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Babies & Birthmarks

Aug09

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Advice Smackdown ArchivesDearest Amy,

Every now and again, I find myself in a pickle of what to appropriately say to an inappropriate question, and I figured you could help. I assume you’re like me and think your babies are wonderful and the most perfect beings on Earth…and they are, right?

Yep, my baby is wonderful and perfect. And he has a birthmark.

Evan was born with a small stork bite on his forehead, and while most of the time it is hard to see, it shows up glaringly red when he’s upset. It doesn’t bother me a bit, and I know that it will fade more and more as he grows. Most of what I can tell, this type of birthmark is gone by the time the baby is two (or so) but might still show up from time to time into adulthood when he’s really good and angry. I can deal with that.

What I can’t deal with is the amount of people, particularly adults who say “Why does your baby have that red mark on his face?” Or you know, “What’s wrong with your baby?” My own mother went so far to offend me by saying “Are you sure we can’t put some scar cream on it and make it go away? Then he’d be really perfect…”

It really infuriates me that people who *should* know better don’t. I generally say “It’s just a birthmark that should be gone by the time he’s two”…however, is there a way to maybe clue some clueless people in that they’re being complete horse’s rumps about it?

Loving my baby boy (birthmark or not),
Elizabeth

Ugh, I’m sorry you’re dealing with stupid people being stupid about something that is really, really common. And harmless, and like you said — something that will fade away on its own, with time, no scar creams (!) (and also, ?!!) or lasers required.

My little niece was born with a hemangioma on her forehead, right around her (hypothetical, at the time) hairline. It wasn’t large or disfiguring by any means, but was very red, raised and noticeable for the first year or so of her life. Then, like clockwork, it stopped growing and began to shrink and fade.

But you can only imagine the comments her parents got, because it honestly looked like an injury, or something indeed “wrong” with her head. It was the first hemangioma I’d ever seen up close (though I’ve seen the port-wine stains and stork bites), but my sister-in-law approached it in the very best way: short, sweet, to the point. Like I’ve said before to people looking for “witty” put-downs when someone says something stupid: THEY AREN’T WORTH THE EFFORT.

When I first met my niece at a few months old, my SIL brought her into the room and very matter-of-factly explained that she had a birthmark called a strawberry hemangioma on her head. “It’s noticeable now and will grow for a year, and then it will mostly go away on its own.” She even went ahead and pre-emptively answered a couple of boneheaded possible questions/comments about hats (not a good idea, just yet, because it was still growing and sensitive) and touching it (no, please don’t). She took the same approach when asked about it in public, with just a shorter script: It’s a birthmark, it’s harmless, it will go away on its own sooner rather than later. Usually the busybody would just nod, not really knowing what else to say. Sometimes they’d change the subject back to her gorgeous eyes or chubby fingers. I never heard anyone go on to say something awful after my SIL’s 10-second hemangioma lesson (like “oh, what a shame, she’s so beautiful OTHERWISE”) but I don’t doubt that someone did, at some point. You just can’t help some people.

But from what I witnessed, I do think my SIL had it right: prepare people at family or friends gatherings ahead of time, so you’re only explaining it once. Stick to the facts with the strangers. “It’s a birthmark. It’s called a stork bite or angel kiss, because they are very common in little babies and fade away as children get older. Who knows, YOU might have had one too.” The end. Most people really just want to know 1) if it’s harmless, or 2) if it will go away. Answer these questions and you’ll likely get them to back off. (Though this is harder for parents dealing with a port-wine stain or disfiguring hemangioma that may require medical treatment.) If someone insists on being really rude or stupid, answer them on a case by case basis — knowing though, that the more you engage with stupidity, the 1) longer the conversation will go on, and 2) the more upset/worked up you’ll be by the end of it, if you’re not naturally confrontational or mouthy. (“He is SO perfect. It’s a BIRTHMARK. Nice MOLES, jackass.”) I don’t see anything wrong with simply walking away from a stranger in the grocery store with a curt “you’re being really inappropriate, sir” though.

