Bald like Mummy

My girls are already much stronger than I ever was

Published by: Jai Breitnauer
Published on: 11th February 2010

As I wandered around Peacocks looking for a new top, I caught my two eldest daughters out the corner of my eye. Nikkita, 12, was trying on a woolly beret, while Gabrielle, seven, was standing next to a lady who was trying on a hat.
'Here, what about this?' she grinned and, before I knew it, she'd pulled off her blonde wig and was holding it towards the stranger, an innocent smile on her face.
'Oh, er... no thanks,' the woman stuttered, her face filled with horror as she scuttled out the shop. Bright red, I bustled over to the girls - Nikkita snorting with laughter, Gabrielle fixing her wig back on her head.
'Why do you always have to embarrass people?' I laughed, herding them outside. But I was impressed with how they coped with their baldness. Far better than I had when it happened to me...
I was nine when my hair started falling out. At first, it was tiny patches, the size of a penny. Then they grew to the size of a 50p piece.
When I couldn't hide the bald patches with creative hairstyles any more, my mum had taken me to the doctor. 'It's alopecia,' he'd said. 'You may lose all of your hair, or it could grow back - we don't know.'
Apparently, it was due to stress. 'But I'm not stressed - except about my hair.' I became a shy, reclusive teenager, avoiding the bullies who yelled 'Oi, baldy!' at school.
Aged 16, I'd met Ian Melhuish - the love of my life. He wasn't bothered about my hair.
Two years later, I gave birth to Nikkita, a beautiful blonde baby with an infectious smile. Within 18 months, my happiness was shattered. Brushing Nikkita's hair one day, a clump came out in my hand. 'Ian!' I'd screamed. 'Help!'
He had a look, then gave me a cuddle. 'Lets see how it goes,' he'd said. 'It might be nothing.'
But three weeks later, her hair was all but gone. And not long after, our worst fears were confirmed - the doctor said that she, too, had alopecia.
I couldn't understand it. Had I passed this on to her? I felt so guilty. She had a few strands at the back I gently washed and brushed each bath time.
A few months later, Ian was trimming his beard when Nikkita held out her hand. 'Me, Daddy,' she smiled.
Ian looked at me, and I nodded. Gently he shaved off the last few wisps of her hair. 'You, Daddy,' she grinned. Grinning back and, before I could stop him, he'd taken the clippers to his mop.
'Now I'm like you and Mummy,' he laughed. 'We're all the same.'
But was that a good thing? Would she turn out to be like me, embarrassed of my looks?
I went on to have Tia, eight, then Gabrielle, seven, and was relieved they both had a full and healthy head of hair. But things were still tough. One day, when Nikkita was four, she came home from nursery quieter than usual. 'Mummy,' she whispered. 'Am I ill?'
'Whatever makes you say that?'
'Well, a girl said her mummy said I was,' she sighed.
I felt the blood drain out of me. Someone had seen a small, pale girl with no hair and thought...
'If anyone says it again, you tell them they're wrong,' I'd said. 'Tell them you have poorly hair, but apart from that you're fine.'
I had to stay positive for her, make sure she grew up to love herself, unlike me. And Nikkita did grow into a confident girl, with lots of friends and not a care in the world. I couldn't believe how strong she was, playing with her bald head in full view. I didn't let anyone but Ian see me without a wig.
Then last summer, Gabrielle walked up to me, white as a sheet. 'Mummy,' she said. 'Watch this.'
I stared in horror as she ran her hands through her hair, and big chunks of it came loose. I took her straight to our new doctor. 'She has alopecia,' he said. 'It's a condition where...'
'I know what it is,' I snapped. 'What I don't understand is what's causing it. She can't be stressed.'
The doctor referred me to a consultant, who had devastating news. 'In your case, alopecia is hereditary,' he said.
Back home, I tried explaining to Tia and Nikkita. But I broke down, remembering how I'd hidden from bullies because of the condition. Suddenly, Nikkita put her arm around me. 'Come on, Mum, it's okay,' she smiled. 'Gabrielle will be fine. It's just her hair - she can wear a hat.'
And, with that, she went upstairs and brought down a bundle of her favourite baseball caps.
It took Gabrielle a while to come round, though. She refused to go to school for the last few days of term. Even though it was bright sunshine outside, she sat in front of the telly. 'I can't go out, I've got no hair,' she snapped when I suggested she call her friends.
Eventually, Nikkita stepped in.
'Come on, it's not the end of the world,' she told Gabrielle. 'Try my wig on. You can have it if you like. I've outgrown it now.'
Sheepishly, Gabrielle pulled on Nikkita's long blonde wig. 'See, you look great,' Nikkita grinned.
'It's still a wig,' Gabrielle said.
'Your hair's poorly,' Nikkita said, echoing my words.
With Nikkita's help, Gabrielle has blossomed. They're living the confident, carefree life I'd always dreamed of. Gabrielle's not through the woods yet, and still has days when she refuses to leave her room.
But that shyness she'd started to develop has long gone.
In fact, she loves seeing the shocked
look on people's faces when she reveals she wears a wig.
Her favourite trick is in the car. At traffic lights, she'll smile sweetly and wave at whoever is next to us. When they look away, she whips the wig off - you should see their faces when they turn back!
I'm glad my daughters are getting on with their lives. Gabrielle and Nikkita are thick as thieves, comparing hats and coming up with new wig-based pranks. And Tia doesn't get left out - she's always happy to be the model when they want to play hairdressers. Her beautiful brown locks aren't going anywhere.
I'm so proud of my daughters, so much stronger than I'll ever be.
Louise Gibson, 30, Cardiff