A lot of things have happened since I first started writing about and sharing my experience of growing up with a birthmark that covered most of my face when I was young. When I first decided to study Life Coaching and set up my blog, I hadn't even considered that my strawberry marks would ever become a point of discussion - let alone something that would become such a central point of WHY I believe so strongly in what I do.
Over the last eighteen months - and especially since I started sharing on Instagram, I've been blown away by parents reaching out to comment on my posts, or contact me through Direct Messages. Many of them have come with questions about treatments, some have simply been writing to let me know how they're embracing their beautifully unique children and encouraging them to be absolutely themselves in every way - whether their birthmarks fade or not. I even had someone who recognised me from high school reach out to let me know that both of her daughters have strawberry marks!
I've read some truly gorgeous stories of older siblings educating kids in playgrounds about what strawberry marks are and advocating for their younger family members, and I've had mothers reach out when they're feeling a little insecure and afraid of what others might think of them and their baby's birthmarks. Hearing back from these mums and reading about their family's journeys is always the absolute freaking BEST thing in the world - especially when they've found their Brave!
When I first finished up working full time, my Dad called me and we got to chatting about what my plan was looking into the future. We started talking about how my strawberry mark, laser treatment, plastic surgery and learning to overcome anxiety to feel confident have become central to my coaching. I shared that writing a piece for parents of children with strawberry marks was something I've wanted to do ever since my first piece started gaining more attention, and Dad let me know that he truly believes that this is a space I could have a massive impact in - and a space where voices like mine are so needed.
Over the years, I've read and seen news stories from the perspectives of adults talking about young children with strawberry marks, but nothing really from the perspective of someone like me.
I LOVE that inclusive dolls are becoming a thing! I would still absolutely ADORE having a #toylikeme and I intend to have one made up for my boyfriends' nieces. Learn more HERE.
Shit even as a kid, I didn't know ANYONE who looked remotely like me. Growing up I had one family friend who had a small strawberry mark on her cheek which faded when she was still quite young, so even though I grew up watching hers fade, it still wasn't quite the same thing as knowing someone LIKE ME.
Things have definitely changed now, thanks to the internet, which is a truly awesome thing, it's become easier for people to connect and share their experiences with one another around the world.
Following on from my conversation with Dad, I created a couple of posts for Instagram and Facebook, inviting questions and comments from parents about hemangiomas, with the intention of writing a piece addressing the things I want those parents to know.
I'm happy to say that I'm still receiving comments on some of those posts - even though they're "a million years old" as someone wrote last night, and the comments which have completely blindsided me in the best way possible, have been the ones from other adults who've grown up with hemangiomas.
While the intention was initially to write about the things I wish parents knew, this piece is actually just as much for those other amazing women who've lived with birthmarks have reached out.
This is a huge freaking thank you and internet hug to each and every one of you who have shared your experiences with me - and the world.
This is a teary eyed, sigh of relief at the realisation that I've found something I had forgotten I was missing and longed for so much in life.
This is my admiration and respect for each of you who have held your heads high, owned your truths and loved yourselves enough to speak up for what you needed in life.
A common thread for each of us has definitely been that we experienced some form of bullying or school yard teasing for being different. For one of the girls who reached out, she said that had influenced her decision to have her birthmark treated but that she was grateful that her mum allowed her to choose for herself, and another learned to love herself regardless.
My message to parents who are considering treating their young children based on what MIGHT happen at school is this:
I'm not going to tell you that negative experiences on the play ground don't happen. I'm not going to pretend that comments were never made, or that I was always super confident or sure of myself, or that it didn't upset me at all to feel different.
What I AM going to tell you is that going through those procedures didn't change the fact that comments were made.
What I AM going to tell you, is that for the most part I was surrounded by wonderful friends and my Lil Sis who wouldn't stand for that sort of shit from anyone. On the extremely rare occasion that comments were made during high school, others in my year level - even if we weren't close friends at the time, were quick to shut things down and check that I was okay.
What I AM going to tell you, is that kids will make comments on lots of things, and there will be times when your children will need to negotiate the things they're interested in and the people they choose to spend time with. They will need to be strong and stand up for themselves and to learn that their inherent beauty and value exists just because they do. They deserve to feel confident, listened to and loved - just like everybody else in this world.
I'm going to tell you that this is JUST AS RELEVANT TO ALL CHILDREN REGARDLESS OF HOW THEY LOOK (birthmarks or not), HOW THEY IDENTIFY, WHAT THEY ARE INTERESTED IN, OR WHO THEY ARE ATTRACTED TO.
I AM going to tell you that more often than not, anyone who stares or comments will do so because they don't understand, and mainly they've made assumptions or are curious but too scared to ask. Yes it's annoying, and no your child should not have to explain their existence to everyone they meet, but the more open conversations we have and the more that we encourage people to talk about things from a position of willingness to learn - the better the world will be for everyone. The more we can demystify hemangiomas, the safer and more accepting the world will be, and let's face it the world could stand to be less afraid.
I AM going to tell you that I understand that you want the best for your babies, and that you want to protect them from hurt and keep them from harms' way as much as humanly possible, and that you want to remove as many potential obstacles and barriers that may stand in between them and happiness.
I understand that it can be scary to be unsure of how things will pan out, whether their birthmark will fade or not - will it grow and take over a larger area? Will it leave permanent scarring? How will your child feel about it once they grow up?
My one piece of advice before deciding to go down the path of medical intervention would be this: Ask yourself if the strawberry mark is causing your child any pain or discomfort? Is it impacting on their everyday quality of life? Is treatment going to improve their situation?
This post isn't about demonising anyone's parenting choices one way or another, and I'm almost certain that had the option of medical treatment been available or viable when I was really young and my hemangioma was impacting my ability to eat and breathe through my nose that my parents would have opted for it - and if I were in the parenting shoes, I'd be opting for it too.
If you're choosing to pursue laser treatment, for the love of crap PLEASE ensure that your child is under a general anesthesia for the procedure because goddamn that shit hurts - trust me on this, I know!
Whatever you choose, please don't ever teach your children to feel as though there is anything wrong or bad about their birthmarks. Teach them that they are beautiful regardless of whether or not their strawberry marks fade away.
If possible, I would encourage you to hold off treating your child's birthmark until they are old enough to make the decision for themselves. Talk to them about their birthmark from an early age and encourage them to speak lovingly about their body - including their birthmark - rather than something to be excited to see gone.
Ask them how they feel about their birthmark or if they have any thoughts about them at all - this will help give you a clear idea of which option might suit them best.
Oh, and should you choose to pursue medical intervention, discuss it with your child. Ask them how they feel about it and listen to them. Take their responses seriously and if they tell you that they don't like the hospital or they want to go home, please don't push things.
I want to say a very special thank you to Rachel Anderson from Beautifully Marked who has popped on over to my Instagram page throughout this adventure of talking publicly over the last year. Her blog is gorgeous and she shares some brilliant resources for parents on how to deal with some of the challenges that come up along the journey of living with birthmarks.