By DAWN WEBER
“A lovely baby girl you have there. It’s too bad about that awful birthmark.”
Those are the first and last words I ever hear from your original pediatrician. After she leaves the delivery room, I tell the nurse to keep her away from us, and I cry myself to sleep.
My daughter. Seven pounds, 13 ounces, blonde hair, 21 inches long. To me, you’re perfect.
The day after your birth, I hire a different baby doctor, and unlike her predecessor, she possesses decorum, common sense and bedside manners. She also has plenty of experience. But she doesn’t have an answer for the mark she calls a “strawberry hemangioma.”
“Sometimes, they fade over the years,” she tells me, “and sometimes they don’t.”
We bring you home from the hospital the next day, and amid the bliss, chaos, sleeplessness, confusion and joy that come with a first child, I am steeped in grief. In a world that demands female beauty, I envision your life with a marked, imperfect face.
I pretend to ignore the stares at the grocery store. I grow numb to the questions from little kids.
“What happened to her?”
“What’s wrong with her face?”
“What’s that on her head?”
I realize that we’re lucky. Other parents have babies with far more serious problems than a red mark on the skin.
It doesn’t help — I know how kids are. And every time I get an innocent, ignorant question from a child, I hear your future on the playground.
“What happened to you?”
“What’s wrong with your face?”
“Ugh. What’s that on your head?”
Secretly, I blame myself for this. I figure it’s payback for the single 12-ounce can of Diet Coke I drank each day of my pregnancy. Or a punishment from God for some old, forgotten sin.
But those are my transgressions, not yours, and I cannot accept that in 1997, with all the advances in modern medical science, there’s absolutely nothing that can be done for strawberry hemangiomas.
The small-town doctors continue to be of no help; the library has no current information. As a last resort, I sit down one day and fire up the computer. I dial into the new program we had installed, the thing called the World Wide Web.
I wade through America Online, chat rooms and online video games. I search for hours, and finally, eventually, I find some hope: newfound research on lasers for birthmarks, and — better still — a doctor who specializes in such treatments, about an hour away in Columbus. His website states that several laser surgeries will be needed, and that insurance companies deem birthmark removal as “optional” or “cosmetic” and will not cover it. Patients must pay out-of-pocket. The costs will likely rise into the thousands.
I lunge for the phone.
You begin treatments as soon as you’re old enough — about 13 months. The nurses lead us to a large, brightly-lit room and a restraint called a papoose — a contraption that looks and sounds harmless enough, until they tie you down, diapers, teddy bear and all. Your dad and I squeeze in under the straps to hold your hands.
They tell us the pain won’t be too bad, that it’s like a repetitive sting with a rubber band, but they still apply numbing cream to your head. We all put on protective goggles, and the doctor pulls the machine’s arm over your body.