I am really excited to be joining Connected Mom as a writer. I have three wonderful children, one of whom is 9 and in Elementary school. His name is Styles and he is the most wonderful, sweet boy I could have ever hoped for. I will be writing a lot about issues regarding his age range so I'd like to use my first post as a way to introduce Styles and to also address one of the most difficult parenting decisions I've ever had to make.
This post has the potential to be the longest blog post in all of history, simply because there is SO much history and science behind Styles’ birthmark. However, I want to keep this more about my emotions and less about history or science so I’ll do my best to do just that.
Styles was born after 3 hours and 6 minutes of labor, from first contraction to finish. No lie. Nobody expected him to be born so quickly; I was young, he was my first child, yadda yadda yadda. That said, everyone and their mother was in the room when he was delivered because the nurses didn’t have time to kick ANYONE out. And the entire thing is documented in photographs. I’ll gladly send you a picture if you’d like
to see. Or not.
When he was born, he was pink and beautiful and had a very prominent purple stain on his face. I was in shock that I had just delivered a baby so I didn’t notice it at first but everyone around me seemed to see nothing else. They didn’t care that he had perfect Agpar scores, or that he was breathing, or that he had 10 toes, and 10 fingers. They were more concerned about this “thing” on his face. Questions swirled around us, “Would it fade?” ”Would it grow?” ”What will you do?” ”People are going to stare…what will you say?” ”Maybe the OB rubbed his face like that as he massaged your perineum during delivery?” “Will you sue?” I could go on for another thousand words but I’ll stop now. His pediatrician came in the next morning with the news. There were two “Worst Case Scenarios”. One was that it was a “Strawberry Hemangioma” where it would grow in size and become raised, possibly blocking his vision due to its placement on his face. Treatment for this would include shots of steroids in the hemangioma, causing it to shrink so that it wouldn’t hinder his eye sight. The second scenario was that it was just a port wine stain. That in and of itself is not so bad. What he was
concerned about was that because of its placement, it could very well be associated with Sturge-Weber
Syndrome. SWS is not life-threatening and many kids with it have relatively normal lives. It can cause calcification in the brain leading to some learning difficulties, delayed or difficult speech, seizures, and possible paralysis or weakness on one side of the body. We would have to wait with both diagnosis to see if either presented itself. This was all VERY overwhelming for me. I was young, this was my first baby, and I just didn’t know how to handle the news. I still didn’t really “see” the birthmark. He was my beautiful baby no matter what. I was aware of the stares in public and I couldn’t close my ears to judgmental remarks from my family. But our pediatrician was certain that it would fade after puberty, and urged me to let it be.
After a few MRIs and CT scans, Sturge-Weber was ruled out and Styles’ birthmark never did grow in size. It
has actually faded quite a bit from its original magenta, but still covers the same percentage of his face as it always has. It has been determined that it is a simple port wine stain, strategically placed like a slap across the face, absolutely cosmetic in nature. I decided when he was very young that I didn’t want to put him through the surgery necessary to have it removed. It involves pulse-dye lasers and many, many treatments. Because of its proximity to his eye and his age, they would have had to put him under general anesthesia for treatment. Yes, the younger the skin, the better the healing but I couldn’t risk putting my child under general anesthesia for a cosmetic “flaw”. To me it felt like giving a 2 year old breast implants or liposuction. Was it really necessary?
I fretted over what people would think as he grew up. Kids can be cruel. I was laughed at because of my name. When I moved to Alaska at the age of 9, people teased me because of my southern accent. My last name rhymed with “butt” so I often heard, “Summer Northcutt has a big butt” (which is/was TRUE – can you blame
them?) I was also called “Winter” and endured endless snickers as we learned about the seasons. There is always something to tease a kid about. But was I setting my son up for failure by allowing this birthmark to remain on his face? I decided no. His name is “Styles”. He has WHITE hair and a birthmark on his face. He’s going to be teased about SOMETHING at some point in his life. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
I still wasn’t convinced but I waited. People came up to us in public and often asked nicely what was on his face. But sometimes we’d encounter
some rude, uneducated jerk who would ask us “what happened to his face” to which I would reply, “It is a capillary hemangioma.” I never explained to those people that it was simply a birthmark. Using the scientific term with classless people was much more satisfying to me
since I couldn’t way what I really wanted to say:
“What happened to YOUR face?”
As Styles grew and learned to talk, I taught him that it was a birthmark. I never made a big deal about his stain because I didn’t feel that it needed to be a big deal. If I made it a big deal, then it would be a big deal to him and I didn’t want to be the cause for any self-esteem issues that he would suffer as a result of having a birthmark on his face. Styles learned that when people asked him what it was to simply respond with, “It’s a birthmark” and then be on his merry way. As a result of his flip nature about it, he has not endured any teasing or name calling, which surprises me as he gets older and is now in the 4th grade. I firmly believe that because he is so nonchalant about it, kids move on to something else because they see that it doesn’t bother him.
