My hair is falling out. June was the month I discovered how real postpartum shedding can get. If today were a different day, I might joke that new (again) motherhood has me tearing out my hair. But I don’t even have to pull hard. The slight tug of a comb yields clumps of dry tangles. I have long called my Afro “The Briar Patch.” It is prickly, snagging everything from lint to fingernails; it is my Tar Baby child of Eshu laughing silently as I curse it.
I knew this could happen; it’s a common medical fact. This isn’t the first time a woman has ever lost her hair after gaining a baby. But knowing someone else’s reality can never fully prepare you to live it. There is a difference between reading “postpartum shedding occurs around three or four months later” and seeing a real, live hair ball in your hand.
I am quietly frustrated by my hair, by my body. Strands come away from my head like leaves in autumn wind; weight doesn’t flutter off so easily. I try retail therapy. My new head wraps will sail me through summer so I can look like a #CarefreeBlackGirl and keep my self-image anxiety tightly bound beneath bright colors and distracting patterns. I am hiding my tummy’s kangaroo pouch beneath similar pretty fabric, yards and yards of it.
I tell myself that a magical Black girl does not hide. Unicorns deserve a crop top in any body. But I frown at the thought of whatever magic I have left bulging from places I have not yet made peace with. There is no place comfortable for me to rest in myself. Mine is a cold, civil war.
My husband notices me snarling at myself in the mirror. He does not say he feels helpless when I poke myself in the belly. It’s in the way his hands float hesitantly above my shoulders before settling downward to reassure me. He tells me I look beautiful to him even though he knows the only voice I can hear is my own. I feel just as helpless to hush it.
Motherhood is constant shedding all over, it seems.
First the baby, then all that blood, then some of that weight, then pieces of sanity, then hair, then confidence, then–one hopes–a gaining. They say humans are merely another type of animal. I feel like I am molting old cells, shedding this hair and perception, stepping out of who I once was into a newish me. The natural cycle of loss forces me to lift my chin toward what I have gained or will gain. Of course, there is my little brown dumpling, my Noot-Noot, my Button, my sweet and shady baby girl. With her arrival has come an even greater desire to climb upward and gain purchase on dreams I have feared too mountainous to reach. I set my sights on months ahead, hoping to meet myself there intact.
Meanwhile, my hair is falling out. I stare dispassionately at the clumps I leave everywhere and I am not distraught. But I want to shave it. I know I cannot shear this postpartum fog from my life with a razor against my scalp, so I stay my hand from taking drastic measures. Scissors can only snip the split ends on the outside of me, anyway. I’m good for being impatient toward situations I can’t control. Hair grows back. Wounded flesh mends more slowly. And what of embattled spirits?
The scar across my belly will mature over the next 12 months into something unrecognizable, yet familiar. I wonder how long my hair will be by then, with its relentless shedding but consistent growth. I wonder what self-love looks like after it has been razed then resurrected.
Thank God for new growth pushing through the wreckage.