How to Slay at Fall Family Photos:

If you’re considering shooting Fall Family Portraits in Asheville during the month of October, here are a few helpful pro tips to help you kill it! 🙂

  1. Book you session NOW, girl! Not kidding! October is by far the busiest month for portrait sessions in Asheville! All photographers in Asheville refer to this singular month as complete and utter insanity! It’s September 16th and I only have 10 available sessions in next 45 days. I am booked with family portrait sessions every day during the week and then 2-3 weddings every weekend. Insanity!
  2. Prep your Wardrobe!! Remember to choose a theme color & find a way to subtly weave that color into everyone’s outfit choice in some way! It’s easier to start with one person’s shirt/dress or whatever — maybe a plaid or a pattern and then select colors for everyone else based on the colors found in that plaid or pattern! Don’t be afraid to wear layers & incorporate interesting pops of color or textures into your outfits!
  3. Talk to your Photographer. Here at Asheville Family Photography, we schedule a pre-session phone consultation prior to your family photo session where we chat about location options, timing, wardrobe & logistics etc! We chat about your family’s needs & about your children, their personalities & their schedules etc. to plan for a successful session! This is an integral part of Slaying your Fall Family Portrait Session! How’d that old saying go?…. if you fail to plan, plan to fail!?
  4. On the day of your session, don’t be running around with those kids all day before you session! Family Portrait Session day should be pretty low key prior to your session! We want well rested, fed, happy kids for your late afternoon portrait session, mmmmkaaaayyyy!? 🙂
  5. TRUST your photographer!!! Relax. Any photographer with children knows better than most that being in front of the camera is the worsssst. It’s nerve wracking to give up control, to feel anxious and insecure, to be stressed out and overwhelmed because your children (who are usually angels) couldn’t possibly just behave for this ONE hour. I GET IT MAMA! I’ve been there. Take a deep breath and TRUST that we’ve got this! 100% 🙂 You’re going to cherish the outcome. Promise!
  6. Try to have a little FUN! The point here is to dress a little nicer than normal to hang out for an hour in a picturesque fall, mountain location with your family! The point is to make some actual memories! Relax, Laugh, Snuggle, Tickle, Hug, Smile. These are the moments. Be present in them! I’ve got the rest! XO

See ya soon!?

brittany@ashevillefamilyphotography.com

828.779.8401

Get in touch ASAP if you want one of those 10 remaining spots for this fall!

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 14

The Postpartum Awareness Initiative features regular mothers from Asheville and its surrounding mountains. This blog features women from all different walks of life, all having experienced varying postpartum related symptoms. The purpose of this initiative is to HUMANIZE these experiences, to remove the judgement and shame that women are made to feel about their experiences as new mothers. The goal is to educate everyone on the fact that these things can happen to anyone and that the range of symptoms and severity for postpartum related issues is VAST and VARIED. The intention is to support the new mother who might not even understand what she’s thinking, feeling or experiencing as postpartum related. As a Family Photographer in Asheville (and an empath by nature) I want to normalize these things. I want to do what (I) can to help.

In past weeks, I’ve received very detailed, thoughtful, personal, vulnerable and encouraging stories! I hope you’ll go back & read the stories from previous weeks!

If you missed weeks 1-11, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle, Rachel & Shannon’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE, RACHEL, SHANNON, KATY, KATIE, SARA, BRIDGET, CLAUDIA, Meghan, ALAC

Throughout this series, I hope to feature more guest blog posts from Mental Health Professionals in our little mountain town & the state of North Carolina! At the end of each post, I’ll include contact information for local resources where you can get help right away should you need it!
If you would like to contribute a Guest Blog as a Mental Health Professional, Postpartum Doula or other Pregnancy/Postpartum expert , please email me directly at: Brittany@AshevilleFamilyPhotography.com

JENNI

Hi, I am Jenni, I am a dietitian in the community who works primarily with pregnant and postpartum women.
I share my story with you because I hope that you will find comfort in my words or if you are going through what I went through maybe, you will feel less alone. I share my story about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and the less popular topic Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER).