As for family members, like your mom: Yeah. Well. Families are the epitome of MEANING WELL, but often fall short. I think that’s why my SIL was already preemptively killing the “why don’t you just keep a hat on her?” debate by the time we went up to visit.

Birthmarks CAN be very jarring — even a lot of new parents, upon hearing the “it will go away on its own” prediction still want to get second or third opinions from dermatologists to see if anything can be “done” about it. But for the child’s sake — if say, the mark remains noticeable at two or four or seven — treating it like you’ve been doing so far, in a matter-of-fact and straightforward way instead of getting all YOU ASSHOLE about every unsolicited comment, could already be teaching your son to deal with it the right way too.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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28 Responses to “Babies & Birthmarks”

  1. Cheryl S. Aug 09 at 11:31 am Reply Reply

    People suck. I agree with Amy. Just tell them it’s a birthmark and it will go away. My brother had 2 hemangiomas when he was born. One under his nose and one up on his forehead. They were VERY red and noticiable. Guess what? They’re gone. LONG gone. Unfortunately, people will be idiots long after your baby’s stork bite is history!

  2. Michelle Aug 09 at 12:02 pm Reply Reply

    It seems no matter what, people are going to come up with something stupid to say. I am an adoptive mom and before we adopted our two boys, my husband and I took some classes through the adoption agency. They showed us this book called the “W.I.S.E Up Powerbook” which is intended to help young readers deal with all the questions they are asked about being adopted. Well the point of the book is that you have to judge a persons intent on asking you the question (they may use a bad choice of words, but are genuinely concerned about you OR they may be trying to make a hateful comment). From there you can chose to walk away or educate them. Although this book was specifically geared toward adoption related questions, I have found it helpful in other situations too! In the end, the choice is up to you how much you want to share. You don’t owe anyone an explanation.

  3. Holly Aug 09 at 12:09 pm Reply Reply

    This story is so fitting! My beautiful 5-month old daughter has a strawberry hemangioma right in the middle of the top of her head, like a locating beacon. As all mothers do, I look right past it. However, most people *do* ask me about it – “Oh OW, did she get hurt?” or “What is *that*?”. My husband is concerned it won’t disappear on its own, and I promised him if it didn’t, we’d go straight to the dermatologist (but I know it will, heh). The caregiver for my 90 year old grandma met my daughter a few weeks ago for the first time, and after complimenting my daughter up and down, noticed the red bump and said “Aw, she has a little strawberry birthmark”. I about started jumping up and down with joy and could have kissed the woman for being the ONLY person to know what it was in advance of me telling them and not needing an explanation.

  4. Erin Aug 09 at 12:20 pm Reply Reply

    There was a girl who worked in an office at my university who had a BEAUTIFUL birthmark that actually covered half her face and went down her neck. I never asked her about the birthmark (this one didn’t go away, obviously) but I remember being struck at how it really was just beautiful. She probably hated it, but I wish people would give up on what they consider “normal” and allow for some variation in “perfection.” Especially with newborns. Seriously? Can they even be flawed? Some babies are born with serious problems and even they are perfect in their own ways- and parents don’t need to hear anything different. And especially when it’s something as common as a birthmark.
    Then again, if they didn’t have the birthmark to comment on, they’d just move on to whatever you had them wearing (Isn’t it too warm for socks?) or not wearing (Shouldn’t she be wearing a onesie?). There really is no winning with the busybodies.

  5. Hannah Aug 09 at 12:47 pm Reply Reply

    Our tiny child (well, more like giant tank child) has a little sticky-outy skin nub near her ear. Same thing – “what is that?”, etc., etc. We just say it’s her antenna to the mothership. You’d be AMAZED how that shuts down the discussion.

