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Postpartum is no joke and the laundry list of symptoms that new moms experience while going through it is daunting to say the least. I knew going into motherhood that postpartum could be pretty rough, so I prepared myself (mentally at least) for the possibility of the loveliness that postpartum can bring. Depression, anxiety, hair loss, skin craziness, decreased sex drive...these are just a few of the not-so-awesome things that can happen after going through a pregnancy and childbirth. I experienced all of these to some degree or another, but the worst postpartum symptom I experienced—and am still experiencing—caught me completely off-guard: psoriasis.
If you're like a lot of people, you may not actually know what psoriasis is, so I'll give you the CliffsNotes explanation. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease characterized by red, itchy, scaly patches of skin on the body. The average person's skin cells mature and are replaced every 28 to 30 days, whereas this skin cell turnover process happens every 3 to 5 days in a person with psoriasis. This rapid growth of the epidermal skin layer is what causes the raised, scaly patches on psoriasis sufferers. It can occur on various parts of the body, but the elbows, knees and scalp are some of the most common areas. This disease is not contagious, but it is chronic and there is no cure... and I have it.
After the birth of my daughter three-and-a-half years ago, I started noticing flaking on my scalp. It was really itchy all the time, but I just assumed it was dandruff. After awhile though, my scalp was so itchy it would bleed and I finally showed my husband who was noticeably taken aback by the appearance of my scalp and suggested I see a dermatologist. The dermatologist took one, quick glance at my scalp and immediately confirmed that my late-night Google sessions were right. I had plaque psoriasis on my scalp. Thankfully it wasn't anywhere else, but hearing the diagnosis and that I would have to deal with this for the rest of my life felt incredibly overwhelming. He prescribed some steroid shampoos, but my options were limited as a nursing mom, so basically I just had to live with it.
The dermatologist took one, quick glance at my scalp and immediately confirmed that my late-night Google sessions were right.
I realize that some people reading this might think I'm being a bit dramatic about "a little scalp flaking", but psoriasis is a disease that can really interfere with a person's life. In addition to the comorbidities associated with psoriasis, there are so many logistical considerations to think of every day as well, like the fact that I can't wear certain things or wear my hair in certain ways or even sit on certain furniture without fear of shedding skin all over. And getting a haircut, well let's just say that it is an exercise in absolute humility.
I had heard that sometimes women will experience a decrease in their psoriasis symptoms during pregnancy, so I hoped and prayed that it would be the case for me, but alas, it got worse and then even worse postpartum. I've learned that hormonal fluctuations can often lead to flare-ups—lucky me. During pregnancy I couldn't use any type of treatment, but after my postpartum flareup, and experiencing a horrific staph infection (people with psoriasis are at-risk for secondary infections as a result of the disease) I knew I needed to find a real solution, because this condition was really interfering with my life.
I went back to a new dermatologist and asked for help. I proceeded to try every topical treatment I could while nursing my baby. There were a lot and nothing really helped, but we had to exhaust all of the options before my insurance would pay for more effective treatments (most insurances do the same.) My options were a couple of injectable prescription drugs that had a slew of side effects and were obscenely expensive—just one dose of one of these drugs was $4,000 and I would need an injection every three weeks. I almost cried. Actually, I did cry. The other option was a laser treatment that would require me to go to the dermatologist 45 minutes from my house twice a week for 8 to 16 weeks, or possibly forever, because who really knows. The laser treatment is also ridiculously expensive, but it has far fewer side effects and can be done while nursing or during pregnancy. So I went for it.
I've been going for three weeks and things are starting to clear up a bit, but it's still pretty awful and my scalp is still flaky and itchy and horrible to look at. I have hope that one day I'll be able to get my condition under contra or better yet, that researchers will find a cure, but until then I'm taking it one day at a time. Who knew postpartum side effects could last forever?