My son is bald, please don’t stare.

My son has no hair.  When we are out he will always wear a hat.  This upsets his brother.  His brother would love him not to wear a hat.  He will not leave the house without one.  He was told at a local theme park that he could not go on a ride because he would not remove his hat.  He had to walk down two flights of stairs and pass 50 or so people in utter embarrassment because he could not bear for people to see his bald head.  He could not go on that last ride, the one he wanted to go on the most.

Up until recently, he even wore a hat in the sea as was his fear and lack of confidence in the public arena.  If you came round our house at any time you would find him hat free, laughing and confident because he feels safe at home.  He knows that if you come into our home we know you, therefore you will not judge him.  Outside in the real world, he knows, even at his tender age of 10, that people will judge him and speculate about how his baldness came to be.

During a recent weekend away, which involved a lot of swimming, he decided to go bald as he thought he would look odd wearing a swimming hat.  This would the first time he chose to show his head in the public arena.   This was a huge step and took a great deal of guts and confidence.  But he did it.  And he did it with a real pride and swagger, we were so proud.

What surprised me most was the differing responses.  Children tended to look, look away and then look back for a double take and then move on.  Some adults stared, relentlessly, unashamedly, oblivious of the fact that my son could see them staring.  It is like the rules seem to change with children.  I’m sure that these people would not stare so obviously at an adult without hair.  There seems to be the notion that children cannot seem them staring or that they do not to have the same feelings as adults.  What came next though surprised me.  My son and his siblings stared back.  They stared and glared until the adult felt so uncomfortable they looked away.  Whilst I do not encourage my children to be confrontational, I was so proud of the way they instinctively joined forces to protect and empower.  It was a hugely symbolic moment for my son.  He did not look down with embarrassment or shame because of the way he looked.  He held his head high, proud and confident.

My plea is, if you see a child without hair you can almost guarantee that the loss of hair will have caused suffering in some way for them and their family.  They can see you staring and they do have feelings.  Your stare will simply add to their pain and suffering.  The child has clearly been through a lot already and they probably have a long road ahead of them, as do their family and loved ones.  That is all you need to know.  If you have a real burning desire to find out more then ask the adult that is with them.  I am sure they will much rather protect their children from your inquisitive stare by satisfying your curiosity, than watch you glare relentlessly and intrusively.

The bottom line is, children who are bald probably hate it.  It might make them feel different and vulnerable, ugly and angry, sad and lonely.  That is how my son felt.  He just wants hair like his friends.  Please be kind and respectable to children; they deserve it as much as adults.

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Finding a son and a brother … the lost babies of the 1960s and 70s

Back in the 1970s, when a baby was born ‘sleeping’ or died shortly after birth, their existence was far from recognised let alone celebrated.  There was no dignity in death for these young souls.  I have grown up knowing that I had an older brother who died a few weeks after he was born.  I have also grown up knowing that my Mum and dad had no idea what happened to him after he died.  All they had was a birth certificate and death certificate.  They didn’t have any photos of him, no chance to take handprints or footprints, there was no funeral, there was no memorial.

Mum would often talk about ‘her little boy’ particularly around his birthday in September, but quite often out of the blue.   He was born in 1971, after a long and difficult labour, with spina bifida and encephalitis.  Mum and Dad had no idea.  Back then there was no screening available and very little monitoring in comparison to the care received today.  Immediately after delivery, Darren was whisked away to a different hospital 25 miles away. My dad went with him in the ambulance.  That was the only and last time they saw him.

That was 45 years ago now but it is still a huge part of our family history.  My parents went on to have me in 1972, then my two sisters and grandchildren have followed yet Darren has never been forgotten.   He was a son, a brother, an uncle but there was never any positive way to remember him because we did not know where he was.  There was a void in our lives.  This chasm of heartache rippled through our lives. Mum would often talk about trying to find out what happened to him and where he was but didn’t know where to start both practically and emotionally.  Dad kept his thoughts and feelings to himself.

Then came the turning point in our lives. It was coming up to Darren’s birthday last year when we were watching a soap with a story line in it about still birth.  Mum talked again about trying to find him.  Where was he buried?  Was he buried or was he cremated?  She talked about how right it is nowadays that babies who do not live long are given respect and dignity in death and how the parents are supported in a way that she wished she had been all those years ago. This lack of recognition and respect for Darren continued to fill her with anger and sadness.  As I listened and watched her emotions, still as fierce as they must have been all those years ago, I decided that if she did not have the strength to find her baby then we would have to do it for her.

Only a week or so after this conversation I had found charity whose mission was to reunite parents with their babies who had had brief life back in the 1960s and 1970s.  The situation was not unique to us, but many families who had lost babies as it was common practice in those days.  There were families worldwide who had no idea what had happened to their child.  I contacted the charity and gave them the relevant details of his birth and all that I knew about his death.  On 25th September 2015, they phoned with me with the information that my parents had been craving for so many years.

Mum and Dad now know that Darren was buried at Avonview Cemetery in Bristol on 26th October 1971, 3 weeks after he had died.  He was buried with another baby in an unmarked grave in a corner of the cemetery.  Sadly, you would not have known that anyone was buried there, but since they have found him they have been able to plant a tree to remember him and lay a plaque celebrating his short but important life.  This year would’ve been his 45th birthday, this year we will have somewhere to go to remember him.

For us, our family is now complete. He is no longer ‘Mum’s little boy’ he is our brother their son and my children’s uncle.  He now has the dignity and respect that should’ve been bestowed on him all those years ago.

It is hoped that by sharing our story it may help others find their lost babies.

This is for you big brother xxx

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