Looking in the mirror, all I could focus on was my bald head. Not my eyes, my smile, or any of the other physical features I was blessed with. As much as I tried, I could not pull my eyes away from the place where my hair had once been. Pain stabbed my heart and my gut and took my breath away. As I stared at my reflection, I could not stop the tears from falling. God, what did I do to deserve this?
After gaining my composure, I wiped my eyes and grabbed the scarf I had chosen to cover my embarrassing secret. There was no way I would ever allow anyone to see me like this. My hair had always been part of my identity.
As a little girl, I had long, curly hair, and I would always receive compliments from family, friends, and strangers. Growing up in Moorestown, NJ, I was quiet and reserved, but very active. My childhood consisted of intense gymnastics training and then in middle school, high school, and college I competed in field hockey and track, played clarinet, violin, and piano, and attended church with my family. I attended Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and received my degree in Spanish.
After graduation, I began teaching middle school Spanish and after a couple of years transitioned to high school. I also married and by the next year had given birth to my first child.
Three years later in 2012, I noticed pea-sized patches on the top of my head while styling my hair. This discovery bothered me; I took a picture and promptly called a local dermatologist.
At my appointment, I sat nervously in the room and kept looking at my hands, unsure of what was about to happen. The doctor bustled in, and I felt like she avoided eye contact and didn’t acknowledge me directly. She asked a few questions, then went straight to my head, fumbled with my hair, and examined my bald spots.
She finally spoke, “Theses patches are really small, come back if they get bigger.” She wrote something on her pad and left the office as quickly as she entered. As the doctor wasn’t too concerned, I tried to brush off her response, but it really bothered me. I thought she should have done more instead of just dismissing me.
Soon I discovered I was pregnant again, and I tried to focus on the excitement of our growing family. However, I noticed those patches had grown to the size of a quarter. I researched other doctors and soon found a renowned dermatologist in Philadelphia.
My new doctor took the time to get to know me, asked me questions, and was very thorough with the examination. She offered me topical medications considered safe for my pregnancy, but I declined, not wanting to possibly harm the baby in any way.
As the days progressed, my hair started coming out in patches. Every morning I’d stare in alarm at the clumps on my shower floor. I tried to style my hair to cover the spots. With every cluster of hair, my heart dropped. After about five months of extreme shedding, I could see my entire scalp. I was devastated.
I did not go out unless needed, and my head was covered when I did. I wondered if something was wrong with the baby I was carrying, and if the hair loss was from my body reacting. I continued my appointments with the dermatologist, as I had lost almost all of my body hair. Early in my third trimester, the dermatologist gave me the unexpected diagnosis – I had alopecia universalis, the most extreme form of the disease.
Alopecia is a hair loss condition affecting people of all ages, races, and ethnicities. It is an autoimmune disease in which the body mistakenly attacks your hair follicles. The cause is still unknown, but research is ongoing and promising.
“I don’t say this to everyone, but you can really rock the bald, sister.” I know the doctor was well-meaning, but her words crushed me, as I was still hopeful something could be done to reverse my hair loss. Walking to my car, a wave of grief swept over me.
What should have been a beautiful pregnancy for me to enjoy, turned into an agonizing experience. I wasn’t able to fully process the trauma I was experiencing as I was so worried about the baby, praying she was ok while taking care of a toddler.
I struggled with anxiety and shame while constantly wondering if something I did caused this. I only went out when I had to and wished I could magically be invisible once I walked out the front door. The few people I chose to tell were very supportive but also sad and concerned for me. My church family encouraged me and prayed with oil over my head.
After my daughter was born and determined to be fully healthy, I was hopeful my hair would start growing back in. It didn’t. I briefly considered the medication, but after reading all the side effects, I decided against it.
Once my maternity leave ended, I returned to work. I contacted my administration to let them know what was going on, and why I would be wearing a scarf in the classroom. I confided in a few people at work; sometimes my scarf slipped off and it was evident I had lost my hair.
While I was noticed for my hair as a child, I now received curious stares for the lack thereof. Along with losing my hair, I also lost my sense of self-worth and confidence; my mental, physical, and emotional health were affected, and my marriage suffered and ultimately ended. I felt so ashamed. I felt I lost my beauty, and I wasn’t feminine or attractive anymore. I wanted to go into hiding and conceal everything I had lost.
I wasn’t angry at God, but I was devastated and confused as to why this was happening to me. I thought I had to earn His grace and mercy, and that I must have done something to cause this condition upon myself.
I began to read my Bible more, studying deeper into God’s word. Throughout my summer break, I regularly watched online sermons, taking notes to help me understand how to process my loss spiritually.
