“‘Did someone beat you?’ ‘Were you in a fire?’ ‘What happened to your face?!’ ‘Is that a chemical burn?’ ‘Did someone throw acid on you?’ ‘What did your mother eat when she was pregnant with you?’ ‘No one will ever want to date you!’
These are just some of the questions and comments I’ve heard about my birthmark growing up. Sadly, it wasn’t curious children who were cruel with their words, but adults. It’s easy for me to use one of these moments as a ‘teachable moment’ when it comes from a child or younger person, but when the rude gawking stare or snide comment comes from someone your age or older, it’s often harder to swallow. You think they would know better, or at least have enough manners to formulate their comment into one of curiosity and not harshness. Sadly, when you have a port wine stain, this is part of your reality.
Everywhere you go, someone will stare at you or ask you an uncomfortable question; rarely will you meet a kind stranger who smiles or gives a kind word instead. I’ll never forget those who told me it was an angel’s kiss or those from other cultures who viewed it as a gift. Those rare comments stuck with me and helped me feel special. Some days it’s hard to deal with; other days I’m too busy to notice or I choose to be strong, smile, and say, ‘it’s just a birthmark.’ Hearing comments like this over the years has definitely given me a thicker skin. Despite hearing these comments for many years in my life, I always felt I was born to stand out and be different. If I was given this condition, it must have been for a reason or greater purpose. Thanks to my amazing, supportive family and close circle of friends I was able to thrive and my confidence began to build. It was important to keep a close tribe around me, and it was vital to my survival growing up.
I was born with a port wine stain birthmark covering over 50 % of my body. When I was four years old, I got very sick with bacterial meningitis which left me in the hospital and afterwards completely deaf in my right ear and less than 50% hearing in my left ear. At four years old I got my first hearing aid and my whole world changed. I was now a target for bullying for not one but two different things. This made elementary school extremely hard. There were years where I was tormented every day for what I looked like and for not being able to hear like everyone else. For so many years I felt broken, isolated and different. I was lucky to have an amazing family that told me every day that I was beautiful and I was no different from anyone else. Those words fueled me through those difficult years. The bullies that tormented me those years may have broken me temporarily, but I would never let them get the last word.
Even at a young age I remember standing up to many of them and staying strong even when I wanted to crumble. At a young age I showed an interest in performing, and my parents made a conscious decision to immerse me in dance, acting, singing etc. to help build my confidence and give me an outlet for what I was going through. This truly changed my life. It helped me to find my voice. It showed me that it was ok for people to be looking at me if it was for a positive reason, and if they were going to stare, I was going to make sure they would never forget me.
When I was younger there was a time I wish I didn’t have a birthmark and that I was just like everyone else. I got about a dozen laser surgeries and had explored some of the early cover up makeup that was thick, green and unnatural looking. I got to a point where I got sick of giving up all my school holidays recovering from various surgeries. I came to the point where I only wanted to get treatment on my birthmark if it was medically necessary and not for cosmetic reasons. At a young age I decided that I wanted to become comfortable in my skin, flaws and all and that’s when I started my journey of self-love and true self-acceptance. I then began using makeup to enhance my favorite features instead of trying to use it to hide or cover up my birthmark.
As I got older and more comfortable in my skin I started to see my port wine stain as a blessing, almost a filter that helped me to sort shallow and undeserving people out of my life. If someone was going to judge me or not want to be my friend simply because of what I looked like, then I decided that they weren’t the type of person I would want to be around any way. I began to be very selective of the type of energy I had around me. As I mastered this skill, I noticed that my life was heading in a more positive direction. By the time I was halfway through college I had an amazing core of friends, was truly falling in love for the first time and was discovering the person I always wanted to be.
When I met my now husband, he was unlike any other guy (outside of my brothers and father) who looked past my exterior and into my soul. He truly wanted to get to know me, he was not concerned with my birthmark. If anything, he was attracted to my confidence and demeanor despite of looking different from most of the girls around me. He always said he ‘never sees my birthmark.’ He never made me feel insecure about how I looked like so many other guys had in the past. I dealt with so many in the past who broke my heart, used me, kept me a secret, disrespected and took advantage of me. Meeting him at 20 years old was an eye-opening experience.
We have grown up together, started a family and now are on the adventure together of raising three little ones. There is no one else I’d want by my side in this wild ride. He is the ying to my yang, the mellow poetic soul I desperately needed in my life. He truly is one of a kind. He is sweet, kind, sensitive, smart, funny and an amazing father. We have been together for almost 13 years and married for eight. He pushes me every day to be a better version of myself than I was the day before. His passion and fire for helping those who are struggling is inspiring and his dedication to his career amazes me every day. When I feel lost or like I can’t go on he shows me that there is still a reason to keep pushing. He never made me feel like I had to cover up or change who I was. He loves me on my best and on my worst days and having my best friend and partner by my side in life is a true blessing.
When I was 25, I had my first child, this was another major game changer. Most people my age weren’t becoming parents at that age. I was still growing up and discovering who I was now with a tiny little human to take care of. Although it was hard to adapt to parenthood in the beginning, now eight years later I wouldn’t change a thing. My children have fueled my fire in my passion for anti-bullying. It’s shocking to see that so many years have passed since I have been in school and children are still dealing with so many of the same issues, but now it follows them home. Cyber bulling adds another layer to the struggle of growing up differently in society.
Having children made me want to write, educate, speak to and inspire the youth so they can be less judgmental and more accepting to those who may look different from them. I’ve recently started working on a book of poetry for children about the experience of growing up with a port wine stain and to inspire those who are struggling with finding the beauty within themselves. I also started my online following, PWSSuperstars on IG and Facebook, to help spread port wine stain positivity and pride. It’s been an amazing experience, and I know it has only just begun. I’ve also been working with the Vascular Birthmarks Foundation as an Ambassador and working to spread awareness and working with others who have port wine stains as well. It has been such a life changing experience.
I wish I had this opportunity to network with so many others with port wine stains when I was younger. I felt so isolated and longed to see someone who looked like me in the media. Meeting and working with all these amazing people and inspiring the next generation to continue the fight for visibility and equal treatment. I’ve loved networking with so many amazing people and showing the youth that there is solidarity and pride in having a port wine stain. When used correctly it can truly be an amazing and lifesaving tool. I’m hoping to have my book published in 2020 to give insight to what it’s truly like growing up with a port wine stain.
Although my life has not been easy and I struggled for many years, I truly believe that every negative experience and positive experience made me who I am today. I always felt like I was here for a reason to spread awareness and now I feel like my destiny is being fulfilled. I’m so thankful for all the amazing people I’ve met and all the opportunities that have happened and are still developing. Shine bright my superstars!!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Woodhouse. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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