They often say to me that my body is a perfect miniature. No, if I could, I would change it instantly.
Six years ago, they diagnosed me a chronic intestinal disease, the Ulcerative Colitis, a serious illness that debilitates physically and mentally, that makes me have an half disability and that compelled me to take various medicines when it is active. I still remember the gastroenterologist told me: “Of all the diseases you have the most annoying, unfortunately there is still no cure and you will live with it for the rest of your life!” That day the world fell apart and a part of me stopped living. I was sick, I hated my body with all my heart, I continued to lose weight, I could eat almost anything, I looked in the mirror and I saw horrible. I could not find any size of clothing that could fit and I felt pain in every part of my body. I was often in hospital for several medical examinations and I followed various debilitating treatments with poor results. In consequence, I left the university because unable to attend lectures and I spent a long period of depression changing so many times my ambitions. My mother was always more worried for me and the situation was not easy to handle even for my partner. My friends and people in general did not understand how difficult living with this illness is, living with cramps, medicines, the shame of running to the toilet many and many times, it’s terrible! I was lost and I really felt alone, ugly and sick. It was the worst period of my life.
On February 11 of 2014, I gave birth to my son Samuele. After a rather traumatic childbirth, I stayed in the hospital for about ten days. The stitches did not leave me be and I was not able to take care of my baby boy. The milk did not arrive immediately and Samuele lost weight. The addition of milk formula was the only apparent solution, but I wanted to breastfeed at all costs also because I stopped taking the immunosuppressive a month before the birth. I felt helpless, frustrated and unsupported. Then finally came the lactation onset, but my baby still had the incorrect latch-on. I began to suffer from sore nipples, my nipples were literally lacerated and Samuele sucked more blood than milk. To make matters worse my illness came back to torture me. At that time, I was still living with my parents because we have some problems to enter in the new house. The unconsciousness if I could breastfeed while taking a medication or not, the pain of sore nipples, my Ulcerative Colitis, the tiredness, the fact of not having the father of my son with me every time took me in a state of “postpartum depression”. I was desperate and hopeless.
Therefore, after just two weeks after giving birth, I gave up and I decided to stop breastfeeding starting with the bottle formula, but Samuele regurgitated and vomited continuously and he desperately cried for colics and the missing of his “titta”. One day, guilty and desperate, I squeezed my left nipple and I saw that there was a small drop of milk. How was it possible? My nipples dried out forming scabs and I lost all the old skin: it had been a month since I unwillingly bandaged my breasts. With tears of joy, I began then to inquire about re-lactation. Was it possible? Thanks God a friend of mine contacted me advising to turn to a lactation consultant and so I did. I had never done pre-natal courses and did not know anything about anything. My beautiful mama had not been lucky enough to breastfed me so she did not know what to advise me. I decided to take a winding road and uphill.
Once I called the poison center and confirmed compatibility drug-lactation, I started using the breastpump and to breastfeed Samuele at least a dozen times a day, trying to reduce more and more the addition of infant formula. Following my determination and willpower, I managed to remove the last bottle formula at 8 months of my little man. With weaning, everything was simpler, until today, a year and a half of milk and love!
Many people when they see me breastfeeding they look at me with disapproval and repulsion. “Are you still breastfeeding? He is bigger than you! ” “You still have milk? How lucky!” I reply with a smile: “Of course, yes! If I had not followed my heart and my willpower I would still drowned by guilt and by the perception of my sick body!”
Thanks to my son, I was born for the second time and my body too. I learned to live with my ulcerated gut, to respect the moments of relapse, to get up stronger than before, to get better for my son and myself. He made me a stronger woman and a brave mother and gave me the chance to express myself through my work as a professional photographer. This June I set the first of many stages of my photographic exhibition “Sotto la Stessa Pelle” (“Under the Same Skin”) with breastfeeding’s theme precisely.
Nobody says it is easy, breastfeeding is exhausting, debilitating, takes energy and makes nervous, but at the same time creates a very strong bond visceral and instinctive. When I feel tired and about to give up, I remember the effort I made to re-breastfeed and this gives me new strength and energy to face the day. Breastfeeding is the sweeter experience a mother can feel after giving birth to her child. It is complicity, magic, perfume, intimacy, gaze, happiness. It is feeling two hearts beating “under the same skin”! Thank you.
-Chiara De Marchi is a regional photographer for A Beautiful Body Project based in Italy. To book a shoot with her, please visit: www.ricordidifiabe.com/