This story features a few personal, anecdotal experiences and should not substitute medical advice. If you're having health concerns of any kind, we urge you to speak to a healthcare professional.
My five-month-old has had a death grip for as long as I've known her. When she was just one month old, cleaning the space between her fingers was a two-person job. My mom and my sister would take turns helping me hold her still in the bathtub while I flossed between her fingers with a damp washcloth.
Motherhood is a humbling experience. I could have never imagined the bond I have with my 17-pound person would be strong enough to take hold of my life. She doesn't speak English, yet she dictates everything about how I conduct myself. I've always said I'd have my first child around 28 years old. That always sounded like a good age to have a kid: I'd be old enough to have my stuff together and young enough to be the hot mom at PTA meetings.
I was just over six years ahead of schedule when I learned I was pregnant, a few months shy of my 22nd birthday. My pregnancy was unplanned, but it was beautiful. My hair and skin flourished, and baby and I were more than healthy. The midwife told me I was made to give birth. I labored for a few hours, pushed for about 20 minutes, and gave birth to my pandemic surprise before 11 a.m. on Father's Day.
Three months later, I noticed my edges were thinning.
I had an updo with flat twists at the time. Initially, I thought nothing of it because I'd been bald before, and I knew it would grow back. I'd also heard of new mothers experiencing postpartum shedding too. A week later, I took down the style for a long overdue wash. Small clumps of crinkly black strands came out in my hands, falling on the counter and bathroom floor. The white tips on the ends of the strands told me this wasn't breakage but shedding.
My scalp, like my body, had always been fertile, rich with nutrients to sustain growth and life. But the previously dense patches near my temples were stark, my skin entirely exposed.
Before my baby, my appearance was always important to me, particularly my hair. Like many Black women, my hair has been a political football. As a child, I was subjected to relaxers at the hands of family members in secret, my mom not knowing about it until the job was done. My hair has been straight-up fried from hot presses. Kitchen beauticians frequently charged me more for braids because my tightly coiled hair is "too thick."
My hair is a beast.
It defined a lot of who I am. My signature plaits tell the story of my adolescent defiance as they grew longer in correlation with my teen angst. My lousy wigs in undergrad were cheap and poorly installed, and they told the story of an aspiring TV reporter who wasn't savvy enough to style her natural hair for air.
There I was, three months postpartum, just trying to take care of something I've invested in after all the damage it endured. I spent years growing my hair, a few minutes making the baby, nine months growing her, and she said to hell with my hair. I panicked.
My body was mostly healed from childbirth except for some things I don't mind, like stomach pudge, breasts more susceptible to gravity, and imperfect skin. I'm struggling to hold onto my sanity as co-parenting proved to be less of an option, and motherhood a much harder job than anything I've ever been paid for.
I needed to style my hair, yet any protective style worth considering would likely exacerbate the shedding. I searched, "how does a Black woman with natural 4c hair experiencing postpartum shedding style her hair to preserve the strands she has left?" Google had nothing for me.
I was on the verge of shaving my head again like I am every time my hair stresses me out, and I had even less time and energy to think about deciding what style I wanted and finding someone to do it. Being a mother who needs her hair done means I have to coordinate childcare and trying not to lose my mind while I'm away from her. Ultimately, it makes me feel worse that this time would eat into the few hours I have left to spend with her after working all week.
I am my baby's home. Her provider. Her personalized all-you-can-eat cafe. She's locked her tiny hands around my life and made me say goodbye to spontaneous midnight trips to the beach. I've become better friends with my iPhone alarms, actually getting out of bed on the second one.
New-mom me wakes up at least an hour earlier to feed the baby breakfast, pack her bag, get us both ready for the day and take her to the babysitter so I can work. I plan as much as I can but have a calmer demeanor about changing plans because it's baby's world, and I'm just living in it.
I managed to dodge another hair-shaving meltdown and settled with mid-back length knotless plaits. While they put less tension on my hair than regular box braids, I'm not convinced my edges will be in good shape when they come out. It didn't feel good being away from my baby for what could seem like a non-essential appointment, but I needed to get my hair done. I bounced my legs and shifted in my seat the entire eight hours it took to get my hair braided, partially from discomfort, but primarily anxious to get home to my baby.
I sent up a prayer, hoping I was doing the right thing for me and my poor hair. This style, like the updo, has overstayed its welcome, and I'm worried I'll be right back where I started, with white-tipped strands clumped in my hands.
Still, my baby is eating solids now. When I unstrap her from the high chair, she reaches out to grip my braids, yanking them, forcing me to let go of my old life and old perceptions of beauty. I smile through the pain cherishing these moments because they won't last forever.