So, Here it goes- We’re going to have to go way back to get the full picture.
My mother died of Breast Cancer when she was 41 and I was 16. I start my story with this because you need to know that she was my entire world. She was not just my mom but also my hero, my playmate, my person. As you can probably imagine her death was one of the most significant events of my life. It shaped who I am. Her long illness shaped how I view the world.
As a kid we moved a lot. Every 6months I had a new bedroom, a new view- the only constant in my life was her. My dad worked. A lot. We finally settled in NC when I was eight. It was a fresh start. I made friends, participated in team sports, did okay in school. At the age of 12 mom found a lump, she was 37. She began chemotherapy, radiation, other tests and treatment. Her hair fell out. Her skin grayed. She became thin and weak.
I began to count things, I organized, I obsessed. I would get out of bed 10 times a night to check that the doors are locked. Is the oven “off, off, off”?  Instead of watching TV or playing with friends, I am organizing my closet- some days by color, other days by style or length of sleeve; everything has to be in its place. This is the only way I feel safe.
I begin to hear voices. As things get more stressful, they grow louder- often only when I am playing Mario World or listening to my Walkman, only when I am alone.
I begin to count even more- stop signs, calories, trees.
 We are in the family room- my mom is braiding my hair I blurt “Mom! Something is wrong with me!”
I am tested for schizophrenia, for silent seizures, an MRI for a brain tumor.  By the age of 15, I am on Prozac, Valium, and Trazadone. I have a Psychiatrist, a Therapist and a Neurologist. Finally- a diagnosis.
I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that is triggered by extreme stress. It calms me to organize, to have symmetry, to check doors and ovens. By this point Mom has been in remission for her cancer for the last year. Our house starts to feel like home again. Me on medications, her back to her old self.
Everything is fine. Until it isn’t. Her cancer is back. It has spread. She loses her hair again; she is the color on concrete, her abdomen bloats. She becomes too weak to walk up the stairs; the mouth sores prevent her from speaking. No one prepared us for what a home would look like without a mother. No one prepares you for the emptiness that would replace the embrace.
Everything went dark. I vowed to never have children. I knew it was only a matter of time before I got cancer, died, and left them. The possibility of cancer kept me from desiring children. It loomed over me like a heavy fog. It just could not happen.
 And then, I fell in love. 

Austin and I got married, we wanted a baby, and finally I want a baby. I feel strong enough, well enough, brave enough. And then something happens. Something huge-traumatic-catastrophic. Pure “O” a term used to refer to “a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder marked by repeated, intrusive, uncontrollable thoughts that are not accompanied by outward behavioral compulsions.” Was I going crazy? Was I psychotic? Was I a bad person? I was sick to my stomach- these thoughts were consuming me- I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I isolated myself from my friends and family, from my husband. I was terrified of who I was.
I worked up the courage to see my doctor- certain that she would send me to a psychiatric hospital.
She didn’t. She calmly said, “Jenni, you have OCD. You need to be on medication.”


At this point I had been on and off medications for 20+ years. Back on meds, back in counseling, back to my normal self (but without all the checking and organizing and terrifying thoughts) back on track- we made the jump.
We created a baby. I had an uneventful pregnancy- I went against my OBs advice (and with the advice of my psychiatrist) and stayed on a high dose of Lexapro. I am too afraid of what might happen if I stop taking it, too afraid of who I will become (again) and what sort of mess I will be postpartum.
Pregnancy was empowering. I felt strong and brave. My delivery was beautiful- perfect, better than I had wished for.


Day 2 we are discharged home. I felt good. Tired, but good.

Baby Liza is asleep in her basinet. Austin helps me take things to the nursery. There we were- suddenly parents. We hug. I see us in the mirror and I felt it. A deep emptiness creeps in. I begin to cry. He did too. Me for my mother and him for his dad who had taken his own life just months before. We wept for the shear fact that we had no idea what we were doing and the people (our “people”) that we would call on were gone. In the following days, I felt more and more alone. I felt off. The only way to put the emotion into words is to describe it like this: I felt small, I felt tiny, I felt helpless. I felt small but not small enough. I wanted to shrink myself to fit in my husband’s shirt pocket. I did not feel capable of doing anything on my own. I didn’t want to be alone.  I didn’t want to run away. I just wanted to disappear.
I didn’t feel depressed in the ways I had in the past. I didn’t feel anxious. This felt different. I was beyond in love with my baby girl. How could I possibly be feeling anything but joy?
When Liza was about a week old I began having some scary thoughts. Pure “O”. The thoughts that make you feel like you must be some sort of monster. I would be doing mundane things- changing diapers or feeding the dog and a thought of dropping her would pop into my head. I could see it so clearly- I would walk to the ledge of our two story deck and just drop her over (I cringe writing this). I would avoid the porch- front and back, too untrusting of myself. If I had to go out, I would clutch her to me unable to trust that I wouldn’t toss her over. More terrible thoughts began to settle in.
That is the thing with OCD- it will take your absolute worst fear, the unthinkable and make it inescapable. OCD will turn your thoughts into something so real and familiar. Because it is your mind that is creating the thoughts you want so badly to stop them- to control them, but the more attention you give them the bigger and louder they get. It was at this time that I became very familiar with the phrase, “Bless it and release it.”  The concept is this: have the thought- and then let it go. This takes practice and patience.


