Karyn Voevodin, 37, Townsville, Qld
That little flicker right there is your baby’s heartbeat,’ the sonographer told me with a smile.
Tears welled in my eyes as I looked at the screen. My baby!
My doctor had sent me for a scan because the home pregnancy test I’d taken had been inconclusive.
I’d just discovered I was seven weeks along.
Calling my husband Matthew, now 39, afterwards, I was thrilled to share the news with him.
‘I’m pregnant!’ I told him happily.
Matthew was just as excited as I was.
We were newlyweds and quickly realised we’d conceived on our honeymoon in the Maldives.
The happy news was just what our family needed. My mother Janelle, now 59, was battling pancreatic cancer and it had been tough on all of us.
‘If it’s a girl, I’m going to call her Hope,’ I told her. ‘Because this baby is the hope you need to beat this.’
We made the announcement to our family and friends by painting the words 'Made in the Maldives' on my round belly.
I had a smooth pregnancy, but at the end of my third trimester I began to develop pre-eclampsia. So at 38 weeks, I was induced.
Then last March, our baby girl entered the world with a healthy cry.
When the doctor handed her to me I noticed dark patches down her back and on the left side of her scalp and face.
‘Is she bruised?’ I asked, concerned that she might have been injured during labour.
‘No, it’s just birthmarks,’ a nurse explained.
I had never seen any like that before. But as I ran my fingers over the dark markings, I tried not to worry. After all, Hope was absolutely beautiful.
But the next morning a paediatrician had some news for us.
‘Hope has a condition called congenital melanocytic nevus,’ she explained after looking her over.
We learned that the condition, also known as CMN, is a particular type of mark or mole that presents on infants at birth.
This type of birthmark occurs in an estimated one per cent of babies worldwide.
The severity of the condition falls into three categories – small, medium or giant.
Hope’s marks put her in the giant nevus category because they covered so much of her head and back.
As Hope grew, we were told that more birthmarks would appear and the large ones would likely grow hair.
"I just know she will make a positive mark on the world."
Although we were assured that it was mostly a harmless cosmetic issue, Hope would be at greater risk of melanoma due to the number of moles on her body.
‘There is also a small chance that children with large nevi may have melanin in their brain or spinal cord,’ the doctor explained.
If this happened, there was a chance Hope’s development could slow down or she would develop seizures.
We could have more tests done later in her life, but they were too intrusive for such a tiny baby.
So Matthew and I decided to just focus on bonding with our beautiful daughter.
Whatever challenges came our way, we knew we’d be able to face them together.
‘She really is perfect,’ Matthew said as he stroked her tiny face.
As Hope grew and developed just like any other baby, it wasn’t long before we hardly noticed the dark markings.
But I was worried how people might react to her. Would people stare or point?
I just wanted her to blend in and be like everyone else.
But as Hope grew, it quickly became clear she was born to stand out! She is a feisty, friendly and fun little girl who seeks out new buddies wherever she goes.
The birthmarks on her back and head began to grow hair when she was just a month old.
She started getting more moles and marks on her legs and arms too.
But it didn’t look strange like I thought it might. It was just part of what made her special!
One morning I was shocked to see that several more had sprung up overnight – but on closer inspection it turned out to be Vegemite
on her legs. Typical toddler!
Hope just celebrated her first birthday and she’s exceeded her milestones.
Thankfully, there aren’t any signs of the rarer complications from her condition.
There are surgical options available to remove her marks but it’s a serious procedure and requires replacing the affected skin.
It’s not a decision that Matthew or I want to make for her when she’s so young.
Besides, we love her just as she is!
As she gets older, we will explain the options to her and let her make her own decision about what she wants to do with her body.
Until then, I will encourage her to embrace her ‘beauty marks’ and love her differences.
I hope that standing out helps her build confidence and become a role model to other little girls with CMN.
Hope has a bright future ahead of her. I just know she will make a positive mark
on the world.
What is CMN?
● Congenital melanocytic nevi are light brown to black patches that are present on affected babies at birth covering any size surface area and any part of the body.
● To be categorised as a giant nevus, the mark must cover over two per cent of baby’s body and be bigger
than the size of their palm.
● Giant nevi in adults are bigger than 20 centimetres.
● With the larger nevi there is also often excess hair growth on the birthmark, a condition called hypertrichosis.
● There is no way to prevent the condition and it is not hereditary.
● Although some people feel self-conscious about the marks, others embrace them. Polish model Yulianna Yussef has a giant hairy nevus all over the trunk of her body. She often reveals it in her photo shoots and runs a campaign on Instagram using the hashtag #bareyourbirthmarks to highlight positive body image awareness for people with CMN.