I remember as if it had happened only yesterday… My husband phoned me very excited when he saw a big poster in the City advertising ‘’How do you C Me Now” exhibition. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me! Until that day I have never seen or met anyone with a birthmark like mine!
Luckily, we were able to see the exhibition on its last day.
I remember being so emotional and excited that day, with butterflies in my tummy, a bit like going to my first date. The minute I entered the gallery I became speechless, I even forgot for few minutes I came there with my husband. It was such a strong feeling. I was drawn to the photographs, and I was studying them very carefully. Being inspired by all the beautiful portraits, I decided to speak to the organisers. It was the first time I proudly admitted that I had CMN too! Everything changed for me that day…
My name is Agata, and I was born with CMN. The main area covers half of my back, shoulders, sides and back of my neck with a bit going to top of my chest and back of my head. I also have many smaller naevi all over my body.
I was born in Poland in the 80s and my parents had me when they were in their early twenties. My grandparents were helping with raising me in my early years as my mum was still at the university. Although my grandmother was a midwife, helping to deliver many labours, she had never come across a big birthmark like mine before. Of course, it was very difficult for the whole family to learn I had been born with a birthmark. There were so many questions with not many answers available. I had several consultations with dermatologists at Children’s Memorial Health Institute in Warsaw, which is nowadays the largest and best-equipped institute of paediatric healthcare in Poland. The doctors offered a few different options to “remove” my birthmark, and after many discussions, my family decided not to proceed with any surgery, which I am very grateful for. I began to have regular checks with dermatologists once a year instead.
I have only good memories from my childhood, I have never felt any different during this time. This is how children are, they want to be happy, they want to play all the time and they want to be loved. I had all of that. I am very lucky to have a big and supportive family. I received so much love and acceptance from the whole family. Everyone was treating me exactly the same way as the rest of the kids in the family, there was no difference whatsoever.
I have this beautiful memory of my grandmother playing with me before my bedtime. She was counting out loud with me all my smaller birthmarks and moles. It was our tradition when I was staying over at my grandparents. She made me feel very special and very much loved, and I remember her touching my skin with such a delicate care. I really liked that. She was the one who spent the most time checking on me and comparing how my birthmark was changing over the years. Even now, despite me being in my late thirties she is still curious about it and wants to have a look at me.
I was very lively and full of energy when I was young. My parents always kept me busy. I was dancing and loved different sports. My mother was a P.E. teacher, and my dad was a dance instructor. They always had summer holidays off, so we were going away a lot. I remember there being always a lot of people around me, we were camping often, and I was going to youth camps during summer holidays. Despite the fact my parents separated years later they always gave me all of their love, protection and support, they were always there for me.
We were living near the seaside, and I always loved the beach, but the bikini or normal swimming costume wasn’t an option for me, so I was wearing a t-shirt or made to order swimming costume. My mum remembers that the most difficult time for me was going to the swimming pool, as sometimes I got some comments or heard kids gossiping about me, because they didn’t know me. My mum felt for me, but she knew it was going to be only temporary and she was always supporting me with her kind words and encouragement.
When I was a teenager, I started to be more conscious about my looks and how I saw myself. I think it was the hardest time for me. I was doubting myself and wasn’t confident enough to show my birthmark, so I started covering it up. I started to wear scarves, turtlenecks and stopped wearing ponytails so I could cover my neck with loose hair. I have never worn summer dresses with open back or shoulders as I was too afraid to attract people’s attention.
Although I have never been bullied, I have received a few stares every now and then. Usually, when I felt someone was uncomfortable asking about my birthmark, I was simply explaining that I was born this way and we moved on with the conversation. I started accepting myself more and being more open about it as I was growing older. I learnt how to live inside my own skin. Nowadays I don’t care too much if people stare at me, I give them a big smile back. Life goes on. I don’t get upset these days anymore.
Despite covering my birthmark in my teens, I knew that my appearance never defined me, and I kept going on with living my life to the fullest. I have great friends and family, who accept me for who I am. Thanks to my husband Pawel, I feel loved and encouraged by him to be proud of having a birthmark as this is part of me. I am an open person, curious and am never afraid of trying new things. Having a birthmark never stopped me from doing what I truly wanted. I learned how to accept and live with it.
Since joining Caring Matters Now I have met many lovely people and heard their stories. I truly feel touched by them. I feel even more brave and confident with myself as a result. It feels like we connect with each other on a different level due to similar stories and experiences we share. I find Caring Matters Now a very open and safe place, where you are simply accepted the way you are. I wish I had met Caring Matters Now earlier in my life. I am looking up to teenagers with CMN I met at Caring Matters Now and find them truly inspiring. They are so open about themselves and raise awareness about CMN with pride and smiles on their faces which is extremely important.