Before becoming pregnant, I planned to breastfeed (of course). My goal was until (at least) age two. Like most important things, breastfeeding is not without obstacles but mine were of a different sort than my girlfriends.
My hurdle was D-MER, Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. Every time I sat down to nurse my beautiful baby, just as my milk would let down a wave of agony and emptiness would come over me. It wouldn’t last long but it was terrible. I nursed on demand, sometimes 15 times a day and by the third week of feeling this utter despair ebb and flow each time I put my sweet girl to breast I finally wondered if this was just me, I wondered if I was alone in this. I googled “sadness while breastfeeding” and there it was- D-MER.
Something about just normalizing the angst and anguish made me feel better. I knew I wasn’t the only one who went through this which in turn made me know that I could get through this.
D-MER only lasted a few months for me. I nursed until Liza was 26 months. 


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is still a very big part of my life but instead of demonizing it I try to accept it. It is not ME but it is a part of me. I write this story and share this with you because it is hard.
It is hard to tell you that I had monstrous thoughts about my infant. It is hard to tell you that I struggle with mental health. It is hard to say that I can’t fix, control, or organize my way to comfort. But that is why this is important. This project is important. All of these stories are so very very important.
When we feel less alone, less isolated, the world becomes a little less big and a lot less scary.
I miss my mom every day but I know that she is proud of the mother I am and that brings me great comfort. 
If are reading this and can relate please know that I am here. You are not alone.

Mommy & Me Portraits Asheville, NC.
Mommy & Me Portraits Asheville, NC.
Mommy & Me Portraits Asheville, NC.
Mommy & Me Portraits Asheville, NC.
Mommy & Me Portraits Asheville, NC.

How to Dress for Fall Family Portraits:

Thinking about Styling for your Family Portrait Session in the Mountains of Asheville, NC.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to styling for Family Photos in the Fall! The first group likes to dress a little fancier than normal, pulling out their very best sweaters, leggings, vests, scarfs, boots and hats! The second group likes to take a more photo journalistic, everyday, true to life approach for their family portraits, wearing plaids, jeans, sweaters & hats!

In my professional opinion, the only thing that you can do “wrong” when dressing your family (at any time of year) for portraits is to get on the “matchy – matchy” train! (example: everyone wearing denim jeans & a white sweater!)

During the pre-session phone consultation & planning session prior to each of my client’s portrait session, I always advise my clients to dress in a way that feels authentic and true to their personality, in a way that will make them feel comfortable and in a way that is season/temperature appropriate!

I LOVE when my clients incorporate interesting colors, textures and accessories into their outfits for family portraits! In this particular Fall Family Portrait Session, Sarah incorporated interesting colors in the plaid shirt her husband was wearing, interesting textures in the wool/plaid dress & headband her adorable daughter was wearing! The outfit choices for this session were casual, authentic and true to their personalities & warm/weather appropriate! Well done, mama!

Hope to see you all this fall!

XO

-Brittany

Family Photography in the mountains of Asheville, NC.
Family Photography in the mountains of Asheville, NC.
Family Photography in the mountains of Asheville, NC.
Family Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Photography in Asheville, NC.

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 13

The Postpartum Awareness Initiative features regular mothers from Asheville and its surrounding mountains. This blog features women from all different walks of life, all having experienced varying postpartum related symptoms. The purpose of this initiative is to HUMANIZE these experiences, to remove the judgement and shame that women are made to feel about their experiences as new mothers. The goal is to educate everyone on the fact that these things can happen to anyone and that the range of symptoms and severity for postpartum related issues is VAST and VARIED. The intention is to support the new mother who might not even understand what she’s thinking, feeling or experiencing as postpartum related. As a Family Photographer in Asheville (and an empath by nature) I want to normalize these things. I want to do what (I) can to help.

