Motherhood— it is defined simply as “the state of being a mother.” Have you ever heard of anything more understated than this? Yet, how does one accurately define the experience of motherhood? It is a life-long state encompassing so damn much. A range of emotions— from joy to heart-wrenching pain, love and compassion to anger and aggravation. It is the best of times and the worst of times. It is having all of the patience in the world one minute and absolutely zero the next. Motherhood enters your soul when the pregnancy test turns positive and never leaves— even when you so desperately want it to for just a few minutes so you can breathe and relax and have a thought that is yours, all yours, with no attachment to children or mothering or anything of the sort. As my own mother has said to me many times, Motherhood is being only as happy as your saddest child.
Every mom (and dad) at one point or another will experience the sadness of a child who is suffering from medical issues. We will find ourselves on the mothering-end of a broken bone, a terrible bout with the flu, an unexpected fall, a sports injury, or an unexpected diagnosis. A common element among these sources of illness and injury is the significance of the child’s suffering. Among other things, our child’s suffering defines our experiences of motherhood during those challenging times. I recently spoke with Kristin Davis about her experience as a mom navigating life after her child’s diagnosis. Davis is best known for role as the endearing Charlotte on Sex and the City or as my kids would say, the mom from Shark Boy and Lava Girl. She struggled to treat her child’s symptoms, including skin-itching and pain for about a year before getting an official diagnosis of atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema.
According to Dr. Lawrence Eichenfield, Chief of the Pediatric and Adolescent Dermatology Center at Rady’s Children’s Hospital, “atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema and is a disease that presents with a mixture of rashes, intense itch, cracking, oozing and crusting of the skin.” Information from Rady’s Dermatology Department describes eczema as the most common chronic, pediatric skin disorder, “affecting 15 to 20 percent of children in the United States” and notes that “the impact of eczema can be profound, as it affects both the patient and family members, and has both physical and emotional effects… [For example,] patients can experience considerable discrimination and social isolation. People often stare or step back in fear from those who have this condition. The end result for patients can be a lifetime of struggling with their sense of worth and self-esteem.”
After a proper diagnosis, Davis found a treatment plan that works for her child. “It got better slowly as I tried to pay attention to the triggers- a lot of it was trying to educate myself. We came up with a multi-pronged treatment plan and the severity has decreased, but I never know when it is going to flare up.“ Like any of motherhood’s greatest challenges, the road to treatment was paved with some important lessons, including, as noted below, the importance of sharing one’s story, which Davis is doing. Whether you’re a parent to a child with eczema or a parent who may one day nurture a child who is ill, you may find that the lessons below, gleaned from my interview with Davis, offer support, from mother to mother.
Trust Your Instincts
Davis watched her child suffer with the symptoms for months, trying a variety of topical creams to no avail. She wondered if “this is some shortage on my parenting that I can’t get the right cream to make this [rash] go away.” Deep down in her soul, however, lived the voice known as mother’s instinct and it was telling her that this rash was something more serious. She didn’t listen to that voice right away, but as we know, when we don’t listen, the voice of intuition gets louder. “It was a stressful time for sure and it took a while for me to trust myself to talk strongly to my pediatrician about it.” But once she did, she received a proper diagnosis and treatment plan and with that came relief and a sense of control. Her biggest piece of advice to moms is to “trust your instincts and speak up – you are not wrong.” That little nugget can be applied to life outside of motherhood, too: Do not underestimate the power of intuition.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
Davis says that other moms would offer her advice for treating her child’s atopic dermatitis. “They kept telling me things like scrub it really hard and it will go away— things that really just did not work out. It was a stressful time for sure.” She couldn’t help but wonder at times, “how come my friend was able to scrub it off, but I can’t?” While it is useful to share success stories, we simply cannot compare ourselves nor our journeys with those of other moms. Each journey through motherhood is unique and what works for some may not work for others.
Share Your Story
One of the greatest things to come from any of life’s challenges is that once we get through them, we are better prepared to help others. And one very easy way to do that is to simply share your story with honesty, just as Davis is doing. It isn’t always easy to show the world or your neighbor or the local moms group on Facebook your vulnerabilities and shortcomings or to stand up and say hey this was really, really hard and I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s scary and uncomfortable, but part of our journeys as mothers who get through the hard stuff must include sharing how we do it, so that those who are walking where we once crawled will see a glimmer of hope and know that one day they, too will be on the other side.
Have a Plan B
You can never be too prepared when it comes to your children and their health or future. While Davis has found success in managing her child’s atopic dermatitis by identifying and avoiding triggers, her research and thirst for education regarding pediatric eczema led her to discover the medication Dupixent. Dupixent, which is an FDA-approved treatment for uncontrolled moderate-to -severe atopic dermatitis in patients as young as 6-years-old, is administered as an injection under the skin. It is a systemic therapy that is providing promising results for a systemic disease.Dupixent can cause serious side effects, and parents should talk to an eczema specialist to discuss the most appropriate treatment for their child. While Davis’ child has not used this medication, she is excited that there are more options available for other moms. “There is a different option. I am so excited for other parents who maybe didn’t have the success [that we did].” And while she is hopeful that her child’s atopic dermatitis will stay managed under her current treatment plan, she is happy to know there is an alternate treatment option available should the need arise.
Motherhood is so much more than the “state of being a mother.” It is an experience that is both universal and totally unique at the same time. We add to the definition of motherhood every day as we write our stories; there is no Webster definition that can do justice to the word Motherhood, but us moms, we know and we will forever share the bond that is motherhood. Perhaps Davis defines it best when she says, “ I still have to remind myself you do the best that you can do. As a mother (or father), you beat yourself up over things. We should just try to give ourselves a break because we are all doing the best that we can.” And we always will.
For more information about eczema or to show support during October, eczema awareness month, visit https://www.aafa.org/eczema-awareness-month/
For more information about eczema visit https://www.rchsd.org/programs-services/dermatology/eczema-and-inflammatory-skin-disease-center/ Rady’s Children’s Hospital in San Diego,