By Caroline Siegrist
Four months into postpartum hair loss, I started keeping a list of all the places I found stray hairs: Inside the microwave. Inside a coffee filter. In a pot of mac and cheese. In a diaper. Adhered with spit to my baby's cheek. Dangling off my son's nose like a rock climber is about to rappel down it. A whole rope of them knotted to the catch on the dryer door, billowing out like streamers.
I know that it's normal, and as my doctor keeps assuring me, temporary.
I also realize that, of all the petty things to lament during a pandemic, this has got to be at the very top of the list. Other people are marooned from their families. Some have already lost loved ones. Many have lost their livelihoods.
Still, I find myself frantically googling hair loss. I join one particularly tragic Facebook group called "thinning hair and hair loss solutions," which, in my one week of membership, convinces me I’m going permanently bald.
The "research" becomes a tic, like the way I can't stop checking the coronavirus infection count and the stock price of the company where my husband’s job hangs in the balance. Neither encourages me. My 3-year-old son pesters me to come play outside, but I'm in the middle of a deep dive into customer reviews for Rogaine on Amazon. I’m sure I'm just one or two clicks away from the article that will offer me reassurance, solace.
Hair bespeaks youth and beauty and money. It makes a statement about your personal style. Only since my own hair started falling out have I noticed how often people bring up baldness like it's the end of life as we know it. As Fleabag says after her sister's catastrophic haircut:
"Hair is everything. We wish it wasn't, so we could actually think about something else occasionally, but it is. It's the difference between a good day and a bad day. We're meant to think that it's a symbol of power. That it's a symbol of fertility… Hair is everything, Anthony."
Still, it's a strange thing to be consumed with something so trivial while the world around me falls apart. Every day I read about the spread of corona, concentric circles that keep edging closer and closer to my world. And the economic ruin it's triggered. Climate change. The election.
Meanwhile, a bald patch forms at my temple. I cut my hair into a bob and wear it down every day to cover it.
This past fall, a woman from my church died. I didn't know her particularly well, but I can't stop thinking about the parallels between us. She was also thirty-two years old with a baby and a toddler. She was, by all accounts, whip-smart and sarcastic and slightly irreverent. I would have liked her, people tell me.
I keep thinking about how her children are growing up without her. I imagine her husband and their two boys enduring quarantine in the house where she died. I consider all the milestones she is missing--birthdays, first words, first steps--but the everyday-ness of life too.
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes about going shopping with a friend who has terminal cancer. Anne comes out of the dressing room wearing a new dress and asks, "Does this make my hips look too big?"
Her friend just responds, "Annie? I really don't think you have that kind of time."
This has become my new mantra. Every time I start to go down the rabbit hole, I say to myself: you just don't have time for this.
When I see clumps of hair in the shower, or in my baby's balled fist after tummy time, my body wants to panic, my mind wants to spiral. But I just keep thinking: I don't have time for this. I don't have time for this.
And when my son asks me to smear watercolors on canvas or voice one of his transformers, I think about Leah. I think about the extraordinary privilege of just existing and watching these children, and I put away my computer and say: I have time for this. I have time for this. I have time.
Caroline Siegrist is a writer based in Nashville, TN. Her work has been featured in the Ruminate blog, Rock & Sling, Converge, Woven Tale Press, Hippocampus, Mockingbird, and more. She is also a staff writer at Cool Mom Picks and a regular blogger at Spilled Milk. She lives with her husband and two young children.
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