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Always Worth It

Eva Marsal
Barcelona Spain
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 6, November-December 2007, p. 252

In March of 2004, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which is characterized by inflammation and ulcers on the interior wall of the large intestine or colon. Typical symptoms include diarrhea and abdominal pain.

At the time I was diagnosed, my youngest son, Gerard, was nine months old and my milk was still his main source of nutrition. The doctor who first saw me at the emergency room said he was going to have to admit me to the hospital because I had lost more than five kilograms (11 pounds) in just a few days and I was very anemic. I asked him if there was anything else he could do because it would be too difficult for Gerard and me to be apart. At that time, more than anything else, I wanted some sense of peace and familiarity, and I knew that continuing to breastfeed would make it so much easier to care for Gerard.

When I insisted that I would be continuing to breastfeed, the doctor decided that I could go home if I had help with the housework and my other children, and if I took my medication and had all the proper tests done.

Another issue -- what kind of medication I could take -- also worried me a lot. I was prescribed antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and steroids. But thanks to help from the head gynecologist at the hospital, I was given an antibiotic that was compatible with breastfeeding. I was also delighted when I was told that the anti-inflammatory and steroid medications were compatible, too.

Although most people didn't understand why I was still breastfeeding while suffering from this serious illness, it was precisely the breastfeeding that allowed me to take long naps with my baby, feed him without much effort, and calm him when he was fussing. Breastfeeding helped me and my entire family deal with my illness without a lot of traumatic changes in our family life.

Now Gerard is three years old and still breastfeeding. I will probably have to take medication for the rest of my life because ulcerative colitis is a chronic illness without a cure -- at least at this time. But breastfeeding my son has helped me during all this time to enjoy him and to enjoy motherhood.

I often talk to other mothers who are upset because they have been told they can't breastfeed because of a medication they need. I encourage them to explain to their doctors how important breastfeeding is to them and to respectfully but firmly ask for an alternative medication that is compatible with breastfeeding. It's almost always possible -- and it's worth it!

This article originally appeared in LLL Spain's newsletter. It was translated from Spanish by Kathleen Whitfield.

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