A BRAVE mum has told how she lost all of her body hair after the birth of her two kids – and that it’s unlikely to ever grow back.
Rima Theisen, 37, from Margate, Kent, suffered from post-partum hair loss after the birth of her son Tennyson, now three.
Her locks grew back but she battled the condition again in 2017 after having daughter Clementine, now 17 months. In August 2018, every single hair on Rima’s body fell out and she was diagnosed with alopecia.
Here, Rima, who works as cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic and is married to husband Nathaneal, 37, shares her story with Fabulous Digital.
My mop of thick straight hair, so dark brown it was almost black, was once my pride and joy.
After becoming a flight attendant 15 years ago, I’d wear it up in a beehive for work, then leave it long and loose on my days off. I loved being able to style it different ways, for different looks.
Nathaneal and I welcome our first child, Tennyson, in March 2016. Six months later, I noticed that when I did my hair, lots of strands were coming out on the brush. I also began finding clumps of hair on the floor.
I went online, to discover that what’s known as “postpartum hair loss” commonly starts around three months after birth, and can be particularly extreme for new mums with long hair.
Most women will return to their usual hair growth cycle by the time of their baby’s first birthday.
In fact, I had so much hair, that even losing a bit for a while, didn’t make much difference to the look and feel of it. Sure enough, it eventually returned to normal.
Our second baby, Clementine, arrived on September 28, 2017. By then I’d pretty much forgotten about postpartum hair loss.
But in April 2018, it returned to affect me again. And this time, as the days passed, more and more hair was falling out. It didn’t come away in patches, it just rapidly got thinner and thinner.
Tennyson was finding long dark strands on the floor and saying: “Look, Mummy’s hair is broken.” Sweetly, he’d try to pat it back onto my head again.
I went to my GP, who wasn’t overly concerned, reassuring me: “Some hair loss is normal after pregnancy.”
But within just four weeks, it was much worse than before. Every time I showered, my hair came away in handfuls.
Soon it was so thin, my scalp was showing, especially around my temples. I could no longer disguise my hair loss with headbands and scarves. It looked wispy and sad.
In May 2018 I told Nathanael: “I can’t put up with this, any longer.” I went online, opened a fundraising page, and told everyone that I was going to do a sponsored head-shave in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Within days, I’d been promised £2,000 in donations, and with help from my mum, Norma, I shaved off the few straggly strands that remained.
Seeing myself bald for the first time was a bit of a shock. My scalp was pale and sprinkled with tiny moles I’d never known were there before. My forehead looked so large in relation to the rest of my face. I didn’t look like me, anymore.
I bought two wigs, that looked a little like my own hair. But they felt uncomfortable. I could only wear them for a couple of hours. So within a matter of days I decided to just get on with it – and after that, I was leaving the house and going about my daily life, totally bald.
Thankfully, I had lots of support from Nathanael and other family and friends. They told me: “You look great. Being bald suits you.”
In July 2018, my maternity leave ended, and I went back to work.
As cabin crew working with the public, to some extent you are on display – people expect you to look your best. The first time I put on my red uniform and went to the airport, with a bald head, it was a little daunting, and I did feel nervous.
Thankfully, my bosses were very supportive. And most passengers probably just assumed I shaved my head because I liked it that way. But there were a few who asked: ”Do you have cancer? Are you going through chemo?” I just smiled sweetly and said: “No. I’m not.”
Soon after I returned to work, my eyebrows and eyelashes fell out, too. Without brows and lashes to frame my eyes, my face seemed to look strange and alien.
So I got some new eyebrows tattooed on – they looked fantastic – and started wearing fake eyelashes.
Then in August 2018, every single hair on my body fell out. Through my work, I have access to private medicine. Now I went to see a dermatologist, privately.
I was diagnosed with Alopecia Universalis – a rare, extreme form of hair loss. It is thought to be caused by the body’s immune system going into overdrive and attacking the hair follicles.
My doctor told me: “The less serious form of hair loss, Alopecia Areata, is quite common. Many people have patchy hair loss at one time or another. But once extreme hair loss has been triggered, it is usually permanent.”
Just in case, she prescribed a six-week course of steroids to suppress my immune system, during which a little fuzz did begin to grow back.
But as the doctor had warned it might, as soon as the course of pills ended, everything fell out again!
What is alopecia?
- Alopecia universalis (AU) is an advanced form of alopecia areata, a condition that causes round patches of hair loss.
- AU is characterized by complete loss of hair on both the scalp and body.
- Most people with AU do not have other signs and symptoms, but some may experience a burning or itching sensation.
- In some cases, AU can be associated with other conditions such as thyroid disorders, or nail changes (such as pitting).
- Although the exact cause of AU is unknown, it is thought to be an autimmune illness in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its hair follicles.
- There is no cure for AU, but sometimes hair regrowth occurs on its own, even after many years.
- For more information, visit www.alopecia.org.uk
As the months have gone by, with no sign of any natural regrowth, I’ve accepted that my hair is probably gone forever. To my surprise, I’ve missed it less than I expected.
Today, I only wear a wig on the odd special occasion. Mostly, I’m happy to rock the bald look. In fact, I still get a lot of compliments.
Thankfully, Nathanael has never made any fuss about my alopecia and he always tells me that I look great, with my hair or without it.
As for the children, Tennyson has become used to my new look. If I get the odd hair growing anywhere, he’ll pull it out! Clementine is too young to remember me any other way.
People ask if I was particularly stressed, around the time my hair fell out. And it’s true that Clementine’s birth was reasonably difficult, and that afterwards I was a busy young mum with two babies, just coming to the end of a seven-year part-time university degree, and about to return to work.
But generally I was extremely happy with my life, and didn’t FEEL stressed.
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As for the future, I’ve been offered the option of treatment with an immunosuppressant medication called Ciclosporin. But it can cause serious side effects – including an increased risk of lymphoma. I haven’t made up my mind for sure, yet, but I don’t think I’m going to go for it.
The way I see it, I’m not sick, so why take a powerful drug that might make me sick?
Having joined an online support group run by Alopecia UK, I know I’m not alone. There are many other women are struggling with different kinds of hair loss and some find it devastating.
Luckily I’m a confident, positive person. I’ve been able to deal with what has happened to me, and make the best of it.
Don’t misunderstand me. If somebody offered me the chance of having my hair back, tomorrow, at no risk, of course I’d say: “Yes, please.” But that isn’t going to happen.
What I’ve learned from alopecia is: my hair, and the way I look, doesn’t define me. I’m defined by what’s inside me. And that hasn’t changed.
Meanwhile, a woman who has alopecia on what inspired her to embrace her baldness after hiding her secret for seven years with a wig.