Luke 12:7 resonated with me: Indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. I knew no matter how scary and confusing the changes I was going through were, I could rest in the promise that God knew everything going on and why, so I didn’t have to be afraid. I realized I was worth so much to God, even with my loss.
When it was time to return to school, I debated what to do. Would I just spend the rest of my life covering my head? As I pulled into the parking lot, I turned my car off and just sat there. After a moment I prayed, asking God to give me the strength and courage to do something I never imagined I would ever do. What would my co-workers and students think?
I had a pep talk with myself, “It’s now or never Tabitha, you have to uncover your head and just walk into the building.”
I took a deep breath, pulled my scarf off and placed it on the seat, grabbed my bags, and walked toward the entrance. I don’t know who saw me as I approached the building. My heart was pounding from the nervous energy building up inside of me. I’m out in public and my head is uncovered! It was one of the bravest moments of my life. I made a beeline for my mailbox and breathed a sigh of relief once I made it to the classroom.
At the start of my classes, I spoke in Spanish, introducing myself and explaining my physical appearance, which somehow made it easier for me to verbalize. I saw some confused faces, so I repeated it while pointing to my bald head. Throughout the day, there were hugs, smiles, and words of support I will never forget – from both teachers and students.
In between class periods, a previous student suddenly burst into my room. “Ms. Williams! It’s so good to see you!” After a huge hug, in a quiet voice, she said, “There’s something I want to share with you. I’m sure you noticed I always wear a headband.” She took her headband off and showed me the patches on her head. My mouth dropped in shock! I always thought she wore a headband due to sports. After explaining she also suffered from alopecia, seeing my uncovered head gave her the courage to show me her hair loss.
I was stunned, but also overwhelmed with joy. I knew from that point on I needed to stay uncovered, as it was a blessing for me to inspire others and give them confidence in themselves. It was in that moment God showed me I was going to be ok and this was not only for me but there was a purpose for what I was going through. My vulnerability in exposing my true self had a powerful effect on one of my students. I wondered how else I could impact them.
I started seeking service opportunities at my school and in my personal life. I became an advisor for Students in Action, a service-oriented student club at my school, where students are trained on how to serve the community. It’s so inspiring to see my students serving others.
It has taken years, but I now know throughout this experience, God was always there with me, and has loved me unconditionally. Trusting God enough to take that leap of faith and uncover my head has brought more blessings than I could have ever imagined. Losing my hair allowed me to meet so many people of all ages, and varying needs and experiences, and it has been so inspiring and such a blessing to make those connections. It has strengthened my faith and allowed me to serve others in ways I could have never imagined.
A smile or a kind word from a stranger never fails to bring me joy. Finding unexpected hope while reading God’s word has carried me through the tough days and lonely moments. I know I can always find rest in Him. Knowing God has placed me here for a purpose and I’m making a difference in people’s lives reassures me everything is going to be ok. If my hair is restored one day, that would be pretty awesome. However, I know with or without hair, I am enough.
Words of Encouragement from Tabitha:
Fall in love with God. When we seek Him and learn of how vast his love is for us, we can see who we are in Him. And it’s beautiful. Love who you are right now and find gratitude for the beautiful person He has created you to be. There is no one else quite like you. We all have those moments and times where it’s hard to see our beauty and we have had to endure the fragility of conditional love shown by the world. But we can stand on God’s word and think on how he says that we are made in His image, fearfully and wonderfully made, and he makes no mistakes. This brings a peace that some may not understand but hope to find. Love what God has placed in you, and over you, knowing his love never fails. Have relentless faith believing you are created for greatness, and we are not here by accident or happenstance. That faith allows us to fight through the tough times, persevere through the inevitable challenges, and show His love through it all. It is in those faith filled moments we find our truest gifts, our unique qualities, our purpose, and our strengths. We are not alone, and God will place people all around us through our journey as evidence of his grace and unconditional love. Use your unique talents to serve others and be a blessing through the journey. So pray for all things, in all things, and through all things trusting that God has you and won’t ever leave you. Share your joys and triumphs with others and lessons along the way so that people may see Him and experience His love.
Prayer for Moms:
Dear Lord, may You continue to work in every aspect of our lives and reveal the purpose You have for us. May we always know how loved we are and that there is a place for us in You. We thank you for your everlasting acceptance, grace, and mercy. May we discover how vast your love is for us and pursue wisdom and peace especially as the weight of the world seems to engulf us. May we hold onto your promises when we fall or feel faint. Father, continue to protect and guide us and help us be a blessing to those around us. Heal every wound, forgive us of our sins, and set us free of anything that takes us away from your perfect will. Remind us that no matter what the world may say about us, our identity is in you. Our joy lies in you. Our beauty comes from you. In Jesus name, Amen.
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