Motherhood can do a number on a woman’s hair. Sure, it starts out great with the hormone boost during pregnancy – it’s thicker, fuller and shinier. Once baby arrives, though, it can change significantly in its texture, curl and volume. You might remember some post-baby showers when your once-glorious hair came out in handfuls and went down the drain (along with your hopes of a Pantene endorsement deal).
During the early days, weeks and months of parenthood, you’re tending to your baby so much that your own hair care needs inevitably fall to the wayside. You barely have time to set foot in the shower for basic hygiene, let alone turn on a blow dryer, curling iron, or straightener. A greasy ponytail becomes your must-have look (as in, you’re not thrilled with having it, but you must, at least for now). You’ve got a tiny living being depending on you for its very survival – you simply don’t have the time or energy to invest in frivolous cosmetic tasks. In fact, you’re so delirious from lack of sleep that an ultra-short “mom haircut” (the kind you swore you’d never have) starts to sound like a good idea.
For a little perspective at times like these, imagine what it’s like to be a mom with no hair at all. Julie Sadler lives it every day. Julie has alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes her hair follicles to be dormant. Although she is in perfect health, she doesn’t have any hair on her head, her eyebrows, or anywhere on her body.
Julie lost her hair in high school and wore a wig until she was in university. When she’s out and about, she wraps her head in a bandanna (or wears a toque in the winter). At home, she leaves her head uncovered, likening it to coming home after a long day and wanting to remove any uncomfortable or restrictive clothing.
While she now talks openly about her condition and her experiences, she admits it has been a long journey to self-acceptance. “It’s so easy to be wrapped up in what other people think about you, especially when you physically don’t fit in,” she says.
Julie’s husband and two school-aged children have only ever known her without hair. She says her daughter is very matter-of-fact when speaking about it to peers, while her son is more likely to get defensive. “We always have conversations about ‘we are what we are,’” Julie says. “My son has moles he doesn’t like, and he wants them to be removed. I often say to him: ‘Well, I don’t have hair, and that’s not a choice, it’s just the way I am. You’re going to find somebody who loves you. You’re going to find friends. Your appearance doesn’t make you who you are.’”
In her job as an Early Childhood Educator, Julie experiences unconditional acceptance from her kindergarten students on a daily basis. She notes that in over five years in her current job, she has only ever had a few children ask why she covers her head or if she has hair under her bandanna. “That’s the great thing about kids at that age – they don’t notice or care,” she laughs.
There have been misunderstandings with adults, some of whom approach Julie assuming she is ill and has undergone chemotherapy. She says she tries to graciously explain her situation and share advice as best she can. “Often the people who want to talk to me are cancer survivors, and hair loss has been traumatic for them,” she explains. “I’ve taken off my bandanna in the middle of a store to teach a woman how to tie it, because she just couldn’t master it.”
Alopecia was in the Hollywood news recently when actress Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of Will Smith, opened up about her hair loss and described the initial experience as “terrifying.”
Julie acknowledges that being the only bald mom in the schoolyard can be hard. “I go through times where I wish I could go get my hair done, or have a change of look,” she says. “It has been a long process, but I feel like the experience has made me more resilient. Things don’t bother me the way they used to. I value things differently now.”
For others living with alopecia or hair loss, Julie’s advice is to “allow yourself to go through all the emotions to get to where you need to be, to be okay with it.” And, for parents of children with alopecia, she suggests empowering the child to make the decision. “Don’t cover it up for them,” she says. “If they want people to know, it’s important to let them be who they are. It’s going to make them stronger.”
So, the next time you feel frustrated by your unwashed messy bun or notice another grey hair, remember that it’s not your hair that makes you a good person or a good mom. Long hair, short hair, or no hair at all – we’re all moms doing our best. That’s the kind of wisdom you won’t find in the shampoo aisle.