I finally got my happy ending: From birthmark baby to beautiful bride
Cody Holt endured years of agony before she got her happy ending
Gripping onto my mum’s hand, I stood waiting for the green man on the traffic light. ‘Are you Cody?’ a woman standing next to us suddenly asked. I nodded shyly, burying my head into my mum’s coat, desperate to hide myself and avoid the look of pity I knew I was about to receive.
‘I helped fundraise for you when you were a baby,’ continued the woman. With that, my mum stepped in, chatting away while I looked at the floor, embarrassed.
I was only seven, and these types of encounters were commonplace, but they never got any easier.
In August 1992, I was born with a large, burgundy birthmark that stretched across the left side of my face. Doctors told my parents, Theresa and Tony, that they could operate to remove it, but that in most cases childhood birthmarks cleared up on their own so it would be better to wait until I was six years old. Only as I grew, the birthmark grew with me.
By the time I was eight months old, the mark had grown so dramatically that it had distorted the left side of my face, and started spreading down my windpipe and behind my eye socket. It was clear this was more than a skin-deep problem. But with doctors unable to explain what was wrong, my parents felt completely helpless.
Then, by sheer fluke, just before I turned one, my mum was watching a TV show about a doctor in America who treated children with severe facial deformities. Frantically, she scribbled down his details.
Mum was told surgery to remove my birthmark – if that’s even what it was – would cost £230,000. But with just one income from my dad’s job as an engineer, we didn’t have that sort of money, so they launched an appeal to raise it. Neighbours, businesses and the local paper in our hometown of Corby rallied around to fund the treatment, and incredibly, in a couple of weeks, we had enough for my surgery.
In 1993, after my first birthday, we flew to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Stanford, California for my first operation. It turns out we were just in time. After carrying out an examination, the surgeon told my parents that the mark was in fact a benign tumour, which could have blinded or suffocated me within a couple of weeks.
I recovered from my operation, but it was only the start of 15 years of regular trips back to America for more corrective surgeries.
By the time I started primary school, I’d endured six operations and although my face looked better, I still had obvious scars. But they weren’t nearly as embarrassing as the reputation that preceded me.
I hated it when people stared or asked my mum questions about me. ‘Why can’t they just treat me like normal?’ I’d cry to Mum.
‘I hated it when people stared’
Then when I started secondary school in 2003, some classmates started being cruel. ‘Look, it’s Freddy Krueger!’ one boy taunted as I walked into the school canteen at lunch, which made the others erupt into laughter.
Their heckles hurt and I retreated into myself even more, clinging to my friends from primary school because I was too shy to make new ones. I even started wearing make-up most days, and avoiding after-school social activities
It only got worse in my teens, when people started dating and talking about boys. Of course, I had crushes, but I convinced myself no boys my age were ever going to fancy me. Still, I craved to feel wanted and attractive, so when I was 17 I signed up to an online dating website. I didn’t have the courage to reveal my true self so, one afternoon, I covered the left side of my face with my long, blonde hair and took photos from the right. I uploaded them to the site and a couple of weeks later I started chatting to Lewis, then 18. We spoke about college and music and three weeks later he asked if I would like to go on a date. I did, but I worried that as soon as he saw the real me, with scars smothering the left of my face, he’d be horrified. Still, I didn’t want to lead him on, only to be rejected by him later so I decided to be honest. ‘There’s something you should know about me,’ I typed in a message, one night. Then I told him to Google my name – there were plenty of articles about me and photos of me as a baby before my surgeries, to tell him everything he needed to know. At first there was no reply and I felt sure I’d never hear from Lewis again. But 10 minutes later, he messaged me back. ‘Wow, you’ve been through a lot. So, when do you want to meet up?’ He wasn’t put off at all and I felt so relieved, excitedly planning what outfit to wear. Before our first date the following week, I smothered my face in foundation in an attempt to disguise my scars. Even though Lewis wasn’t bothered, it was more for my own confidence. We went for a walk by the canal in Leicester, and although I’d prepared myself to answer hundreds of questions about my deformed face, Lewis didn’t ask about it once. I suddenly realised that I was the one fixated and obsessed with how I looked, while Lewis couldn’t care less. I knew then that I had found someone truly special.
Just after my 18th birthday, Lewis and I moved in together. He got a job as a retail manager in a shop in Corby, and I worked as a waitress. His love gave me confidence and brought out a new side to me – one that wasn’t afraid to show off my scars.
In 2013, I found out I was pregnant, and Lewis and I were ecstatic. Our son Jack was born that September, perfectly healthy and weighing 8lb 8oz.
As happy as we were though, Lewis and I felt like there was still something missing. We wanted to get married, so we booked St Michael’s Church in Corby and in November 2017, I slipped on a long-sleeved, fitted lace dress, and walked down the aisle to marry Lewis, in front of 30 friends and family.
As we posed for pictures after, I actually enjoyed being the centre of attention, and my scars paled into insignificance. On that day, I wasn’t ‘the birthmark baby’ – I was a beautiful bride.
At our reception, Lewis and I made a toast, announcing a special surprise to our guests – that we were expecting another baby.
Our daughter, Grace, was born in May 2018, completing our family and giving me my happy ending after years of heartache.
I didn’t have the easiest start in life, but thanks to my amazing parents, husband and children, I now know I have a happy future ahead of me.
‘I worried he’d be horrified by the real me’
Cody as a baby, with her mum Theresa. Right: Lewis and Cody on their wedding day
Before Cody started primary school she’d had six operations
Cody, Lewis, Grace and Jack