  6. Emily Aug 09 at 1:22 pm Reply Reply

    My 3 month old daughter has a quarter sized raised strawberry birthmark right on her forehead. I follow similar strategies as you mentioned. I try to diffuse the situation by acknowledging her mark and letting people know it will go away. I try to be quick about it because when you’re quick about something it shows people it’s no big deal…and that’s just what it is- no big deal.
    I also try to assume the best from people. When they make stupid, hurtful comments, I try to see that their underlying motive is usually concern. They just want to make sure our family is healthy, which it so thankfully is.
    Lastly, I cover her mark with an ultra cute bow, flower or hat if I’m feeling like the questions might be too much for me that day. It’s certainly not out of embarrassment, but rather a need for a break from looks or comments when my post baby hormones are a little out of whack.

  7. -k- Aug 09 at 2:26 pm Reply Reply

    My cousin (mid-thirties), her mother (mid-sixties, no biological relation to me), and I (late-twenties) all have the angel kiss. It’s visible sometimes, not at all at other times (while anger brought mine out when I was young, there doesn’t appear to be a lot of rhyme or reason to it now). It has never once occurred to me that there’s anything wrong with or unattractive about this; to the contrary, it’s always felt like we’re part of some special club. I was delighted to find that a close friend’s daughter was born with one.

    My reaction to comments like the ones described in the letter would be to look at the person like they were off their rocker, because honestly, the problem is theirs for thinking this is an issue. Please, please don’t let other people’s hangups become yours or even start to seem valid. This is madness.

  8. annemarie Aug 09 at 3:04 pm Reply Reply

    I have a bigass birthmark on my forehead that is usually invisible but turns bright red when I’m hot/upset. For a long time I never let on when I was upset about anything, so my friends and family have always used it as a kind of sensor to my moods. Ha. But, here is living proof that they DON’T stay obvious forever!

  9. Susan Aug 09 at 4:43 pm Reply Reply

    Oh, Hannah, LOL – that sounds like something I’d say, too! Our son had very noticeable angel kisses on his forehead, both eyelids, and on the nape of his neck until around his first birthday – he’s 20 months now and I was just realized the other day that they are practically imperceptible now. I had always heard them called stork bites until my mom called them angel kisses, which sounds much sweeter. DH called the one on his forehead his “Harry Potter scar” because it would get much brighter when he was upset.

    Most people never commented on them, but one of my husband’s friends would always say, “oh, he STILL has those?” every time we saw him. I just ignored him, because *I* knew it wasn’t a big deal. Perhaps you can take your mom to your next pediatrician’s appointment and casually ask the doc about your son’s birthmark – maybe hearing from an “expert” will get her to chill out.

  10. stephanie Aug 09 at 4:52 pm Reply Reply

    I have a pinkish-red, oddly shaped birthmark on my left shin and get asked ALL the time what happened to my leg. I usually just respond that it is a birthmark and that’s that, although I have made the snappy response of, “I was born, okay?” when in a particularly bad mood (that shut them up). Although I do not advocate the snappy comeback… just being matter-of-fact about it works just as well and makes it less awkward.

  11. Eris Aug 09 at 4:57 pm Reply Reply

    I have the stork mark myself, it shows up as purple when I’m very tired but otherwise totally non-existant. My grandmother insisted that my mother had done something wrong birthing me and that is why I had it, which, you can imagine bugs the hell outta my mom, but it faded away by two and like I said, only shows up faintly purple from time to time and you know what? I dig it.

    My friend’s baby has a large straberry birthmark on her thigh. When she was born it covered nearly the whole thigh and just like amalah said when she hit one it stopped growing and now, at nearly two, it is faded and flat and much smaller than it was. We all have quirks, I’m just sorry new moms have to explain so many :)

  12. Lena K. Aug 09 at 5:45 pm Reply Reply

    I miss my daughter’s stork bite now that it’s gone, and both my kids’ mongolian spots. My hubby has a birthmark the shape of Australia on his side, and I think it’s SEXY.

