WE ARE ALL MOTHERS
“I think I expected my transition into motherhood to be seamless—and I think THATS what made it a harder pill to swallow; I truly felt I was made to be a mom, but it was these expectations I placed on myself that made the realities of motherhood difficult. Why wasn’t this coming easy to me, and why wasn’t I a natural?” - Emily J.
I arrived at Emily’s house in early March and she was the very first mom I met with regarding this project. I arrived at her home (with my two month old in tow) and the atmosphere was relaxing, warm and very welcoming. I did some photographs of her and her daughter while her husband and son were out adventuring, and then we sat down to have tea and talk about motherhood, pregnancy, birth, postpartum and how life had been going thus far.
When I listened to Emily talk about her children, the love she has for them both is so enormous. Her eyes truly light up when she talks about them and plays with them. We talked about the birth of her son and daughter and her postpartum period afterwards. This is some of what Emily shared about her postpartum period with her son.
“With my son I went through a difficult postpartum period and that was coupled with extreme anxiety. I was living in a pretty difficult living situation (fire/flood in our rental apartment that led to an eviction when our son was ten days old, and a move to Powell River in motion) so it’s hard to tell whether it was a natural hormonal dip or if I was struggling environmentally. NO concerns after my daughter.”
Emily and I talked about her support system, and because they had moved to a different town knowing no one after the birth of her son, it was really hard to have a solid support system; especially with her family living out of town.
When we talked about her pregnancy with her daughter she told me about her anxieties and fears through that pregnancy as they found out during her twenty week anatomy scan that her daughter’s umbilical cord only had one artery and one vein. So now again, this opened up a whole new world of anxieties and fears and she disclosed with me that she didn’t feel comfortable sharing with her family or friends her concerns and anxieties until many months later.
“With my daughter, I experienced anxiety in pregnancy and had a harder time coping with mothering my son and keeping on top of my emotions and level of worry. I also went through my pregnancy with my daughter preparing for the labor and delivery and postpartum experience I had with my son.”
One thing that Emily and I talked about that added to the anxieties and just overwhelm of new motherhood was feeling disappointed in ourselves because of the expectations we had about labor, childbirth and motherhood. For Emily in particular, feeling let down after the birth of her son due to it not going the way she expected truly negatively affected her. When we hold ourselves to these huge expectations and we don’t meet them, it can really negatively affect us. We feel let down, like a failure, and because why? Society tells us so often that we must act, be and do things a certain way.
“I think this idea of letting yourself down, your baby down, or that feeling of not doing enough when it comes to pregnancy, birth or mothering needs to end; and it wasn’t until after the birth of my son that it all really hit me, I had a plan in my head and felt like I failed. Long story short, after three weeks of prodromal labor, and an extremely long labor and delivery, I decided to abandon my ‘hospital brith plan’ and have the baby at home. After he was born, I passed out and the midwives called 9-1-1. I then opted for a precautionary trip to the hospital to ensure it wouldn’t happen again. At the hospital I was given a catheter, and it just felt like I couldn’t even have the “home birth” that everyone talks about and that I even “failed” my changed birthplace. Funny to look back at now, and funny to think that was actually my thought process.”
So many moms struggle with anxiety, depression and anger postpartum. So many of us are too scared to speak up about it for a multitude of reasons; mainly because there is such a strong stigma against maternal mental health—still. Often times we play our anxieties and frustrations off as normal motherhood exhaustion from the sleepless nights. Othertimes it may seem easier just to act as if everything is ok, even though on the inside we may be screaming for help.
One thing that is so important to note about postpartum anxiety, and Emily mentioned it when I met with her; is the importance of feeling safe around our health care providers and family and friends. If we don’t feel safe sharing certain things, it leads to more anxieties and isolation. This in turn fuels the fire and the vicious circle of anxiety, depression, etc. It is SO crucial to find a village and find a support system that you feel safe and comfortable sharing your fears, concerns, thoughts, etc because if you are struggling there are people out there who can and want to help.
If you are struggling, please don’t wait. There are people who want and can help you. It can be the most terrifying leap to actually seek and accept help, but you won’t regret it. It’s ok to not be ok. It’s ok to need help. Being a mom, or any parent for that matter, is extremely challenging. We go through an entire transformation in nine months and then must relearn to love a new body, new life and new person. Postpartum anxiety doesn’t mean you are a bad mother or that you’ve failed yourself or your child. Sometimes things don’t go as we expected or planned, and that is truly ok. You deserve love, you deserve to be happy and you deserve to feel good. If you are struggling, make sure you have someone you feel safe talking to.
A huge thank you to Emily for welcoming me into her home and for participating in this project. Emily is an amazing woman, and an amazing mother. She brings joy to every room she enters and she truly has the biggest heart. Emily has struggled with postpartum anxiety just as many other women and parents have.
Emily, you are beautiful. You are strong. You are brave. You are courageous. You are enough. You are a gift. You are loved.
I have linked a few resources available to help with Postpartum Anxiety and some local resources within our community.
Some signs and symptoms of Postpartum Anxiety include: Your thoughts are racing. You can’t quiet your mind. You can’t settle down. You can’t relax.
You feel like you have to be doing something at all times. Cleaning bottles. Cleaning baby clothes. Cleaning the house. Doing work. Entertaining the baby. Checking on the baby.
You are worried. Really worried. All. The. Time. Am I doing this right? Will my husband come home from his trip? Will the baby wake up? Is the baby eating enough? Is there something wrong with my baby that I’m missing? No matter what anyone says to reassure you, it doesn’t help.
You may be having disturbing thoughts. Thoughts that you’ve never had before. Scary thoughts that make you wonder whether you aren’t the person you thought you were. They fly into your head unwanted and you know they aren’t right, that this isn’t the real you, but they terrify you and they won’t go away. These thoughts may start with the words “What if …”
You are afraid to be alone with your baby because of scary thoughts or worries. You are also afraid of things in your house that could potentially cause harm, like kitchen knives or stairs, and you avoid them like the plague.
You may feel the need to check things constantly. Did I lock the door? Did I lock the car? Did I turn off the oven? Is the baby breathing?
You may be having physical symptoms like stomach cramps or headaches, shakiness or nausea. You might even have panic attacks.
You feel like a captive animal, pacing back and forth in a cage. Restless. On edge.
You can’t eat. You have no appetite.
You’re having trouble sleeping. You are so, so tired, but you can’t sleep.
You feel a sense of dread, like something terrible is going to happen.
You know something is wrong. You may not know you have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, but you know the way you are feeling is NOT right. You think you’ve “gone crazy.”
You are afraid that this is your new reality and that you’ve lost the “old you” forever.
You are afraid that if you reach out for help people will judge you. Or that your baby will be taken away.
Not everyone will have all of these signs and symptoms, but if you go through this list and you notice yourself saying yes to quite a few of them, it’s probably a good idea to check in with your health care provider.