There’s this infamous story in my family about my half-Italian cousin who was so anxious and heartbroken after her serious boyfriend left her in the late 80s that all of her hair started falling out. My aunt would find clumps of it everywhere–at first she thought they were hairballs the family’s cat, Baffa, spit up. Then the whole thing became medically diagnosable. She was on her way to Early Female Baldness until the problem resolved when she started dating again a few months later.

The same thing began to happen to my hair shortly after I gave birth. Strands started appearing everywhere, first in my food. It was easy enough to imagine some ruff-and-tumble line cook shaking his dandruffy maine into my Mediterranean salad until I connected the dots and realized that the hair, of course, was mine.

The shedding of my hair, caused by a normal hormonal shift after pregnancy, became a reminder of my ‘isness’ every time I got out of the shower and collected a fresh clump from the drain. It’s made me wonder if my hair loss isn’t just a symptom of post-pregnancy but of a broader curiosity, a weird mental break-up with myself before I became a mother.

Me with lots of hair: in bars, out for dessert, breezing through fitting rooms. Me with less hair: running two miles not three, out to brunch before naptime, whipping avacodos into baby food jars.

The hairshirt, or sackcloth, was used in Biblical times as an exclamation point at the end of a sentence–a visual representation of a pilgrim waiting for atonement.  Truth is, if I gathered up all the hair that’s fallen off my head in the past three months, crocheted it into loops and made a tank top, I wouldn’t know how to wear the thing. I wear my baby in public now, and he’s pretty, messy proof that we can be good, or at least better, again.