I was born with a port wine stain over my eyelid and below my left eye. My parents thought I was beautiful. I was their first baby. To them, my distinguishing characteristic was my grandfather’s deep dimples. As far as the birthmark was concerned, my mother told me “That’s where the angel kissed you before she sent you to me”. Nevertheless, my parents, knowing what was ahead, diligently tried to find some way to make their little girl not feel self-conscious about the birthmark.
We moved around a lot. There was no Internet or network of resources when I was growing up. Although one-in-ten children is born with a birthmark that should be seen by a pediatric dermatologist, with nine out of those ten babies being girls, birthmarks of all kinds are still a little-understood condition. My mom however, was undeterred, seeking out the best available care and methods of treatment.
When I was in fifth grade, I underwent the first of two “serial excisions,” which meant a hospital stay, under full anesthesia. The surgeon would actually cut out a slice of skin where the birthmark appeared, and then stitch the rest together.
Sometimes, even now, I can still feel the pull of those scars. Later, I had a tattoo, “flesh-colored” according to the well-meaning doctor. But in reality, a pasty off-white color that still stands in contrast to the deep red marks of the port-wine stain. In high school and college, the Laser was the new solution, but one that left painful third degree burns under my eye. After two treatments, the second of which left me in uncontrollable teenage tears, I was done, no more treatments.
Unfortunately, the self-consciousness remained. Not wanting to swim with the boys, for fear the concealer might wash off. The wearing of too-dark eyeliner in college to distract from what was underneath my eye. I loved the theater, in part, because the makeup transformed me. When I don’t wear it, I actually look like I have a black eye. The comments from others range from “Who hit you?” and “What happened to your face?” to “Did you make your boyfriend/husband mad?”. Even as a mother of three, the statements carry a sting. There are times when my own children, however sweetly, still ask me to wear makeup to the bus stop. At work, after cleaning my face following my shift at ESPN, I still have to fight the urge not to put on sunglasses, indoors. Oftentimes I wonder if those I encounter on the way out the door notice my birthmark or how different I look when not wearing makeup. For the most part, others are too busy to notice or care, but the thoughts are always there, tugging at the corners of your mind. That is also the blessing; the knowledge that I am loved and that it has nothing to do with the way I look. The friends who never even “see” my birthmark, the gratitude for parents who made me believe that I could do whatever I wanted…even if that meant being in front of a camera and the belief that with hard work and faith I could accomplish my dreams, despite any limitations.