This blog has been dormant for quite some time, but I figured it was the most logical place to post this. I wrote this about 18 months ago with the plan of making it available online in case anyone was searching the internet for stories of other people who lost all their hair during pregnancy (as I had searched, to no avail). I’m not exactly sure why I sat on it for so long, but I figured I might as well post it now.
My first two trimesters of pregnancy were a damn delight. I never threw up, and even the feeling of mild carsickness that lasted for a couple of months had the silver lining of allowing me to feel justified in eating oyster crackers nonstop. I really thought I was nailing this whole being pregnant thing. I became used to quirky symptoms that would show up for a few days and then disappear: sore hips, itchy feet, hair coming out by the fistful…except that last one didn’t go away.
It started with an itchy scalp towards the end of my second trimester. It was so itchy that I resorted to slathering coconut oil and then even hydrocortisone on my scalp when I went to bed. I switched to the undeniably sexy Head & Shoulders shampoo and notified my hair stylist that I would have to put a halt to my quarterly color and highlighting regimen. It was when I visited my stylist for a trim and scalp treatment that she noticed a bald patch on the back of head, which she assumed was alopecia. It didn’t really bother me; in fact, I showed it off to my husband as soon as I got home and even bragged about it a little at a friend’s Fourth of July party the next day. It was my pregnancy badge, my “weird shit happens to our bodies am I right?” moment that bonded me to gestating women throughout history.
In the days that followed, I noticed more hair in my comb and on my hair bands when I released my hair from its ponytail. I had always had a lot of hair, and I was used to dozens of strands adorning my bathroom floor at all times. But this was more, and at a time when by all accounts I was supposed to have lush, thick hair because pregnancy hormones tend to stop the shedding cycle. I remember the day I took my comb out on my porch to finish combing after my shower because so much hair was getting on the floor. That was the moment, the one that now plays in slow motion in my mind, underscored with something sad like “Landslide.”
I took belly pictures every week of my pregnancy, but eventually they came to mark the progress of my hair loss as well. The volume of my super chic messy bun decreased dramatically between weeks 30 and 31. Week 32 is when I went to my wonderful hair stylist Lindsey, who gave me a shorter cut to make my hair seem fuller.
Searching for answers, I called my mom, who up until this point had been able to empathize with every part of my pregnancy because our symptoms were very similar. But this time she was stumped. So I tried a Google search. And that was when panic started to set in. I think we all know that if a Google search doesn’t turn up any matches to your condition, you are a genuine freak of nature. And I got zippo.
Many, dare I say most, women lose hair after giving birth. That’s the tradeoff for not shedding as much during pregnancy. And it can be dramatic, resulting in bald spots and receding hairlines. But if my internet searches are to be believed, no one in the online worlds of Baby Center, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, even Yahoo! Answers – the official home base for misguided weirdos – had ever experienced, or at least had ever mentioned in such a forum, this occurrence.
At my next doctor’s appointment, I mentioned what was happening. My doctor, who at our first appointment had gone on a ten-minute tangent about how fast tuna can swim, had little to say on the matter. He mentioned that women usually lose hair after giving birth and then something about how all women’s hair thins as they age. This was neither helpful nor a direct response to my query. So I cut to the heart of the matter, the thing that, at the time, truly was the most important point: Was this the sign of something dangerous for my baby? The doctor said no, so I smiled and said, somewhat convincingly, that I could deal with anything as long as it wasn’t a health concern. I think I believed that. I also think it didn’t occur to me that I would keep losing hair.
But the shedding didn’t let up. I started dreading showers: washing my hair and watching clumps fall towards the drain, emerging and looking in the mirror to see my part getting wider every day, putting the trash can on the bathroom counter and combing my hair over it to keep our floor from looking like Supercuts at the end of a busy day.
And the crying. Oh boy, did I cry. I cried as the hair came out in my hands. I cried when I looked in the mirror. I cried when I saw other beautifully coiffed pregnant women or recent pictures of myself with a full head of hair. I cried as I attempted to apologize to my husband for being so hideous (important note: he loved me even when I was nearly bald and wearing a Breathe-Right strip to bed every night).