In past weeks, I’ve received very detailed, thoughtful, personal, vulnerable and encouraging stories! I hope you’ll go back & read the stories from previous weeks!

If you missed weeks 1-11, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle, Rachel & Shannon’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE, RACHEL, SHANNON, KATY, KATIE, SARA, BRIDGET, CLAUDIA, Meghan

Throughout this series, I hope to feature more guest blog posts from Mental Health Professionals in our little mountain town & the state of North Carolina! At the end of each post, I’ll include contact information for local resources where you can get help right away should you need it!
If you would like to contribute a Guest Blog as a Mental Health Professional, Postpartum Doula or other Pregnancy/Postpartum expert , please email me directly at: Brittany@AshevilleFamilyPhotography.com

ALAC

Hi. My name is Alac. I’m married to an incredible human, Ben, whom I’ve seemingly been with for lifetimes, and I’m a stay-at-home-parent to our two magical boys (3.5 yr and 1.5 yr). Before I start my story, I want to say that I sit here with a knot in my stomach as I think about what to write regarding my journey through motherhood with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs). I type, delete, type, delete. I realize that I’ve never really given myself permission to do this. I’ve read some of the other mom’s stories and find myself questioning what has been so bad about mine? I wasn’t raped, I didn’t have horrible birth experiences….and then I remember- that’s the point – we all have a different story and depression, anxiety, rage, and psychosis don’t discriminate. My story may not look the same as anyone else’s, yet we’ve all been affected by PMADs in some way and all of our stories are important and valid. I signed up months ago to participate in Brittany’s initiative to spread awareness thinking about all of the other mothers suffering like I have for so long. Working on my story and going back over all the details this last week has brought up some really uncomfortable and difficult thoughts and feelings. I didn’t realize that not only could writing about my story in this way help another mother or family, but that it would be a huge step on my healing journey as well…….so, here’s to healing……

My journey into motherhood started with a somewhat unexpected pregnancy and an even more unexpected loss. When learning that we had a miscarriage, people would ask (and still do sometimes) if we were planning that pregnancy, as if it made the loss easier because we weren’t “trying” to get pregnant. My response tends to be that we weren’t trying or preventing it. We know how babies are made and were comfortable if it happened or if it didn’t at that point in our lives. After the initial disbelief of expecting a baby, we were excited and announced it on Instagram and Facebook (of course) before our first prenatal appointment. We staged a little photo and everything. Then a couple of weeks passed and we had our first prenatal appointment around 10 weeks gestation. It started out with an exam, blood work, tons of questions (one of those mentioned above) and an overload of information about pregnancy, vitamins, office and hospital policies, etc. etc. Lastly was the ultrasound. The doctor was taking a while to say anything as she probed around inside of me and we watched the screen with wide eyes and confusion, not exactly sure what we should be seeing. I remember nervously thinking “oh shit, are there two?” She asked about my last period again and kept probing and then finally said that she couldn’t find a heartbeat. I was immediately (and again unexpectedly- the theme here) overwhelmed with sadness and tears. I wasn’t really sure why either, I had never seen this baby, never felt the first kick, never knew his or her sex. We were then told that I could let my body try to “pass it” or take a prescription to help. I opted for the first option. I was told that many other patients have miscarriages at work and just throw on a pad and continue on with their day like normal with period like cramping, but she called in a prescription for Vicodin “just in case”. It was as if it were no big deal. I didn’t know anyone who had experienced a miscarriage before. I had no idea how to feel or what to expect. A few days later I started bleeding a little at work and remember thinking sadly “well, I guess this is it”…..I was wrong. No one warned me that some women have the full experience of labor and delivery when having a miscarriage. No one told me that in a few hours I would be in the worst physical and emotional pain that I had ever experienced before. I wasn’t prepared for the excruciating pain of contractions. I wasn’t prepared for the Vicodin that I gave in to taking to cause my entire body to itch horribly on top of everything else. I had no idea what labor coping techniques were. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of blood or for my husband (boyfriend then) to have to roll me over to help change me and our bloodied sheets because I couldn’t do it myself. I definitely wasn’t prepared to actually “pass” something more than blood and what would have been a baby. I didn’t even know that what I was experiencing was actually labor and birth until AFTER I had my first living child almost 2 years later. I remember we had to go for a follow up that next week and while sitting in the waiting room another young couple next to us was expecting their first baby and had just learned that they would be having a baby girl. The mother was looking at the ultrasound happily and then the father exclaimed how disappointed he was and that he wanted a boy! I felt it crush the mother and wanted so badly to scream at him to be thankful he was getting a baby at all, but couldn’t speak through my choked back tears. A few weeks afterwards, I had to announce that we would no longer be expecting a baby so people would stop asking. People said their condolences and the usual “it just wasn’t meant to be right now,” etc., but no one really talked about it. My partner and I didn’t even know how to talk about it. We would just try to soothe each other the best we knew how to in the moment when the reality of it would hit us over and over again. We tried to go on about life like it was before because it felt like that was what we were supposed to do. We got engaged and started planning a wedding for that same year in 7 months. I was dealing with my hormones trying to regulate again and all of the difficult side effects of that and didn’t even realize that I was spiraling into depression, and neither did anyone else. A couple months after the miscarriage was Mother’s Day. My mom, sister and I went to an event at a local winery. Upon walking in they asked who the mothers were so they could have a rose……none of us knew what to say and just awkwardly got one for my mother and sister. It was like pouring salt into an open wound for me but I didn’t let anyone know. I didn’t feel safe to talk about what was going on in my head or my heart because it seemed like it was taboo to talk about. Everything in our life seemed to be going to shit at that time too. We were broke, had a terrible landlord, Ben was in school and had to have knee surgery, wedding stuff was getting way too stressful and expensive. I was angry or sad most of the time with no idea how to cope. People either didn’t know what was going on in our life or didn’t seem to understand it which didn’t make me feel safe enough to open up. I constantly felt like I had to put on a happy face and bury everything I was feeling. I ended up getting back on birth control pills to try to help regulate my hormones and we eliminated some other stressors in our life (aka canceled the wedding and said F*** it and went on a cruise instead), moved to a different place, and ended up getting back to a much happier place after about a year….and then we got pregnant again.

