In my first pregnancy, I learned what it meant to change course, to adapt and let go of how I imagined things would be. After a relatively simple first two trimesters, the third came crashing down around me with tremendous weight. I had no idea what was ahead of me, the pain and agony that I would feel, but also, the metamorphosis I would undergo because of it all. What I thought would break me actually became my reason to help others, to find answers for women where I had none. This is my story of transformation, the preliminary to my first birth story.
I carried big. There was no doubt that my body felt the full swell of pregnancy, my belly arching out much further than I thought possible, my skin taut with the pressure of the baby inside of me. Other than struggling to walk further than ten steps at a time, I felt no added complications to pregnancy. Swollen feet, out of breath and cravings were all things I knew were coming after a positive pregnancy test, things I might have even looked forward to as the excitement of change and growth surged inside of me. But what lay ahead of me couldn’t have been imagined or conjured in anyone’s minds, unknowing to me, the last four weeks of growing my child would feel like the rest of my life.
One morning at 36 weeks, I woke up from the itchiness at the bottom of my growing belly where a few lines of stretch marks appeared. It started small, just little lines on my skin, and the feeling of my fingers against flesh made any itch go away. Being that this was my first pregnancy I had little knowledge of any skin conditions that could occur in the third trimester, and I went to bed barely thinking it was anything other than dryness. The next day a few more pimple-like red bumps appeared and this time not only on the belly but on my forearm and thighs, almost invisible, like tiny pinpoints pushing out from inside of me, and along with them came a prickling sensation of intense itchiness.
On the third day, the feeling was excruciating. My skin flared up with red, raised hives from head to toe. It had broken out into what I can only depict as a monstrous rash. My flesh emanated heat and the itching sensation felt like burnt raw skin needing to be cooled down. What was this itching sensation? Was I sick? Was the baby inside of me sick? I had no idea what was happening to me and couldn’t think straight through the pain. For the next 24 hours I alternated between crying through the misery of what my body felt like, and focusing all my energy on finding anything to settle my skin. My husband brought home creams, serums, oral medications, and lotions that I would ferociously lather onto the hot rash, but nothing worked, nothing brought relief for even a moment.
On the fourth day, after a sleepless night of nonstop scratching the itchy raised bumps, I knew I had to go to the hospital. I had no idea what was happening, and as many first time moms can relate to, I didn’t know what the point of no return was where medical help at an emergent level was required. After four days of intense pain, and scratching my skin raw, I was exhausted and at the same time worried that if my body couldn’t find rest, my baby would be in trouble.
There is no way for me to describe how terrible I looked, but judging from the reaction of my family and the medical team, I looked nothing short of frightful. Here’s a glimpse of my PUPPP rash (Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy).
At the hospital, I was immediately admitted and placed in quarantine – a provision allotted to those who appear to be contagious, as the medical team had no clue what it was. The doctors ran tests and asked questions, all of which I could barely answer through the fog of itch and burn pulsing through my body. It was as if with each pump of my heart a new, more intense sensation of pain ran through my veins, delivering a dose of agony to my skin. The first decision was to biopsy the rash. A doctor took a sliver of my skin and ran it through an array of tests... the results were inconclusive. Another biopsy, another cut, and it was still inconclusive. I was admitted to a small room where I was told to rest, but rest was impossible. I couldn’t sit still and it was impossible to sleep through the uncontrollable itch.
For the next four days doctors prescribed ointments, antihistamine, topical steroids and even oral steroids. The nurses gave me four bags of ice to directly put on my limbs. Every two hours they would have changed the bags of melted ice from the heat of my body. Absolutely nothing helped me. The burning sensation coming through my skin was enough to drive me mad, and by this point pustules had started forming on the hives. I was approaching rock bottom and barely able to speak from exhaustion as I hadn’t slept in days. Being empathetic, a nurse offered me a packet of colloidal oatmeal to pour in the bathtub. It seemed more of a placebo at first but as I soaked my heated body into the tub of colloidal oatmeal water, a miracle happened. As I lay in the cool water, I felt the itch slowly dissipate, and for a moment, my mind and body felt calm. For a brief moment, the pain disappeared. This was it; this was the relief I needed, that my baby needed. I closed my eyes as tears streamed down my face.
Eventually a diagnosis was given. The delay in reaching one came from the severity of my case which had never been seen before, but after 4 days at the hospital and with multiple consultations from dermatologists and Obgyn, I was diagnosed with PUPPP rash (Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy) commonly seen in the last trimester of pregnancy, and more common for first time moms or moms carrying multiples. After a week of excruciating itch and pain, I was told the only option was to deliver my baby early. This decision was not easy for me, and trying to make a choice while enveloped in a fog of pain was the hardest thing I have ever done. I wanted to give my baby the best chance at being healthy and strong, and I knew I wanted to keep him safe inside of me as long as I could. My decision was to wait, which meant I needed to find something to relieve my skin.
The agony of those last weeks before giving birth was difficult to explain. I wanted to do what was best for my baby, but it was extremely hard for me to stay positive through the pain. I felt extreme confusion over knowing what was best for myself and for baby, and I grappled with so many questions. Should I find relief and deliver early? Or suffer through this PUPPP diagnosis while growing my child as long as I could? How can a new mother carry such decisions? And what is the toll it takes on a mother’s mind and heart to weigh two impossible scenarios?
My frustration of finding no way to alleviate my symptoms naturally threw me into my research. I wasn’t able to find a specific moisturizer or serum in the prenatal skincare market that was safe to use during pregnancy, and also provided the peace of mind that it was safe for my baby growing inside of me. Why is there such a limited choice of safe and effective products? The combination of soothing colloidal oatmeal and healing organic calendula were the ONLY ingredients that helped calm my rash immediately until my baby was born.
Finally at 40 weeks and 2 days, I was induced and admitted to deliver my baby. I had done what I set out to do, and carried my baby full term. My rash turned into smaller itchy patches and took about three months to heal. I was told by doctors that if I were to have a second or third pregnancy, this rash would very likely come back. The thought of having to relive this trauma was daunting. It is not something I would ever want to experience ever again. To prepare me for the second birth, I knew I had to find a solution - a serum I could safely use for my baby and myself while keeping the rash at bay.
Experiencing pain or discomfort during pregnancy can be so difficult, but the mental toll a mother goes through from wanting to make the best decision for her baby, and not knowing how, is heartbreaking.
This story is here to help mothers feel less alone during pregnancy, especially first time moms. We are warriors, and we should be celebrated.