Thursday, November 1, 2012

Being a Bald Mamma or Daddy

A good friend of mine recently asked me for some ideas for her friend, who is beginning chemo shortly and has two young children. Her friend is hoping to ease the adjustment  for her children when she loses her hair. This mom is in my thoughts and prayers. I wish her and her family the best.

Regarding being a bald mamma, in my experience, it's not easy at first. But hugs and love feel no different to a child when they come from a parent who suddenly doesn't have hair. Quickly, she will realize you are the same person, despite the different appearance.
Katelyn's and my first day together post my hospital stay
(and her first day with a bald mama)

After returning from the hospital, I removed my hat for the first time in front of Katelyn. She asked me in her simple sentence fragments to put it back on. And then to take it off again. We repeated this several times, and my mom noted that Katelyn was probably hoping the next time I removed my hat, my hair would be back. My daughter's disapproval, expressed by physically distancing herself from me, was not easy for me to bare. Albeit, her reaction might have been less severe if she'd seen me more than a collective two hours over the prior 40 days. Regardless, her initial reaction quickly faded. 

Only a few weeks later, Katelyn had become so accustomed to my bald head that when I tried on a wig that matched my former blond hairstyle, she shirked away from me. I immediately took it off, and never wore it around her again. In fact, I never wore it at all. Katelyn liked her mommy bald, and that's who I am-- Katelyn's mommy.

As my hair began to grow back, one of her routine ways of showing affection was to pat the top of my head and say, "Hair growing back." Because hair grows so slowly, there's been no need for her to adjust to my appearance changing back to the "normal me." Now, when I show her pictures of me when I was bald, she doesn't associate the person in the pic with the mommy holding her. This is comforting. As a family, we are healing, and moving forward.

Below are a few ideas from a former bald mamma for easing the adjustment for children:
  • If your hair is long now, cut it very short before it falls out. Hair length seemingly affects the shape of your face. If your children have a chance to get used to the partial change, when you lose the rest of it, they'll only have to become accustomed to the change in texture.
  • If your children are old enough, let them help you cut it before it falls out. It may give them more of a sense of control. And how fun is it to chop off long hair? (just ask my childhood friend, Andrea, who I let do just that to me when we were kids)
  • Let your children help you decide your new look, or take their emotional cues, in terms of hats/scarves/wig/bald. There are a lot of stylish hats out there. Check out www.headcovers.com.
  • When my hair had reached "fuzz length," I used to tickle Katelyn by rubbing my head against her bare skin. If something can produce smiles, it's far less scary.
  • Because Katelyn was so young, I didn't have to worry about her feeling embarrassed of me, but other older children openly expressed their wonderment, and unfortunately occasionally disgust, at my head. I would've been happy to wear a wig to make it easier for Katelyn if she were older. In terms of responding to other children, I used a very simple explanation: "I had to take medicine that saved my life, but made me lose my hair. Being alive is much more important than having hair. Being a good person is also much more important than having hair." Although it's true that you can still be beautiful while being bald, I never mentioned beauty during my explanations because I believe that there's way too much pressure for young girls to be beautiful (but that is a different topic...)
  • But... since it's hard not to think about feeling ugly when bald, to comfort myself, I would search on the Internet for celebrities with short hairstyles. I liked seeing that healthy people also make the decision to show off every angle of their faces.
  • If you chose to wear a hat, ask your spouse to wear one too. Then your situation won't be as pronounced. Maybe children will want to wear them too. Often, all three of us did wear hats, including in our Christmas card photo.
  • Unfortunately, a bald head gives a visual to all the fears facing a family with a cancer diagnosis. For older children, I imagine that it might serve as a reminder of these fears. I used to worry that strangers would look at me and assume I was going to die, and I can't imagine having to worry that a child might have that same reaction. A wig might help children focus less on this. Or maybe baldness could become a sign that the medicine is working. If the chemo killed the fast-dividing hair cells, it must be strong enough to kill the bad cells. 
All we can do is try to find as many of those tickling, patting, hugging, stylish-hat-finding moments as possible. The fuzzy head on the bare tummy really does make a great wrestling move.