By: Maria Luna | Photo: Brianna Harris
Some hair moments are unforgettable. I was in the shower washing my hair. The baby started crying just as I was in the middle of detangling. I parted and combed my hair faster, bending down to snatch clumps of hair as they fell and placing them on the shower caddy. Baby Girl’s cries grew louder, more aggressive. The combing, collecting, and crying stoked my anxiety. I could feel the tension in my left shoulder anchor itself and intensify. This scene had replayed itself twice a week, every week, for months. But on this one day, I snapped. I turned off the water and walked to the kitchen soaking wet, leaving watery footprints behind me. I opened a drawer and took out a pair of scissors. Without ever giving it a thought, without planning, Baby Girl still wailing in the background, I stood over the garbage can and cut off my hair.
My hair loss had begun a few months before the shower incident with a few strands of hair on my pillowcase then a few more on my coat. Over the course of a few weeks, my hair would choke the vacuum and litter every corner of my apartment. No amount of cleaning could stem the surge of hair that accumulated all around my family and me. Already vulnerable to persistent anxiety, my escalating hair loss gave rise to a whole new set of opportunities to worry, to feel insecure, and to feel shame. I didn’t know what was happening to me at the time, but I was experiencing postpartum hair loss. I searched for answers online, and my one solace was the promise that the condition was temporary.
Why does postpartum hair loss even happen?
The proper term for temporary hair loss is telogen effluvium and it’s a condition that can affect anyone, not just new mothers. Triggered by trauma, anemia, extreme shift in weight, thyroid disorders, or a number of other catalysts, hair that normally sheds at a rate of 80-100 hairs per day, begins to triple in numbers. Hair has a lifecycle. Most of the time, hair is maintained in a growth phase known as the anagen phase, then it rests for a few months, which is called the telogen phase, and finally the hair falls out and is replaced with new growth. Following childbirth, a woman’s hair enters the resting phase and what occurs next is what I call “the reckoning.” Throughout pregnancy, I noticed my hair was thicker than usual and it grew quickly. But all that changed a few months after childbirth. Basically, all the hair that should have fallen out naturally during pregnancy began to shed all at once and the effects were distressing.
Basically, all the hair that should have fallen out naturally during pregnancy began to shed all at once and the effects were distressing.
Connecting with other Black women going through it
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What’s the first thing you do when something weird happens to your body? You Google it, right? Yet, every time I searched online for pregnancy-related topics I was met with an overwhelming representation of white mothers as if they were the normative center of maternity. In order to find products, advice, and shared experiences that met my needs, I would have to explicitly add “for black mothers” to my search.
When it came to postpartum hair loss, I wanted to know how women with curly and coily hair were impacted and what they did to get through this emotionally and aesthetically challenging moment. I talked to one girlfriend with similar hair texture to my own, but she was hesitant to disclose how postpartum hair loss intersected with her mental health. That’s why Instagram posts from women like Brianna Harris, mother of three and owner of Zentric Flow in Las Vegas, were encouraging to read.
Self-described as, “Spiritual, holistic, vegan, hood, classy, hippy,” Brianna’s openness around her postpartum experiences offers inclusivity that’s vital for new mothers. In one post, Brianna, who sports dreadlocks, highlights the ways postpartum hair loss exacerbates feelings of self-consciousness. In a brief chat she tells me, “It’s always very depressing when it happens. I’m not confident or happy with my appearance [and it contributes to] postpartum depression.”
Preparing for postpartum hair loss
I asked Brianna about how she copes and she says, “This being my third child, I was prepared for postpartum hair loss.” She recommends using scarfs and headbands to help cover up problem areas, and staying away from high-tension hairstyles.
Unyime Oba, a mother of two and hair blogger from Dubai, also shared a few good tips. “Breathe, postpartum hair loss is normal. Your body just went through a whole lot. Take your vitamins, drink your collagen and it will be fine.” Unyime, who describes her hair as thick and coarse, prepared for postpartum hair loss throughout the third trimester of her second pregnancy. She says her hair grew back after six months postpartum. I had a similar experience. While my first postpartum hair loss episode was dramatic, I worked hard to prepare myself when it happened again after my second pregnancy.
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I took Hairburst For New Mums, a multivitamin specifically aimed at hair regrowth and I adopted healthier eating habits. I stopped flat ironing my hair throughout my maternity leave. And when I returned to work, I simply parted my hair and pinned down the sides in ways that disguised my sparse edges. Some days, I would pull up all my hair into a big bunch on top of my head nudged toward the front, which probably worked more to distract attention from my edges than hide them. And more frequently than ever, I just let my hair be. Curls unrestrained, I hyped up the look with cocktail earrings and bright lipstick even though I was just working from home.
More importantly, I considered my lifelong struggle with anxiety and committed to addressing the ways hair loss triggers anxious thoughts and obsessive behaviors as a reaction.
The mental preparation for my second bout of postpartum hair loss included positive self-talk. While I knew the hair loss was temporary, anxiety had a way of magnifying the issue beyond the scope of reality. I reminded myself that no one had ever called out my hair loss and the reality of it was much smaller than it was in my own head. This time too, I vowed not to suffer quietly. I told my loved ones what I was experiencing and connected online with other women who were shedding like crazy too.
The afterlife of postpartum hair lossI see you. You’re tired and your figure is drawn anew but it’s crowned in glory that shines brightly from afar. I see you. - Maria Luna Click To Tweet
Quite a few of my girlfriends gave birth this year. I was happy to share my experiences and offer advice when solicited. I tell my friends about weird pregnancy side effects, like skin tags suddenly appearing on your nipples and bleeding gums. More importantly, I try to prepare them for the possibility of postpartum hair loss and its impact on mental health. It’s not something all mothers experience but it may be less distressing if you can at least name what’s happening to you. I feel like I’m on the other side of this anxiety-inducing hair loss phase, and I’m calling out to my fellow comrades, “I see you. You’re tired and your figure is drawn anew but it’s crowned in glory that shines brightly from afar. I see you.”
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