By: Nathalia Freitas
Before I introduce myself, let me answer the question above: What happened to my face? Well, I have Nevus. You might think who would start a conversation like that?, but trust me, my entire life that has been the first thing people ask me— even before asking my name.
My name is Nathalia Freitas. I'm 31 years old. I was born and raised in Porto Alegre, Brazil and I have been in California for the past six years.I was born with a condition called Congenital Melanocytic Nevus, or Nevus, which is caused by a defect during embryologic development. It was a large birthmark covering 40% of my face and there were thousands of smaller satellites all over my body. I had nine surgeries between the time when I was six months old and 13 years old.
I had a hard time in my childhood. In Brazil, people are very expressive which sometimes isn’t a good thing. Brazilians are also very image-conscious, so I easily noticed when they would judge me. While I was in school, I was constantly asked about my appearance and it was exhausting. I was often called nicknames and it was cruel. Attending public school in an underdeveloped country meant that there was no support from the teachers. This was also in the 1990s, when talking about physical differences was a taboo. So I had to go through all of that by myself.
After coming back home upset from being teased at school, I decided to rethink the way I saw my condition. I thought that was enough and decided to stop avoiding my classmates’ questions. I was born like that and I didn’t choose to have Nevus. I started to understand that my condition only affected how I looked and that I was certainly more than just my appearance.
From that day on, I started answering all of their questions and owning my birth defect.Since then, I started feeling better about myself. The moment I embraced Nevus, everything became easier. I had my arsenal of responses: I was born with a birthmark. It is superficial. It is on my skin. It is not contagious. I am healthy. Nothing bad happened to me. I am beautiful and my beauty is unique. It is just a characteristic of mine just like any other; your eyes are blue, mine are dark, your skin has no birthmarks, mine has a thousand.Even though my birthmark caused me to experience hard moments in my life, it has also played a crucial part in transforming me into the strong person that I am today.
Surgery was not easy and each time, it would take a few months for a full recovery. For awhile, I could not go out in the sun and I used to feel my face sallow. I could not cry or smile hard, otherwise it would cause bigger scars. Also, there were high expectations for each surgery and I would never know if I was going to look better or not.
Nowadays, my scars are usually the first thing that people notice. They usually are concerned about what happened to me, if I was in a fire or a car accident. With time, I have learned that people ask questions because they are curious, so I just answer their questions. People usually feel superficial when they ask me first what happened to my face and then, get to know the fun and positive person I am. People tend to fear the unknown. In that sense, when someone asks me about my face I see that as an opportunity for them to learn about Nevus. I hope that in the near future, people will be more knowledgeable about Nevus and all other different types of visual differences.
Last summer, I decided to attend the Nevus Outreach Conference in Chicago. After spending my whole life thinking that I was alone, that I was the only one who looked the way I look, I met more than 100 other people with the same condition as mine. There were so many people with inspiring stories and beautiful families that are on the same journey as I was. If I was feeling good before, when I met this community my heart filled with love and strength. I’m so grateful to have met all these amazing people through this conference because finding groups that share the same condition or the experience of living with a visual difference, makes everything much easier to deal with.
The problems get smaller as we feel supported and learn from others. Everything gets easier when you find out you are not alone.Having a birthmark affected my personality and I turned into a very persistent person. I feel alive and brave for being on this journey. A wise elderly man once told me: “you were born fighting, you are a warrior, so there is nothing you can’t do.” That is how I feel.
To keep in touch with Nathalia you can follow her on Instagram @freitas.nath or find her on Facebook under her name. To learn more about Nevus please check out www.nevus.org.