This is a story that I dreamed I’d one day be able to tell. A story that I hoped would one day mean that it was all behind us. And a story that I prayed could help other parents that may experience what we did.
You see, this time two years ago I was in a very different place. Things should have been great. We’d moved into a new house and just given birth to our sweet little girl, a baby sister to our two-and-a-half year old.
The difference with our story is that our big boy, the centre of our universe since the day he was born, was self harming.
How could we let him do this you may ask?
Well, at first we noticed he enjoyed playing with hair, his own or a stray he’d find somewhere, while he sucked his thumb. Then one day we noticed in a photo that he had the tiniest of bald spots on his right side (he sucks his thumb with his left). This was around the time that I was six months pregnant.
We cut his long messy mop of hair short to try and prevent him gripping his hair, and this worked for about three weeks. Then he started to pull at it again, and cutting it short didn’t help the second time. When I was eight months pregnant, we moved into our new home, and when he came “home” to the new place for the first time after 24 hours of being in “moving mode”, his little bald spot was now a long strip down the side of his head.
We sought out a counsellor, who told us to avoid giving it attention and to try to distract him when he pulled. She sent us a Google article to the name of the condition, Trichotillomania. In hindsight this advice was not helpful, and didn’t set us up to deal with the emotional side of the problem.
Two weeks later our little girl arrived. Our son seemed to respond like any normal big sibling. He was excited to come to the hospital to visit us, wanted to ignore his baby sister at times, and at others wanted to touch her and sing to her. All the while, his hair continued to disappear.
It wasn’t slow, it was rapid. At its worst point, over 50 per cent of his hair had been pulled out. There was hair in his bed, on our floor, in his car seat. When he was happy he pulled his hair. When he was tired he pulled. When he was bored in the car he pulled. The entire right side of his head was near-bald.