One Saturday morning my mom called. “You need to get your thyroid checked,” she told me. She and my grandmother had both had hypothyroid issues, and coupled with my hair loss she thought I might be dealing with the same thing. You can imagine how helpful this information is on a Saturday morning. Hey mom, why not call at 5:01pm Friday before a long weekend, just to give me a little extra time to sweat it out?
First thing Monday morning I called my doctor’s office. Actually that’s not true at all. It was more like third thing Tuesday afternoon. Two things I despise: making phone calls and questioning people about things that I know they know more about than I do. So imagine my joy when those two anxiety sources intersected so beautifully. But something happens to you the fifth time in one day that you have to take off your bra to free the fallen hair than has trapped itself between it and your back. So I finally called.
The nurse explained that they had already, in fact, tested my thyroid in my first round of blood work, thanks to my “advanced maternal age” (38! A medical miracle!), and that it was normal. Cool. I triumphantly called my mom and told her to just chill the hell out. “They need to check it again,” she said. “Your thyroid levels can change during pregnancy.” I was silent. Stunned. At a total loss. “You mean I have to call them back???”
I did call them back. And in an effort to not have to make a third call for whatever reason, I pleaded with them like the crazy, hormonal pregnant woman that maybe I was or at least I could pretend to be. “My hair is falling out. Not a little. A lot. In fistfuls. Maybe it’s not my thyroid, but I would really like you to order a test for me just in case. Please.” Okay, now that I’ve written that out it doesn’t seem like a big deal that I said that, but at the time it felt like an Oscar-worthy speech, the Erin Brockovich of hair loss. And after a dramatic pause of roughly .25 seconds (but man, it sure felt like half a second), the nurse agreed to test me again.
Let’s cut to the chase, my thyroid levels were low. Not insanely, dangerously low, but low enough to go on medication (Levothyroxine) and – I guess – enough to explain why I was losing my hair. It’s not a common side effect, but if you Google “hypothyroidism” and “hair loss” you do actually get some results. So now I was feeling like less of an outcast, or at least I was in a group of outcasts and not just a solo member. When the nurse called to tell me the results, I had mixed feelings. Certainly I was relieved that there was some kind of explanation for what was happening. But that quickly gave way to being outraged that I had to ask for this test to be done. That when I told my doctor about the hair loss, he didn’t think to have me tested. That my nurse hadn’t thought of the need for a re-test when I first called her.
My parents are both doctors, so I tend to give the medical industry the benefit of the doubt. But I had just discovered the need to be my own advocate when it comes to my health. And being in my third trimester of pregnancy, this was not exactly a welcome thought. I wanted to be able to blindly trust the doctors and nurses who would be seeing me through the last stages of my pregnancy as well as the labor and delivery process. I wanted them to know more about my body than I did. It was just easier that way. Crap.
And so I cried some more. Now I cried because I wish I had a different doctor. I cried because I worried that my thyroid levels would negatively affect my baby (more Google searches!). And I cried because I was terrified of resenting my daughter for what was happening to me.
At the very least, now I could move on to the “coping with hair loss” stage. This involved hats, scarves, and a product that is basically the glamorous lady version of that infomercial bald spot spray paint.
As I continued to cope with my imminent baldness, I kept it a secret from the vast majority of people in my life. As someone who makes a living based on her appearance, I was grateful that my pregnancy had taken me out of most work possibilities and I wasn’t spending every waking moment trying to figure out how to camouflage my thinning hair for auditions (“Balding Mom” roles are few and far between, it turns out). There was, however, one looming obstacle: I was about to start a three-week movie shoot.
Months earlier, I had been approached by a fellow alum from The Second City, the theater where I had performed back in Chicago, about a role in a movie he had written. He had, in fact, mentioned it to me a few times in the past handful of years because he had written a part in it specifically for me. His funding had finally come through and he was ready to roll. The first obstacle a few months back was a relatively easy one; when I told him I would be seven months pregnant during the shoot he didn’t bat an eye and thought it would be a great addition to my character. So if pregnancy was a great addition to my character, imagine what a gift bald pregnancy would be!!!
As the time approached to start the shoot, I knew I would need to mention my hair issue. Fortunately, the film was about a girls’ softball team and I played their manager, so wearing a hat much of the time was an easy, logical solution. So I sent him and the wardrobe woman an email about it, bracing for their response…which was, essentially, “okay!” No one seemed terribly concerned. So for the next three weeks I donned various hats and bandanas. As my hairline continued to recede, the bandanas became more and more difficult for me to make work. I kept thinking, “I just have to get through this shoot. Then it can all fall out for all I care.”