  13. Suzy Q Aug 09 at 6:18 pm Reply Reply

    My niece also had a hemangioma on her head. My sister would sometimes use those stupid baby headbands (HATE) to cover it up, but I don’t really remember any stupid comments. Maybe people are just nosier now. Since I was Super-Aunt, I actually scotch-taped a bow on top of it once for pictures. Worked great!

  14. Katze Aug 09 at 8:37 pm Reply Reply

    I was accidentally one of Those People once. At my sister’s wedding, no less, when I met her BIL’s girlfriend and baby for the first time. The baby was just learning to walk and had what I now know is a hemanginoma just above his temple – at the exact spot that kids always seem to end up thwacking on coffee table corners, and I said something like “Oh, did you bump your noggin, cutie?”. I felt awful when they fixed me with the evil eye and advised me that it was not an injury. I have felt guilty about it ever since.

  15. Shannon Aug 09 at 9:10 pm Reply Reply

    My 10-month old daughter has a hemangioma on the bridge of her nose that I was VERY upset about when it first appeared, but quickly became fine with and now I barely notice it. It never got too big and it’s already started to shrink and fade.

    When people ask me about it, I usually go with the response you’re already giving (“It’s called a hemangioma; it’s a temporary birthmark that will be gone by the time she’s 2″) and also with family and friends, did a lot of what Amy’s SIL did to give people a heads-up in advance and pre-answer questions. I keep it short with strangers, though. Most people just assume she scratched herself, and really, checkout lady, you can go ahead and think that. It’s not worth my time to correct her (and yes, I’ll be sure to cut her nails, thanks). I haven’t found a good way to let people know they’re being stupid so I just shrug it off and move on. The only people I talk about it more with are random kids who ask about it – I answer any questions they have and in more detail.

    Sucks about your mom, though. None of my family members said anything like that.

  16. jive turkey Aug 10 at 9:01 am Reply Reply

    My daughter has a hemangioma on the back of her left arm (confession: the only way I could remember what it was called for the first year of her life was to think about He-Man), but it’s faded a great deal now that she’s 16 months. People rarely notice it because of its location and relatively small size, so I haven’t had to deal with too many comments about it.

    A friend’s son has a really large hemangioma covering almost his entire inner forearm, and they told him it was his “tattoo.” He was very, very proud of it, and now that it’s starting to fade, he’s actually really upset! They promised him he could get an actual tattoo of his “tattoo” when he gets older, and that calmed him down. Hee.

  17. b Aug 10 at 10:08 am Reply Reply

    My daughter actually has two birthmarks- one on her ear, and one on her wrist- both the “strawberry” type that go away by age 2. When people ask, a quick “It’s a birthmark.” usually stops them from saying anything else. If anything, they start talking about their son/cousin/sister who had the same thing!

  18. b Aug 10 at 10:09 am Reply Reply

    My daughter actually has two birthmarks- one on her ear, and one on her wrist- both the “strawberry” type that go away by age 2. When people ask, a quick “It’s a birthmark.” usually stops them from saying anything else. If anything, they start talking about their son/cousin/sister who had the same thing!

  19. Hillary Aug 10 at 10:15 am Reply Reply

    What a timely post! I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately. My baby girl has a dark birthmark up on her cheek near her eye. When she was born it looked like a little heart. She’ll probably always have it. I admit when I first saw it I was surprised and worried. It took about 5 seconds before I got over that and realized I have the most perfect baby ever!!!! (I’m biased). Now, I adore it because it makes her stand out and it is a little heart dude! Anyway, I’ve had several people say ‘what is that?!’ and a few have said ‘oh, you can get that removed when she’s older’ or ‘oh that should fade and be gone soon’ like they’re comforting me that my baby has this hideous thing on her face. Nothing wrong with a little mole or birthmark, people! Look at Cindy Crawford! But I recognize that I’m always a little defensive when people talk about it because that was my initial reaction too and I’m ashamed that I ever thought that about my little one. The good news is that it seems to take everyone else about 5 seconds to get over it too.

