Planning my big day should have been exciting. But then disaster struck…
By Ellie Baker, 35, from Plymouth
I grinned as I handed my boyfriend Daniel, 33, his Christmas card.
‘Merry Christmas babe,’ I said as I pecked him on the cheek.
He smiled back and said: ‘Go and open your presents!’, gesturing towards the Christmas tree, where a big box was waiting for me.
Our three boys, Charlie, 13, Zack, eight and Aiden, four, jumped around excitedly as I knelt down to open it.
Inside were lots of little presents, but what caught my eye was a small box nestled at the bottom. I gasped as I opened it – it was a beautiful sparkling diamond ring.
I looked up and Daniel was on one knee in front of me.
‘Will you marry me?’ he asked and the boys squealed with excitement.
‘Of course I will!’ I grinned.
I first met Daniel in February 2008, after chatting to him on Facebook. Our first date was at the harbour in Plymouth, and as we shared a bag of chips overlooking the ocean, I knew there was something special between us.
Daniel had Zack from a previous relationship and I had Charlie, so we had a lot in common. He was also warm, kind and headstrong – exactly the type of man I go for.
The chemistry was so good between us, it wasn’t long before we were inseparable, He moved in with me in July 2008 and in November 2010 I gave birth to our son, Aiden.
Daniel had never been that keen on the idea of marriage, so his romantic proposal on Christmas Day 2012 was a lovely surprise.
I had dreamt of walking down the aisle since we met, so I didn’t want to waste any time.
Luckily, Daniel’s mother Jill was keen to organise it, so I left all the stressful planning to her and excitedly looked forward to our big day, booked for May 2013.
Within months, we had found the perfect venue and my dream dress. Things were going brilliantly.
I was doing my hairdressing training and taking care of Aiden, with a lovely wedding on the cards – the future looked bright.
But one hurried morning in March 2013, I stepped out of the shower as Daniel impatiently pushed past me to get in.
As I wrapped my towel around myself and turned around, Daniel let out a shocked gasp.
‘What the hell has happened to your hair?’ he asked, pointing to the back of my head.
My hand flew to my hair – only to find I didn’t have any at the back of my head! I held up a mirror and I was horrified to see that instead of my usual thick locks was a large bald spot.
I burst into tears – it was three months before my wedding!
I crossed my fingers that it was a freaky one-off but after that I kept finding clumps of my hair everywhere – on my pillow, my shoulders and in the bathroom plughole.
A trip to my doctor confirmed that I had alopecia areata – and there was no way to predict how bald I would get, or if my hairloss would ever stop.
At first, I was frantic. In my job as a hairdresser, my long locks were my crowning glory – because of my work, I knew all about alopecia but why was it happening to me?
I wasn’t stressed – Jill had taken on a lot of the wedding planning. My doctor explained it could happen to anyone at any time, sometimes for no reason at all – and worst of all, there was no effective treatment. My heart sank. I was going to be a bald bride.
We tried steroid injections but they didn’t work. After that, my alopecia only got worse. Soon, my hair was falling out in massive clumps leaving more bald patches behind.
It was terrifying and my confidence plummeted. My wedding was in a matter of weeks and while most brides would be considering tiaras, veils and hairstyles, I was panicking about whether I’d have any hair at all.
I even considered shaving all my hair off. Daniel was supportive and told me he would love me no matter what I looked like, while my mother-in-law Jill was lovely too and told me if I wanted to postpone the wedding then I could.
But I had waited so long to get married – and I loved Daniel more than anything. I desperately wanted to marry him, so I decided to go ahead with the wedding.
I started covering up my bald spots with headscarves and hats, but I knew I couldn’t wear a hat on the wedding day, so I tentatively asked my best friend Chelsea for some help.
I’d trained with her in college and I knew she would come to the rescue, but even so, I was embarrassed to show her my balding head.
So I asked her to trim my hair, and decided to show her rather than tell her what had happened.
Chelsea was great. She carefully examined my hair and then announced that we would need several hair extensions to hide my bald spots for the big day.
‘There’s no need to fret,’ she said. ‘We’re going to make you a beautiful bride, you’ll see. This is totally fixable.’
Together, we came up with a plan to carefully fit the extensions to make sure that none of my bald bits were visible on the day.
Chelsea did such a good job – the day went without a hitch and as I said my vows to my groom, I silently thanked my lovely best friend for fixing my hair.
Thanks to her, none of the guests knew my secret – that I was a balding bride.
It was a perfect day and after the wedding, I set up a local support group for other alopecia sufferers.
Chelsea and I launched our own hair business too, called La Belle Tu, helping women who’ve lost their locks for whatever reason.
We specialise in hair restoration and wig fitting and the response has been incredible. Having alopecia is devastating – it’s unpredictable and cruel, but we want to help.
Losing my hair before my wedding was every bride’s worst nightmare but looks are hair today, gone tomorrow.
I know that Daniel will be with me through thick and thin – and my baldness has brought a new business too!
Customers can email firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the service.
As told to Helen O’Brien Google