I had stopped taking my birth control pills because they kept making me sick and I didn’t want to be on them anymore for that and other reasons. This time, we didn’t tell anyone we were pregnant with our son until I was around 16 weeks. We got a lot of flak for waiting so long to tell anyone this time, which just added to not feeling understood and the walls I had built following the miscarriage. I was riddled with anxiety and fear the entire pregnancy, but especially during the first trimester. I was extra cautious and aware of every little feeling, scared that he would die at any moment. I remember going back and forth between not wanting him to die inside of me to not ever wanting him to leave the safety of my womb. We were also in the process of buying a home and having to get married at the county detention center at 7 months pregnant to finalize it all (a fun story for another time)… We took childbirth education classes and prepared as much as we possibly could for labor and delivery (still unaware that we had already been through it in a different way). We were ready for the looong first time labor you hear about only to be surprised with a very rapid labor. The onset was sudden and intense right away (still thanking all that is holy for our childbirth education classes and coping techniques) I nearly had him in the car but we made it to the hospital and our fast and furious babe was born sunny side up ready to see the world. I was kind of in shock and unable to gather my feelings with so much happening at once. I remember finally breaking down and crying once we were moved to the mother/baby suit. Our birth experience was good overall (great compared to many) but still fell short in a lot of ways with the hospital staff and some family issues. None of our midwives were available either due to the Thanksgiving holiday or them being on maternity leave (I’m forever grateful for Homegrown Babies in Asheville for being on standby with Doulas for our midwifery practice at that time. Having Gloria Maria show up was such a blessing for our birth experience.)

After birth was when the real “fun” began. Learning to breastfeed, engorgement, contractions for days, cluster feeding, sleep deprivation, trying to process our birth, all the things associated with bringing a newborn home on top of juggling everything else in life. Ben still had 2 more weeks of school and exams. We didn’t prepare much for the postpartum time because we were so focused on having a living baby it just didn’t make the top of the priority list I suppose. Also, taking care of us the way we asked and needed didn’t really seem like a priority to others at the time either and lots and lots of misunderstanding and miscommunication with family continued.

