that day, how long we slept, did we encounter any new allergens, etc. It is hard to track all of these little life factors, especially if we didn’t think we were going to flare, or we are new to having to deal with severe eczema.
– with side effects in mind”, in which she talks about making products that allow women to talk about/understand other side effects, an example being an app that tells you you may be more constipated during the luteal phase of your period. This would be the equivalent of an app that gets you to talk about various symptoms and co-morbidities of eczema like the oozing or the flaking or the infections, the isolation or depression, etc, so that it would be easier to identify:
one, what stage of a flare the person is in, and
two, what is most common, and therefore important to address (like increasing rates of depression).
All in all it was a fairly quick read and highlighted a lot of the innovation that is and needs to continue to happen within women’s health (and could be extrapolated to what innovation needs to happen in the eczema world too) to allow for better healthcare and treatment.
Speaking of innovation, I entirely missed hearing about this event: Make The Breast Pump Not Suck, a hackathon that happened in Boston April 27th-29th last year. It was hosted to try to address not just pump technology itself, but policies around maternity leave, breastfeeding spaces at workplaces, what barriers to breastfeeding exist, how to build community engagement, and getting stories from different women about their experiences. There were also community innovators mentioned who are doing awesome things in the field of women’s and maternity health (see here), including one in Boston called the Neighborhood Birth Clinic! The group is trying to open a free standing birth clinic in Dorchester. The event also highlighted different independent innovators like Melissa Hanna who created Mahmee, a secure platform that lets providers coordinate healthcare of both the prenatal and postpartum stages.
My dream is that there will be hackathons and the like for innovations with eczema too, besides just the Eczema Expo. And hey, if not, maybe that’s what I’ll work to pioneer one day.