In December 2017 I discovered a small, round, bald patch in my hair. I wasn’t overly alarmed. I had just given birth to my 3rd daughter, I was struggling with low iron levels and had lost patches of hair before – they always grew back. But when she was 11 months, the hair loss escalated really quickly. I found handfuls. Clumps in the shower. Hair on my pillow and clothes. A full hairbrush every time I blow dried my hair. My head itched all over. That’s when I started to panic. I spent hundreds on miracle hair growth cures. But no matter what shampoo, lotion or potion I put on my head, the hair still fell. In about two weeks I went from cute and hairy to a hardboiled egg that had been rolled in pubes. I started to think I was dying. Thank God my blood test results were healthy; I was packed off with a leaflet on alopecia and a referral to a dermatologist. She delivered the bad news to me: I had alopecia universalis. And she was right about that universal part: my eyebrows practically rubbed off as well, my eyelashes fell out, I even lost my nostril hair. And I was unlikely to ever see regrowth.
I cried so much. I cried in the car. I cried in the shower. I would cry in your face if you asked me how I was doing. I couldn’t focus on anything but my baldness, I compared myself to every other woman on the street and I felt so ugly. Bedtime was the worst moment of my day. My make-up was the last reminder of who I used to be; when I took it off, I didn’t recognise myself anymore. At the same time I was ashamed that I was making such a fuss over ‘only hair’: I was perfectly healthy and yet wallowing in self-pity.
I decided I needed a quick fix to hide what had happened. My mum made an appointment with a local hairdressers that sold wigs. She was so patient and kind. She educated me on the different constructions of wigs, what to look for and how to care for them. She suggested I take photos of each one I tried, so I could get used to how it looked. I chose a beach waved, synthetic cool blonde called Evanna. She was very expensive, but she offered me everything I ever wanted in a hair style – even more than my own natural hair ever did. I took her for a spin on the school run that same afternoon. No one batted an eyelid, one mum asked if I had had extensions. I felt so relieved: now I could carry on as normal. But with better hair.
The day I bought Evanna, I started my @baldmothertucker account on Instagram. I couldn’t bear the thought of having people point and whisper behind my back, questioning my new looks. I wanted to be open about what happened. I was incredibly conscious of being honest with my daughters of 12, 9 and 4 about why my hair fell out. I didn’t want to obsess on how I looked in front of them. I didn’t want them to worry or think that this had broken me. And I didn’t want their peers to see a wig wearing parent as a weakness to tease them about. I wanted to get there first, to make sure there wasn’t much else to be said about it by anyone. This approach helped me a lot in coming to terms with what had happened. Quite quickly I felt comfortable enough to go running or spinning with a bald head. I wasn’t discreet at all. It felt liberating.
I found it therapeutic to share my journey on Instagram. I met such kind and optimistic allies there. I took comfort in talking with fellow baldies who struggled with the same things, it helped to openly joke and laugh together about the ridiculousness of it all. Slowly I started to feel okay with myself again, with hair and without. My daughters stopped asking questions, other than ‘can I wear your wig please’. I stopped trying to solve my alopecia. Whatever the reason was – I guess it was a combination of low of iron and folium acid, exhaustion, stress and totally messed up hormones – my hair would not grow back. The energy I used trying to find an answer, shifted to seeing the silver lining in a shit situation.
By then I had fallen in love with wig wearing. I had always been miserable with my own hair, because it was very fine. Wigs gave me the freedom to wear every hairstyle I ever dreamed of – blonde, pink, grey, pixie, shoulder length – I would swap hairstyles to match my outfits all the time. Sometimes I would do the school run in one and pick up in another. My daughters got totally used to it. My middle one has her own wig collection. My youngest one says her mum has magic hair, because it changes all the time. She has never known me with natural hair. My wig collection is like a moving feast; they come and go. I prefer hand tied, synthetic ones, because they fit me better, they dry really fast and they are real easy to style – I’m too lazy for human hair. The best thing about it is that my hair is always ready to go. If I have a party on Saturday, I can do my hair on Monday. I’m ready to go so much faster.
By now I can fairly say I’m fine with being bald. I still feel sexier with hair and make-up on, but I’ve gotten used to seeing myself without them. I’m not even sure I would be happy when my hair would start growing again, because with alopecia it can always just go again. I found that losing hair is much harder than not having hair at all. But having my nostrils and eyelashes back… that would be awesome. I hate it when sweat runs into my eyes when I’m working out, or when I accidentally drip snot on my clothes because my nose keeps running all the time. Try wearing a face mask without nostrils, it’s such a pain. On the other hand: my legs and armpits are always super smooth and my moustache is gone for good. So there’s your silver lining.
To anyone struggling with alopecia I would say: don’t panic, there is life after this. I KNOW, all you do is panic, but give yourself some time. You are allowed to not be okay with it, hair loss causes a massive identity crisis. Get in touch with other baldies, let us help you and give you hope and strength. In fact, I think I’m more confident now than I ever was. My alopecia had given me a reason to step forward and speak out, so now I feel much more comfortable when I have to give a speech or presentation at work.
I found myself again. And so will you.