Alyscia Cunningham

Alyscia Cunningham

Alyscia Cunningham is a portrait and editorial photographer. Her main focus is to promote the natural beauty of girls and women through unaltered photography (meaning minimal Photoshop). Through her lens, Cunningham captures and celebrates raw beauty, as she believes the media not only does a good job of focusing on our insecurities but also profiting from it.

 
January 04 2016

The Severity of Eczema

Alyscia Cunningham

My entire nine months of pregnancy was full of sadness, bitterness, and anger. For the sake of my baby inside me, I did my best to go through each day without holding onto those negative feelings.

A few weeks after giving birth and sleepless nights, I noticed my daughter’s skin appeared dryer than the usual newborn baby skin.

I pointed it out to her doctor and he assured me that it was normal for newborns. Although I heard him, there was one question in my head: “Is this eczema?”

I suffered from eczema as a child and always wore long pants in shame of the raw ring-patched skin all over my legs. This was an experience I definitely didn’t want my children to ever go through.

At six weeks old, my daughter’s skin went from slightly dry to having inflamed open sores. She was then diagnosed with severe eczema. We tried every natural remedy possible to help relieve her itchy skin. And each doctor we sought help from said she had the most severe case they’d even seen. If I didn’t know better, these doctors would have used my daughter as their lab rat, testing products on her skin “just to see how it works.”

My daughter figured out creative ways to itch her skin before she had total control of her hands. When I’d lay her on her back, she’d rock her arms in an up and downward motion to scratch the back of her arms and elbows.

She was so uncomfortable and occupied with itching that she never crawled. She never slept through the night or even went through the baby food phase. She seemed to be allergic to everything.

If she was awake (which was most of the time), we didn’t put her down to play on her own so she wouldn’t break her skin by constantly itching. These episodes left blood-soaked patches on her clothes and sheets. Seeing her blood-covered open sores made me panic. I knew it was painful for her.

At that time, I was working on my first book, Feminine Transitions, a coffee table book celebrating the natural beauty of girls and women through unaltered (no Photoshop) photography. Here I was promoting self-love and acceptance despite the media’s depiction of beauty, yet I was challenged by the constant whispers of people staring at my daughter’s bruised skin as we walked by.

I slept only an hour or two each night. The only opportunity I had to work on my book was when she would doze off for a few minutes. During those times, she sat on my lap as I did my best to finalize the layout and respond to the designers’ emails and interview requests.

People in my networking groups constantly reminded me that, since my daughter was a few months old, I needed to come out to events and show my face, outside of the emails I sent. Not only would these comments upset mebecause no one truly knew what I was experiencingbut I stopped explaining my situation because people didn’t get it.

No one ever thought to ask, “How are you?” “Do you need help?” Everything seemed to be about business without considering my well-being, or that of anyone else, for that matter.

I thought to myself, “Who am I fooling? No way is it possible for me to go through with my book.” I was broke financially, exhausted mentally, sitting in a pool of depression, praying that my daughter would be healed. It broke my heart to see her suffer.

I honestly thought that, if I died, things would be better for her because all she’d take is my breast milk, which she also seemed to be allergic to. Through process of elimination, I stopped eating certain foods to figure out her allergies. Through this process, I lost a significant amount of weight. I was unhealthy.

I blamed myself, thinking my daughter’s condition was due to my stress during pregnancy. The doctor told me it wasn’t possible. I didn’t believe him, given that a doctor also told me my daughter didn’t have eczema. I could have helped her before her skin condition was as severe as it was by that time.

It was then I realized the importance of being holistically happy and mentally healthy during pregnancy, and in general. My baby was brewing in fluids of emotional sadness, frustration, and suffering. The severity of my feelings reflected in her skin. I was out of balance.

In no way am I beating myself up with blame, but I do now understand the importance of feeling holistically good. I couldn’t help but to think about the stories my mom told me about her pregnancy stress when she was expecting me. I thought to myself, “Is eczema stress related?”

Thankfully, as my daughter’s first birthday approached, my cries for help were answered. My husband was doing renovation work on a woman’s home, and she suggested we contact her cousin, a doctor who cures allergies. Supposedly he did it with injections called LDA (low-dose allergen) immunotherapy.

After quarterly doses of LDA, my daughter’s skin began to heal. We are forever grateful to Dr. Richard Layton in Townson, MD. I tell every parent I know who has a child who suffers from eczema about him and the miracle of LDA.

My daughter never crawled. She went straight to walking at around 15 months. She didn’t do any of the “normal” baby stuff, but she continues to grow into a strong and determined little girl.

I will always remember the moment she first noticed that the sores on her arms were healing. She pulled her sleeve back and looked at her arm with amazement (her eyes open wide). Then she poked out her arm toward me, showing me her sore-free skin as she babbled off in her baby language smiling happily. It was a joyful moment that brought tears to my eyes.

Only those who have experienced this can fully grasp the emotions associated with eczema. Either way, my hope is to open up conversations to the importance of holistic health, particularly during pregnancy. Unfortunately the typical doctor is not well-informed, nor does a good job of discovering natural and alternative methods of healing outside of their medical degree.

With that in mind, we must go beyond and do our own research. When you know better, you think better. When you think better, you feel better.

Be well!