On set with the hardest working scarf in show business:
I did make it through the shoot with enough hair to poke out from a bandana and look not entirely ridiculous. But just barely. By the time we wrapped, I had achieved a look that can best be imagined by picturing Gollum from Lord of the Rings. My husband came up with that comparison, which would seem really mean if it weren’t so accurate and he weren’t such a huge LOTR fan.
One day I put on a full face of make up and a nice dress and had my husband take my picture in the baby’s room. I was trying very hard to find something beautiful about my hair loss, but I saw this picture and freaked out:
After wrapping the movie, I began my official maternity leave. Nothing to do but wait for this baby. It being August and me being huge, I spent hours a day in the pool. I wore a hat or bandana at all times, even if I was home alone. I couldn’t stand catching my reflection in a mirror. I even started wearing a bandana to bed. The big question at this point was would it start growing back after the baby was born? We’d have to wait to find out.
And wait. And wait. When I was a couple of days past my 40 week due date, we had a doctor’s appointment. He informed me that I was “not even close” to having this baby. I left devastated. Partially because I wanted to meet this baby girl who I assumed would be born with a full head of bouncy highlighted hair in some weird circle of life thing, and partially because I wanted this pregnancy to be over. I wanted to at least see if my hair was going to come back. Also there was the incidental fact that my feet looked like Weird Al in the “Fat” video.
So my husband and I came home from the doctor. I did some more crying. And then he shaved my head. (Yes, I asked him to.)
I started by taking scissors to the patches of strands that remained. It felt great. I don’t know why, because I’d never looked weirder, but it did. Then Joe took over with the trimmer and finished the job in about 90 seconds. It was such a relief. There was no shock about my appearance; I had had so little hair left that I already knew what I would look like bald. And honestly, I looked so much better. There were no more sad, stringy strands, no more trying to make hair come out from under my hat in such a way that made it look normal. I was unapologetically bald. And I loved it (despite the expression in this photo).
Although it continued to feel like a relief to have shaved my head, the brief honeymoon period during which I thought I’d be a-ok going out in public with an exposed scalp didn’t even last until the next morning. Then it was back to the good ol’ hats and the sudden realization that now people would assume I had cancer. A nine-months pregnant woman with cancer. It wasn’t even true, and I felt sorry for me just based on the idea.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to struggle with this for much longer, because about a week later it was finally time to have my baby. Twelve days past my due date, a C-section was in order because my stubborn little princess had made no progress towards the exit. I assumed all that hair she must have had was blocking her path. A C-section was not what I had wanted, but I was provided with the one consolation that because I would be in an OR, I would be wearing a cap on my head when I saw my daughter for the first time.
Days later, the first bursts of stubble appeared on my head. This was excellent news, but what was even better was that the second my daughter Valerie was born, I had completely stopped thinking about my hair. To the point that when I was visited by an anesthesiologist after I complained of a headache, I couldn’t figure out why he kept asking me if I had any “other health issues” he should be aware of. It wasn’t until he was long gone that I realized he must have thought I was bald because I was sick.
Several weeks after delivery:
Today, nearly six months after Valerie was born, I have what you might call “normal hair.” I was fortunate to lose my hair at a time when short hair is back in fashion; I have more than once been told I have a “cute haircut” when – shhhh! – it was just the way my hair grew in! Naturally! From a starting point of complete baldness! It actually delights me so much that I often come close to telling my compliment-givers the whole story, but I fear this would discourage them from ever giving another compliment.
About 3 1/2 months after delivery:
Even with a full head of hair, sometimes I still cry. I cry from the knowledge that if I had known I was going to lose my hair, I don’t know if I would have chosen to get pregnant. And the thought of missing out on this experience – all of it – makes me saddest of all.
August 2015 update: My hair continued (and continues) to grow back normally. I still have slightly low thyroid levels, so I take Levothyroxine and get my levels checked every couple of months. I found a primary care doctor who is excellent and oversees all my thyroid needs, and I also still see my same OB-GYN because I am too lazy to fill out paperwork with someone new.