When Styles was 4 I sat him down and had a serious talk with him about having it removed. I told him that the decision was his and that I would support him no matter what he decided to to. His response to me was, “But
Mom, if we get it taken off, I won’t be Styles anymore!” I choked back the tears as I laughed and gave him a huge hug. OK, baby, whatever you want.
I’ve received a lot of flack from family and friends of family whose opinions matter very little to me. They all say that I am doing him a disservice by not taking the initiative as his parent to have it removed. But as you can recall from the beginning of this post, it is simply cosmetic. My mom never got me a nose job when someone told me in the 6th grade that if I ever wanted to be french kissed that I’d have to break my nose. (Thanks a lot, Zach Brown). My mom has a LONG list in her head of the names that people are going to call him. I won’t even bother listing them, it’s quite ridiculous to pretend she can see into the future and know that he’s going to be called “this thing” or “that”. If you’d like to know what Styles is going to be called in the future by some jerky little kid, feel free to contact her and she’ll regale you with at least 649 different names.
I personally think that it will make him a stronger person. I want to use his birthmark to teach him that we all have differences. Sometimes, those differences are obvious and other times they’re not, but they’re there. I want him to know that beauty lies on the inside not on the
outside. Not based on the color of someone’s skin, or because they have a birthmark, or other physical or mental handicap. I don’t want him to date girls who only want him because he’s attractive (another argument my mom has for getting it removed – God forbid Styles not some day have a hot girlfriend). I wouldn’t want him dating superficial girls like that anyways. I want him to marry a woman who loves him for his outstanding personality, intelligence, and wit. Not because *GASP* he has a birthmark on his otherwise very handsome face.
I know that it frustrates him sometimes when the same people ask time and time again, like the answer is going to change. For instance, we were in the grocery store this week and this annoying little twit saw Styles in an aisle. Apparently he knew who Styles was from school but is in a younger grade. He asked Styles “what happened to your face?” and Styles told him that it was a birthmark. The kid kept asking. It was SUPER frustrating for me as a parent but I stood back and watched to see what Styles would do. He completely ignored this little turd-hole after he answered him the second time and kept talking to me like he couldn’t hear
him. I was very proud. Because I don’t want to make a big deal about it, I didn’t ask him how it made him feel. He knows that he can come to me when and if he wants it removed. So we went to check out and this same little nit-wit leaves the aisle his mom is in and runs over to our aisle to ask Styles AGAIN what happened to his face. After the FIFTH time, I bent down and said loudly, “IT’S A BIRTHMARK”. He said, “what happened to your face?” (for the sixth time) and I again said loudly, “IT’S A BIRTHMARK AND IT’S BEEN THERE SINCE HE WAS BORN.”
The little monkey kept asking and I finally said, “OK the truth is, he was annoying me, kind of like you are right now, and I slapped him. You want one too?”
He ran back to his mommy and I have NO clue whether or not he told her what I had said and quite frankly, I really don’t care. OK so I shouldn’t have handled it that way, but this kid was SERIOUSLY irritating me. I finally talked to Styles when we got to the car (cough…van) about this kid and how he (Styles) had reacted. I told him that I was super proud of him for being calm about it. But I also gave him full-on permission to make up some sort of radical story about his birth mark. I told him that if someone keeps persisting, that it’s completely OK to tell them that he was burned on his last safari through Africa and that it will never go away. Or that he was licked by a tiger in Nepal and that tigers tongues are SO rough that it left a scar. Or to simply say, “What happened to your face?” He laughed at me and told me that he was afraid he’d get in trouble at school for saying those things but I told him I had his back. I reiterated the fact that he should always start by simply saying, “It’s a birthmark” but on the rare occasion where someone won’t back down and take that truthful answer for what it’s worth, to go ahead and tell a little lie. I also reminded him that when and if he ever wants it removed, that we’ll do it in a heartbeat. I’ve told him that it won’t hurt my feelings and that I just want him to be happy and make the decision for himself. He says it doesn’t bother him and that he wants to
keep it. And he can keep it, for as long as he wants. It’s his to do with as he pleases.
I’m proud of the decision I’ve made. It wasn’t an easy decision and it certainly is not a decision that I made lightly. It was not made due to finances or selfish ambitions. It was made the same way I make all decisions regarding my children: after lots of research and soul searching. It is a decision made by me (his parent and loving mother), in a step to do what I believe is best for him. It might not be the same decision you would make for your child and that’s OK. I don’t judge you for your decision, just please try to understand mine. We all want the same thing: the very best lives for our children and this is what I’ve chosen for my super-smart, outstandingly witty, sweet, loving, accepting little boy.