Anxiety hit me pretty quickly, one of the first nights home I had a terrifying nightmare that our son was on my chest while we were sleeping in bed and then he suddenly looked up at me and was a demon like creature crawling up me trying to hurt me. I woke up in a panic – sweating, crying, scared. Our son wasn’t even in bed with us. My husband and I would both wake up frantically thinking someone crushed the baby and he would be in his bassinet next to the bed. Intrusive thoughts snuck in quickly too- thoughts of somehow dropping the baby while walking next to our open stairs leading to the basement, a knife falling on or stabbing him somehow, car accidents, fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, suffocation, illness because he was born right in the middle of sick season, anything and everything horrible played out in my mind all day long. My maternity leave was coming to an end after 6 weeks, Ben was starting his Spring semester in school and the thought of leaving our son with anyone made me feel physically ill and childcare was way too expensive. We decided that it was best for our family, financially and emotionally, for me to stay home. That was a huge adjustment in every way. Then, we ended up dealing with some medical issues for our son and a really crappy pediatrician, so it was like one thing after another. My anxiety made it impossible to leave the house, my very needy newborn made it impossible to get anything done at home, and along came shame and guilt. I had no idea what to ask for or how to ask for it. I loved and hated being home with our baby. People would tell me how lucky I was to be able to stay home. I would smile and nod and feel ungrateful. I was told about the “baby blues” previously and how normal it was to feel these feelings so I figured it was just life with a baby now. The midwifery practice that I was going to closed a couple months after we had our son, so I didn’t have a care provider or time to find a new one and never considered therapy. We didn’t have many friends with kids and lived too far out to go to any meet-ups (anxiety shut that down with a quickness anyway) My cycle returned around 4 months postpartum and looking back now, I really think that helped me get out of my funk a bit. My hormones were able to start regulating again and as time passed, we got into a new rhythm of life with a child…….and then we got pregnant again.

Our oldest was finally starting to sleep through the night around 18 months old. Ben graduated and was working. I was getting out more and mostly got the hang of being a stay at home parent (aka household CEO) and things were good. I knew I was pregnant before I took a test, just like the last time, but this time I was sad. How could we have been so irresponsible? How are we going to survive with two? How am I going to survive? What if we have a miscarriage again? How could we do this to our son? How could I love another baby like I loved him? So many questions popped up in my head and anxiety returned like a loyal old friend, but brought along some new friends this time- depression and rage. I didn’t know their names at the time. This pregnancy was completely different than the last two. I was so sick in the first trimester, it was debilitating, but I had a toddler to take care of. I would beg him to just nurse and lay in bed with me all day. Fortunately, that (mostly) went away with time. I would get so frustrated with our son for just being a toddler. I started to get so angry so quickly, seemingly out of nowhere and then feel guilty because I wanted to savor every single second with him as an only child. After getting over the disappointment of being pregnant again, I was excited……and then I started bleeding one day. A lot of feelings from the miscarriage came up and I felt like it was my fault and that I was being punished again. We had an early ultrasound to confirm that everything was fine and continued on with another healthy “uncomplicated” pregnancy, complete with yeast infections, nursing aversion, colds from a germy toddler, and more. This time people didn’t seem to care as much as they do when it’s your first baby. I got a lot of “oh, you’ve already been through this before, you know what you’re doing,” and similar comments throughout the pregnancy and afterwards, even from healthcare professionals. After our oldest was born, I had become very passionate about pregnancy, birth, and motherhood and educating myself on a lot of different topics related to those. I knew that I wanted to have a homebirth long before I even knew I wanted children (ha) but due to previous circumstances, it never happened. This time I was going to make it happen, and I did. Aside from Ben being sick with a stomach virus (that I had 3 days prior) the entire time I was having our youngest son, we had the most magical, picture perfect, home waterbirth I could’ve ever imagined. Labor started much slower and gentler, I was so in tune with my body and baby and able to effortlessly ride the oxytocin waves that were bringing him closer to us without interruption. My mother came to help with our oldest and I didn’t need much support from Ben, thankfully. Once I knew things were picking up I called our Doula/birth photographer and midwife and her assistant to come. They all made it about 5 minutes before he was born safely and peacefully right into our hands.