  20. KimC Aug 10 at 3:00 pm Reply Reply

    First, before I forget: Emily, I have a two month old that was born with a LOT of hair, when I get in a hurry and don’t feel like discussing the whole “yes she does have a lot of hair, really, the most you have ever seen? wow. No she will probably be blonde, her sister followed the same path and it is turning already” blah blah, I end up putting a hat on her. LOL

    Next off- my older daughter has a birthmark. It is largeish- think reeses peanut butter cup- dark and on the back of her elbow. It is also covered in dark hair. It is also the same birthmark that my father has, just a different arm. My older daughter is three and IS.NOT. BOTHERED. My husband’s family is bothered, but we have assured them that we may get it removed, or just get the hair removed.

    Strangers? When we tell them that her Papa has one like it, that shuts them down. Or just say, it is a BIRTHMARK.

  21. Elizabeth Aug 10 at 4:27 pm Reply Reply

    Thank you, Amy, and thank you to all the others who answered my question. Hearing that there are lots of people out there with birthmarks, and babies with birthmarks makes me feel so much better. I know deep down that it isn’t a big issue, it is just that sometimes when it gets pointed out repeatedly, it begins to feel like a big issue. Thanks again!

  22. Kirsty Aug 10 at 9:49 pm Reply Reply

    My 6 year old daughter has what she calls a “raspberry” on her right shoulder. We, too, were told it would stop growing around 24 months and then gradually disappear. Obviously, this hasn’t happened. It’s quite big (about half an inch in diameter, but a really odd shape) and very much raised, but she doesn’t give a fig about it and I actually love it – it’s her, only her. We did get it checked out and the dermato said it wasn’t anything serious but that she could get it removed later in life if she’s bothered about it. I suspect she won’t be… And I give it a kiss every time I see her little bare shoulders!

  23. Jasmine Aug 11 at 10:15 am Reply Reply

    I was born like a dalmation, full of greyish-brown birthmarks. According to my mother, she said that people actually asked why I was “covered in sh*t”. Amy’s right — you can’t help stupid or rude people. My birthmarks faded in 3 months and now I have really fair and even skin. :)

  24. Jasmine Aug 11 at 10:20 am Reply Reply

    Sorry for the double posting — I was afflicted with Mongolian Spots. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mongolian_spot

  25. Mary Aug 11 at 12:27 pm Reply Reply

    My son has birth marks on his left arm. They just look like red marks and we have certainly been puit through the ringer with it. They do get darker when he is angry or not enough sunblock has been put on. He is 7 now and everybody questions him or us about it. Doctors, teachers, coachs, lifeguards, babysitters, family… strangers. People are rude, and there are just some people who are curious. It can’t be helped. Sometimes, if I see people looking at it…. I will just tell them it is a birth mark and get it over and done with. It’s part of him and I love him and I am smiling right now just thinking about him.

  26. Stephanie Aug 11 at 5:11 pm Reply Reply

    I’m 26 and have a LARGE purple, raised birhtmark on the right side of my face, up in front of my ear. School was ridiculous, with the rudeness, and strangers are even worse. Even to this day people will do a double-take and stare or whisper. But, I met my husband when he came up to me and asked me what it is. I was grumpy and told him that is was an f’ing birthmark. He smiled, told me it was beautiful, and asked if he could touch it. We’ve been married 5 years now.

  27. julie Aug 12 at 5:09 pm Reply Reply

    I had a stork bite on my right cheek, just below my eye. It didn’t fade right away… I might of still had it in first or second grade. But I have to admit I until I read this letter, had completely forgot about it, so I can honestly say I wasn’t traumatic at all.

  28. Kate Aug 13 at 12:42 pm Reply Reply

    I have a large strawberry mark on my left forearm that never really went away (although it is a lot less noticeable than when I was born). I used to dread the switch to short sleeves i the spring because people were always asking what was wrong. It was very frustrating but I always tried to remember that when I was born even my mom was one of “those people” and asked the nurse what was wrong with me only to have the nurse reply that I was “perfect” and that it was a kiss from the angels. 

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