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I have a way of turning everything into an experiment. This can sometimes make a difficult journey or a harsh reality more bearable. Each truth just one of many possible outcomes. Ask, try, see what happens. After my son was born, I was curious about what life with hair would be like. Having been bald most of my adult life, sustaining hair on my head would be a new look for a new mommy. Initially, I had intended to definitely rebirth my bald head no later than a week after having the baby. I imagined how lovely it would be to shed the hair that had began its coils within the sweltering fury of anticipations, frustrations, and the relentless humidity of a D.C. summer. My third trimester, well, actually the whole pregnancy, had many rough and unpretty moments. I’ve often felt that finding my bald head again was just the natural way to mark the passage of hard times.
My hope of a new head was also dependent on an assumption that my then swollen face would gracefully come down just minutes after the baby came out. I was certain I’d get to see myself, my real face, again. I was also sure that folded into that immediate bliss of just meeting my child, would be the sweet homecoming of my feet, whose long ago surrendered form would release the extra fluids and slip effortlessly into the beaded, Ugandan sandals I never did get to wear. I had seen plenty of women in pictures after birth looking so radiant and I was excited about smiling for the camera in my own afterbirth images. But still, most important was my face becoming recognizable to me again, as one of my postpartum fears was looking into mirrors and seeing that the woman left behind in the mothering was not someone I could call beautiful.
On the Mother’s Day before my son was born, I felt the telltale urge to cut off all of my hair. I called my father, who was now also my barber after too many uncomfortable barber shop scenes where my gender, sexuality, sanity, and attractiveness were all open for scrutiny on account of my wanting to be bald. My father and I have a very simple understanding. When I say all gone, he makes it go, all gone– no lines, no fade, no fuss. With the clippers in hand, my father shaves large tufts of hair onto the floor. I love this feeling, the gradual release into freedom, the falling away of old and dead things.
With my head space renewed, I felt ready to embrace the unknowns of the final trimester. I was all set to let that hair grow until right after the birth, but a strange thing happened. It turned out that I did not like how I looked. And I had a real blockage around going back to bald when I was so unhappy with my face. I didn’t feel gorgeous in any of the pictures taken in those first days of my son’s life. Where’s my radiant glow? I had wondered. Instead I remember being so, so ashy in every frame. I still cringe at the image of my severely chapped lips in the picture my partner texted out to his family. He claims to have not noticed the crud on my face.
So, I was like, okay, let me give it a few weeks. But neither my face nor my feet came back in a few weeks, or a month, or even several months. Everything is new here. At some point I became open to changing the script. Why not grow hair, anyway. I mean, I did just have a baby and all. I could just say that having hair was a part of my new mothering flow. And to be honest, I was intrigued by the idea of being able to wear my hair in some intricate cornrows style that could only happen if I actually let my hair grow for once. I stopped looking so intently for my old face to return, and slowly began noticing a new depth in my eyes, a vibrant undertone to my skin, a nuanced delight inside my smile. It’s the little things that make us who we are. Mommy Binah was beautiful too, I was beginning to see.
And all this time, my hair was growing and growing. The realness of trying to nurture a natural ‘do after years of having little to no hair was too much for me though. Two-day processes to shampoo, detangle, oil, twist. Wear a scarf at night…say what? Not only was my hair knotted and breaking off badly from neglect, but the winter air was only making things worse. The edges were losing their ground, and the spot on my scalp where I always pick had thinned under the stress of my worry-laden fingers. I was beginning to need to wrap my hair because it was chronically “undone.” And because I am always self-conscious that the spot I’ve picked at on the top, left side of my head– just over my parietal lobe (…writing about my special relationship to this part of the brain in a future post)– would be conspicuous, since my mini afro would not be thick and full throughout. But most of all, I really just felt so uninspired to do my hair. It took so much time away from me being able to be present with the munchkin. And this concludes our experiment.
I snap photos of my father cutting off all the hair that has been growing for the better part of a year, This hair knows my most intimate transformation, be(come)ing a mother. I am grateful that it’s been with me, but I am also ecstatic about meeting my new baldie. Munchkin didn’t get the memo to please take a nap while mommy gets her hair cut. He fusses intermittently in his grandmother’s arms. My mother bounces him in her lap and breaks into another rousing rendition of Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. This redirects his attention away from wanting to nurse for a few more minutes, We’ve bought a little more time so that my father can check and recheck that all the edges have been shaved clean. I am extremely particular when it comes to my new head.
Of course now I am freezing, but I feel so good. I love my head. I will be revisiting my baldie process in future posts. For now, I just wanted to acknowledge the big step I made by embracing my new mommy face with a brand new bald head!