I'm going to be the first one to say that this isn't anything like my usual work. And a lot of you who see this will probably find these images disturbing and maybe even hard to look at.
But to be honest, I like that.
Because this set of images will be dedicated to a topic that I find extremely hard to talk about... My Postpartum Depression (PPD). Because I want to shine a light on one of the darkest periods of my life and give way to other mommas out there to know that what you might be going through isn't as isolating as it feels.
But, to really understand how I got my PPD and Postpartum PTSD, a little bit of a back story is necessary. So, if you aren't ready for story time right now, maybe come back later.
Ok, so here we go.
I gave birth to Leo April 21, 2016. You can read the full birth story if you'd like (here) but I'll go ahead and give you the cliff notes.
Leo was a lot bigger than everyone expected and got stuck on the way out. It's a situation called 'Shoulder Dystocia' where the baby's collar bone gets stuck on the woman's pelvic bone on the way out of the birth canal.
Typically in these situations, they have to break the baby's collar bone or shoulder to get him out. Or push the baby's head back in and do an emergency c-section. I'm so, so, so, SO lucky neither one of those had to happen because of the hard work of about 5 nurses pushing on my stomach and 2 sets of doctor's hands in my birth canal trying to tug and pull Leo out of me where he eventually gave way.
But, to add to it all, when Leo came out, he didn't cry because he had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and it stopped him from being able to take his first breaths for nearly a minute. The nurses frantically rushed him to breathing tubes and instruments to get him breathing and in those moments after experiencing the worst trauma of my life, I was scared I lost him and thought our baby didn't survive.
I'll never, ever forget the sound of his first cry. I instantly cried relief and such instantaneous happy tears.
I didn't get to hold Leo for a while. And when I finally did, they only gave me about 2 minutes with him before they rushed him off to the ICU. I made Paul (my hubby) go with him because I was already in over-protective momma mode. But when he left, so did all the nurses and the doctor. And I was left alone in the room like a left over machine that did her job.
I broke down into tears as the trauma finally set in. And huge amounts of separation anxiety from Leo.
Luckily my family came in and helped me through that time. And I don't think they know it, but I don't think I would have been able to recover half as much had they not come in when they did and helped talk me through everything that just happened. And getting my mind off it all. So incredibly thankful and blessed to have the family that I do! Love you guys so, so much. But, as I instinctively tried to remain positive despite the situation, I remember feeling so grateful that the situation didn't turn out worse. Because Leo was at least very much alive, and was breathing well in the ICU after about an hour or so.
So, now that I've painted the picture of some of my birth story, it might be easier to understand how and why my postpartum depression kicked in during the weeks following his birth lasting for nearly a year after. And that postpartum PTSD that stayed with me for bout 4-5 months after his birth.
But, to paint the picture further of what sent me further into my ever-lasting PPD, I had even more complications after Leo's birth.
First, I was back in the hospital 3 days after Leo's birth because I had leaking spinal fluid causing a spinal headache from my epidural. To get it fixed, I had to get a procedure called a blood patch done (queue more hardcore separation anxiety from Leo and me laying in another hospital bed, alone, crying uncontrollably).
Then I attempted breast feeding with Leo for 3 weeks. But during that time, I got mastitis in both of my breasts and had to be put on painkillers and antibiotics to get through it. And had to stop breastfeeding altogether because the mastitis was too bad to even pump resulting to us having to switch to formula. (felt like a failure for a loooooong time over this one)
And I had 12 stitches downstairs that lasted for nearly a month making it harder to take care of me while also adjusting to motherhood and self-employment.
I went to the hospital more times in that month than I ever had in my life. And when the doctors would ask me questions about how I was doing or just try to explain things to me, I would always just cry uncontrollably over everything.
That's when the first doctor wanted to put me on a treatment for postpartum depression. Because I was obviously in it worse than I had even realized at the time.
