For the first few days after having my little one, I was on such a high of nerves and adrenaline that I felt great! I had been on antibiotics while in the hospital, and after getting home my skin started to feel really dry. I started taking some probiotics and focusing on drinking lots of water (I knew getting enough sleep was a lost cause), and keeping my stress down.
Initially, my skin was calm enough that I had no problem doing skin-to-skin contact with baby Fi, but around week 4 or so I started to experience more flare symptoms- sweating, itching, redness- whenever I had the baby lay on me for too long. I started to have to wear long sleeves when holding her to not get overheated. I’m not exactly sure when this happened, but it may have also correlated when the humidity increased, and the temperature with it.
I’m not sure if it was due to the antibiotics, the temperature, the lack of sleep, the terrible diet I had in the hospital (think chicken fingers and ice cream for multiple meals in a day), or the hormone fluctuations but my skin definitely became more sensitive post-pregnancy. Though estrogen has been considered one of the reasons women can flare-up worse during pregnancy (see my post about pregnancy and eczema), after pregnancy the estrogen drops so it’s unclear what would be provoking my symptoms (besides the above mentioned items).
Either way I’ve had to be more creative about adjusting to life with a newborn. The biggest aspect I’ve had to cultivate is endless patience mixed with quick stress-reduction habits. My lackadaisical approach to getting house and life stuff done has been somewhat of a saving grace because my little one has wreaked havoc on my schedule. I’m exhausted in the afternoons, I have no idea what it feels like to sleep more than 3 hours at a time anymore, I tend to eat a bit worse now (mostly eating too many carbs and too much) because I lack the self control to stay as dietarily balanced when I’m sleep deprived. It’s something I’ll have to work on in the coming months.
I find ways to not focus on my skin when it’s getting all sweaty from holding her and I have learned to wear light layers or wrap a small blanket between her and myself when breastfeeding to avoid irritating the more sensitive skin areas like my stomach.
There are some inherently awesome aspects to having a newborn when you have eczema (at least in my experience). For one, I tend not to think about myself as much so I am not as aware when I am itchy. She keeps me busy to such an extent that even when I’m immersing my hands in water (which is traditionally a huge irritant) to give her a bath, I barely notice. Also, lately my core temperature seems to be evening out even as my skin fluctuates (which means that the hot, sweaty skin nights and cold shivers have been decreasing). I actually enjoy the cold temperature more than I used to, and I don’t enjoy basking in the sun for quite as long.
And overall I do think that my skin has been able to consistently heal slowly but surely. I feel as though I look more or less human again, what with the redness decreasing. I think the hormones from breastfeeding are helping my skin heal to some extent; I know my hair has gotten shinier, which is an awesome boon.
One aspect that sucks about eczema is how detrimental it can be for finding love. A large part of our society, for better or worse, may notice visual aspects of a person such as our skin first, and having rashes and redness that many people perceive to be contagious doesn’t help much when you’re on the market. Also, even if people aren’t noticing our skin, we may think they are and be more self conscious or less confident because of our own insecurities and perceptions.
Though it can see hopeless at times, there are many people out there who do suffer from eczema (or other visible skin conditions) that find love and prove that most people do see more than skin-deep.
The National Eczema Association had a post a while back that featured a few individuals sharing their stories about their experience with having eczema and dating, marriage, and intimacy, and how they manage to live happily ever after. The post also mentioned the character traits that the interviewees found most desirable in their partners: “openness, honesty, and authenticity”.
My own experience with eczema and romance has been fairly tame. I didn’t date until I was about 20, and when I first had the global skin flare my junior year of college I just retreated into my room for the most part and focused on how to deal with school rather than focusing on romance. I think at the time I was stressed enough by school in general that dating wasn’t really on my mind, and if it was I assumed my weird personality would be more of a deterrent than my skin. Though, when I was on oral steroids and antibiotics I remember going out a lot more and being a lot more flirty in general because my skin felt better. I think personally I just shifted wildly between hiding when I was flaring badly, to going out and being extremely social when my skin was under control. My skin was a bit bad after I graduated when I was working as a physical therapy aide back in Maryland, but I think I combatted that era of life by eating better and being freakishly active. I went out dancing a lot, but also ran every day and enjoyed hours in the sun. I also generally have an easier time with the visible skin issues in the warmer months, so even though I still slept poorly, I felt more comfortable in public with my skin because I knew it wasn’t as noticeable to others. When I started dating Jake, I remember the first night I stayed over his place I asked him why he kept his socks on all the time (even when the apartment was heated), and he said he had bad eczema that looked really gross. I told him I had eczema too and that he shouldn’t have to hide his feet and made him take off his socks. When my flares inevitably came back and plagued my entire body I did have moments where I felt really insecure I’d flood him with a whole host of questions. Do you want to be with me if I never heal? If I’m always flaky? If I’m always stressed by my skin? If I never want to go out anywhere? If some days I can’t cuddle with you? I’d ask him: why do want to be with someone who’s face was also dry, swollen and puffy? I am not pretty- I don’t even have skin! He always answered that I was beautiful and that my skin wasn’t want made me beautiful, and that yes, he wanted to be with me even if I never healed, we’d just learn to cuddle with sheets between us, and that he believed I would heal and it would just take a while and there would be good days and bad. Eventually I stopped having the insecurities around my skin and our relationship, and generally I don’t worry about that even if my flares are bad, which I think has helped us get much better at handling them. So in my experience, it just takes finding the right person, and eczema doesn’t impact that.
In regards to the experience of others, Abby Lai (of Prime Physique Nutrition) had a post and video a while back about dating when you have eczema that covered a lot of her own personal experience as well as advice to both the person with eczema as well as the partner.
Funny and incredibly genuine. A very caring and intelligent person. Also, hot.
Could you see that I had a visible skin condition? If so, what were your opinions on it?
No but I became aware of your skin history early on.
Did do you know what eczema was?
Yes, I have it.
Do you understand more about eczema now since we’ve been together?
Yes absolutely. We even do research together now.
Has my eczema ever affected me more than physically?
Yes, it is a stressful disorder that has at various times lead to compulsions, fear, chronic sadness, and stress.
What are your opinions on eczema and mental health?
The former can lead to problems with the latter.
Has my eczema ever come in-between our relationship?
Not exactly, though at times it has made some common/everyday things difficult, like prolonged physical contact, temperature control, going out and socializing, and eating.
How does my skin affect you?
It worries me when you aren’t feeling well. I internalize your stress and just want you to feel better. It hurts me to see you in pain.
Have you ever had a bad experience with my skin? If so, what was that and how did you help resolve it?
Yes. During dry out periods the flaking can be extreme and requires diligent house/car cleaning routines. During really bad flares, we need to almost entirely avoid physical contact. Hoodies and blankets help with that!
When I have a bad flare up eczema how does that affect me from your point of view?
It stresses you out and is deeply frustrating to you. It restricts common activity, and makes you worry about causality, especially dietary causes.
Do you think there is enough help out their for sufferers with a skin condition? If not, how do you think this can be changed?
No, there isn’t. The biggest thing that needs to change right now is overprescription of corticosteroids. Doctors almost universally address symptoms and not causes of this disorder. There needs to be an increase in education on the relationship between lifestyle and systemic inflammation. Such a relationship is known to exist and doctors should address the root causes of inflammation long before risking potentially permanent damage via misuse and overuse of prescriptions.
What would your advice be to others who are in a relationship with someone who has eczema (or any other condition)?
It’s important to keep in mind that this is a manageable condition and to be incredibly observant of any behaviors and habits that correlate to flares.
So there’s a taste of what it can feel like for the person on the other side of the eczema curtain.
I’ll leave you with the immortal ever-applicable words of India Arie, “I am not my hair, I am not my skin, I am the voice that lives within”.