I was one of those women who had a blissful first trimester—no morning sickness and no fatigue, nothing but excitement for my first baby. But life as I knew it changed once I hit my second trimester, when I was diagnosed with a condition that has left me completely bald.
It started when I was about 14 weeks pregnant. After shampooing, I started to find huge clumps of hair clogging the shower drain. I’ve always had long, naturally curly hair, so losing strands wasn’t unusual and I initially brushed it off as no big deal. While curl-wanding my hair one day, my sister discovered two big bald spots—but still, I thought, “I can deal with this.” But when the thinning picked up speed, I started to worry. I was losing so much hair, it would fall onto the shower floor with a slap, like I had dropped a wet washcloth.
After a friend of mine confirmed this wasn’t simply “ a pregnancy thing” (in fact, they say hair gets thicker during pregnancy, not thinner), I made an appointment to see a dermatologist. The doctor diagnosed me with alopecia, a rare type of hair loss—affecting 1.7 percent of people in the US, according to the North American Hair Research Society—that occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your hair follicles. It’s not caused by pregnancy but is sometimes triggered by it—and can be permanent. I left the doctor’s office with a prescription oil for my head and instructions to come back after I delivered so we could talk about how to encourage hair regrowth. In the meantime, I had to find a way to deal with losing my long, curly locks.
My husband and I had dated for 10 years, but we hadn’t even been married a year when this ordeal began. I worried that people would judge him for the way I looked. I started wrapping the fallen hair strands in toilet paper before putting them in the trash, because I didn’t want him to know how bad it was.
He knew, of course. Anyone could see that I was losing massive amounts of hair. I broke down one night and had a good cry on his shoulder. Together we decided we weren’t going to let this ruin my pregnancy experience. I was healthy. Our baby was healthy. I was simply losing my hair, and I had to accept it.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. By my third trimester, I realized I was going to lose every hair on my body. I felt scared and vulnerable—having a lot of hair has always been part of my identity. Plus, I wanted to be the “cute pregnant woman,” but I didn’t feel that way.
One day I just had enough. I was trying to make my ponytail holder stay by wrapping it around my hair 18 times, and I just looked in the mirror and thought, “Why am I holding on to this?” I handed my husband the electric clippers, and he agreed it was time to let go. As I watched the last of my hair fall to the floor, I felt a pang of sadness. But it was also freeing. I no longer had to look in the mirror and see these scraggly strands of hair hanging on for dear life. Shaving my head helped me move on.
We went on a babymoon soon after that. I swam and tanned in the sun and embraced being “the baldie.” Sure, I cried and mourned my hair, but there are people out there who have bald heads and no eyebrows or lashes for much harder reasons. Do I wish I had my eyebrows and eyelashes back? Of course! But if I’m honest, no hair from the neck down is kind of a dream. Instead of stressing about my hair, I focused on my daughter. I loved feeling her move and reading to her every night. I threw myself into nesting mode, making sure the house was ready for her arrival. It all made it much easier to not even think about being bald.
Throughout this strange ordeal, my family has been by my side. My dad bought me some biotin oil, which was the sweetest gesture (even if it wasn’t going to help). My mom got me a dark brown, shoulder-length wig for work, which my sister styles for me when she visits. But honestly, I can’t stand the thing. If my hair doesn’t grow back, I’m just going to have to work with the baldness.
I’ve found that looking different can actually be a style bonus. When people see my bald head, they think it’s edgy and cool. Imagine that! My husband always tells me I look beautiful and encourages me not to wear my headwraps, to just be comfortable as I am. I’m working on it.
But it can be hard not to be hopeful that it’ll grow back. I’ve spotted three hairs in my right armpit and one in my left, plus one strand growing out of the back of my head. I know they're all new hairs because they're long and—get this—gray. A friend said I’ll end up looking like Storm from X-Men, which might be pretty cool. But the fact is, this baldness may be permanent. The doctor now says my diagnosis is alopecia universalis, which means it’s total hair loss, and the chances of my hair growing back are pretty slim.
Hair is something people think of as such a big part of being feminine, and losing mine has been tough. But it’s also taught me that these superficial things shouldn’t define us anyway. Not having hair doesn't change who I am as a person. I'm still loud, sarcastic and fun. I still love hard, and I’m still excited to be a mom. None of that will change, whether my hair grows back or not. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay with me.
And how’s this for a happy ending: My beautiful daughter was just born in July. She’s happy and healthy—and she has a full head of hair.
Courtni Guevara, 31, is a physician’s assistant in Laurel, Maryland, and mom to a new baby girl.
Published July 2017