I passed up traditional treatments because at the time, I didn't see that I had PPD and thought a lot of what I was feeling was from sleep deprivation (because newborns) and the immeasurable amount of pain I was in all over my body. I also had never been so depressed before. So it was a completely new experience for me that I was unable to recognize. So, at the time, I wanted to let my body just heal as natural as possible and give myself time to get better.
And honestly, that's all you can really do when you have PPD. Give. Yourself. TIME.
I didn't know that I had PPD until things like family functions made me feel completely overwhelmed because I was already so incredibly anxious inside. Or the fact I couldn't even drive a car for months without also getting extremely anxious from all the other drivers (so unlike me). There were times when I would catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror seeing my new 'mom bod' and be in instant, uncontrollable tears again taking witness to all my stretch marks everywhereeeee and extra weight. I had nightmares all summer and into the fall reenacting Leo's birth and many of those dreams not being a happy ending that would result in me basically sleeping next to him as much as possible. And anytime I caught another mother successfully breastfeeding her baby, that was always uncontrollable tears even if I was standing in line at the grocery store.
When this new norm of feelings stuck around for months, I knew something was 'wrong' with me. I realized the longer and longer it went on, that I probably did have PPD just like the doctors said. Because living even normal life was harder than it ever had been before - despite all the changes being a new parent brings with it.
My point in telling you my story is that postpartum is a real, real thing. And if you're going through it, you really ARE NOT ALONE. But also it's made me understand mental health and depression in a totally different light. I realized that a lot of what I was going through in the worst part of my PPD, I really couldn't control any of it. No matter how much art I tried to make. How positive I tried to think. How much work I took on. Or even what I surrounded myself with. I was a victim to my circumstances and felt completely incapable of change.
And honestly, I think a lot of mental health issues are this way. It's like walking around with a clouded vision. Things get blurrier as you move slower. And the darkness feels more comfortable because it hides everything you are feeling and see about yourself. It's like a sheet guarding you from the light so its conveniently invisible to everyone making it easier to stay exactly where you are. Because any movement at all can feel exhausting and extremely overwhelming since you're already mentally overloaded and run down.
The only way I really broke my PPD was first acknowledging that I had it, feeling ok with the fact that I did (a whole process in itself), focused on what I could change, accept what I couldn't, and just give myself the time to feel what I felt and let that acknowledgment, patience, and self-love heal me. And honestly, if you are going through PPD, it's not as abnormal of a thing as your mind makes it out to be. 1 out of 7 women experience PPD that lasts on average up to 6 months after your baby was born. And mine just happened to last a little longer. And that's totally ok. Be patient with yourself. Don't compare. And know that the healing process will take time as you adjust to your new life. And you aren't to blame for any of it.
(virtual hugzzz for dayzzz)
So where am I now? 2 years later?
Well, I'm nearing the end of this 52 weeks project - only 5 weeks left! A project that I started to Heal my Mother Wound and redefine myself as a person who is now a mother. And basically dissect myself and relearn all the different pieces of me after the mess of my PPD. Because I'm a creative person and have always used creativity for self expression. And me being a photographer it only seemed fitting to put all my loves together and just let myself create for me and nothing else for the sole purpose of self expression and further healing.
And in going through that entire process, I have successfully navigated through my PPD. I also now have the confidence in knowing who I am as a person. That I'm a woman with healed wounds. And battle scars. And is still beautiful despite it all. I'm someone who is much more confident in herself - more than ever before - knowing that I have always been more capable than I ever believed and stronger than I ever knew. And I can honestly thank my son for giving me all of that.
But also, if you are reading this, you are too. You are so capable, and strong, and able. And also, just in case someone hasn't told you today... YOUR BUTT LOOKS FRICKIN AMAZING.
Congrats if you made it this far. I will give you a high five and a hug in person if we talk about this <3 Because I'm all about that Real Life Talk.
Feel free to check out the rest of the project below: