When Owen was born, his face was clear, but it was only a few weeks before we began to notice that something was different. Our first indication was a white patch on his cheek that showed up especially when he cried.
At his first doctor’s appointment, I asked his pediatrician what it might be, and he said it was probably just baby acne and nothing to worry about. I didn’t buy that, so I also asked around my internet friends and decided it was probably some kind of red birthmark.
To be honest, I was a little horrified. I’d seen kids with strawberry birthmarks before, and I thought they were gross. It sounds terrible, and I felt plenty guilty about it at the time, but I really didn’t want my brand new baby marked. There are quite a few types of red birthmarks, some are permanent and flat, like port wine stains, and some are bright red and poofy, but fade away, like “strawberry” hemangiomas. At the time, I was actually hoping for a permanent mark rather than one of the almost bulging, temporary ones. Luckily, I didn’t get to choose.
At his one month appointment, Owen’s spot was filling in red.
Now the pediatrician admits that it is probably a birthmark, *eyeroll*, and while it’s mostly likely harmless, he wants to send us to a specialist to have it looked at just in case. Cue some panicked Googling by my husband. We learned that there are some hemangiomas that are dangerous, but the only ones you really need to worry about are ones on the face that are bigger than 10 cm in diameter, those right around an eye, and big ones on the back of the neck. We also learned that they can happen on internal organs as well, but again, most of the time even these are harmless. They are caused when a section of blood vessels doesn’t stop growing, and they build up under the skin. For this reason, they are categorized as a tumor as well as a growth, but they have nothing to do with cancer, of course. Our specialist, because aren’t we lucky that there’s a pediatric dermatologist right down the road, confirms that he’s got a hemangioma (2 actually, there’s another tiny one on the nape of his neck), but of the very harmless variety. He explains that there are some treatments we could try, that might help it fade faster, from creams to lasers to actual surgery (dangerous ones around the eyes sometimes need to be surgically removed in order to protect the baby’s vision), but that none of these were necessary in our case, and it would fade away by itself eventually.
“How eventually?” the ashamed-but-still-a-little-grossed-out part of me wanted to know.
And the dermatologist says that 10% are gone by the baby’s first birthday, 20% by the second, and so on. The bigger the birthmark, the longer it’ll take to fade. It’s normal for kids to be born with clear skin, and the mark usually fades in over the first few months. Then they fade away much more slowly. He also told me that they “mark their territory” right from the beginning. So, go back to that second picture of the white spot, and that’s as big as his mark would ever be, proportionally. By which I mean, as he grew, it grew, but it stayed the same size relative to his face.
The way the fading process works is that the mark goes from bright red, to dull red, to grey, then I think to white, and finally to normal skin color. Here are Owen’s now, at 14 months:
One other statistic, hemangiomas are more common in girls, in premature babies, and in babies with low birth weight. Owen, a boy, was born 5 days late and weighed 8lbs 11ozs. So, I guess he beat the odds..?
Hopefully, if there are any parents reading this who are learning about hemangiomas for the first time, or whose babies are likewise spotted, I have concisely informed you about what you might expect. Maybe even put some fears to rest.
I should add that it didn’t take very long at all for my husband and I to get very used to Owen’s birthmark. It’s still kind-of irritating that I have to explain to every new person we meet that it’s not a scratch, or a blob of jam, but I don’t mind it at all. I may even miss it when it’s gone. A friend of ours describes it as “Wes Anderson chic.”
(As an afterthought, looking through these pictures you can also see another interesting thing that happened to Baby Owen: despite being born with plenty of dark hair, he went bald shortly thereafter. This is another semi-common, totally-fine-but-weird thing. It grew back, and a different color, who knew?!)