The first two weeks after were pretty blissful with all 4 of us together and still riding the amazing birth high…but I had a dreadful feeling in the back of my mind knowing that it would be over when Ben had to go back to work…and unfortunately, I was right. Not only did he have to go back after 2 weeks, he had to go out of town. Yet again, after all the knowledge and previous experiences, we didn’t have a strong, reliable postpartum support system or plan in place…….. but I was a pro, right? Everything was back, but worse. I was still nursing our oldest and trying to tandem nurse but ended up hating it because the nursing aversion didn’t go away like I thought it would. People kept telling me to just wean our oldest but neither of us was ready and I didn’t feel supported. We were also dealing with potty learning and sleep changes for our oldest again, along with our own sleep changes. I tried to tell professionals, family, and friends this time that I was having a hard time, but it wasn’t met with the support that I needed or was silently screaming for. I felt like people should have known by now, I preach about it all the time advocating for mothers in the 4th trimester. I felt let down by everyone and did what felt safe and built my walls up again and put on a happy face. Our amazing birth photos went viral and I was praised for them. I remember reading comments online about how amazing and strong I was from people I knew and strangers all across the globe, which made me smile, but all I could think was “if you could only see me now.” I hated myself, my life, my kids, my husband, my family, my friends, my providers, the system, the world. I was drowning with no way to yell for help. I felt like I was waving my white flag and consistently being ignored or let down by everyone. I didn’t have that “village” everyone loves to talk about. My husband was working so hard to provide for our family and doing every single thing he could think of to help me, and sometimes it did help, but then the waves came crashing in again and I was knocked over, drowning again. I put my energy into trying to help other mothers with breastfeeding, pregnancy, or birth advice and advocating for mothers and babies on my small social media platform. This went on for months and months and got to a point where I was suffering so badly that I started having thoughts of wanting to hurt our kids or die just to get some rest and relief. I would have to call my husband to come home sometimes because I was locked in the bathroom sobbing on the floor wanting to disappear. He continued to try to support me in every way and tried to get me other support but it just wasn’t working out. It wasn’t until this year that we got serious about me getting in to therapy. I’ll admit I’ve had a tough time getting past being angry that I have to pay a stranger to listen to my problems and help me fix them. It also made me so uncomfortable to think about telling anyone what I was thinking or feeling, let alone a stranger, but I knew I had to. I tried two different therapists at a local community clinic that didn’t end up being a good fit for me and it was a bit discouraging. Shortly after I started seeking therapy, the incident with the mother that inspired this blog initiative happened. I’m not sure of that mother’s actual diagnosis but there was talk about postpartum psychosis and I was completely heartbroken for her. Right after that while looking at my health record, I learned that one of the previous therapists I’d seen had diagnosed me with postpartum psychosis. I was completely taken aback. I wasn’t like that mom. I was in disbelief that anyone would diagnose me with that, and even more so that no one even followed up once I never scheduled again. After that happened and I learned about this project, I knew I had to find a great therapist that I vibed with to help me start healing before getting up the courage to share my own story, so I kept looking and found one. (Also, I finally got my period back this time after 15 months and immediately felt the fog start to lift from my brain. I wholeheartedly believe that made a difference for me and have a whole new respect for women’s bodies and our cycles.) 

I’m starting to do things for myself again and connecting with my partner more which has made a big difference as well, although we’re still figuring it out. We’re also in a place now to be able to send our oldest to childcare twice a week for a few hours and hoping that will benefit everyone (even though I’m working through guilt and feelings of failure surrounding that- yay for my next therapy sesh this week!) I have only been in therapy for 5 weeks so far but already feel a slow but steady shift happening and wish I would’ve started sooner. Some techniques we have been doing are:

 EMDR with somatic experiencing – bilateral stimulation to regulate emotions and reprocess experiences or visualize goals

DBT – communicating needs, asking for help, setting boundaries, emotional regulation and distress tolerance

 CBT- challenging thought distortions and shifting to more adaptive beliefs to improve functioning 

Love and logic parenting- building emotional vocabulary, improving distress tolerance, using natural consequences, unconditional nurturing and support to process outcomes and identify solutions

I want to mention a resource that my therapist shared with me called Open Path Psychotherapy Collective where therapists across the country (US) provide affordable, in-office psychotherapy between $30 and $60 per session for individuals. You pay a one-time lifetime membership fee of $59. I probably would have gotten into therapy sooner if I would have known about this when we had more of a financial need for it. Also, many therapists offer a sliding scale fee which is what I do and it has been really helpful.

Anyway, that’s basically my story (minus tons of other details). It wasn’t all horrible; we’ve made some amazing memories over the last 5 years. I’m not “all better” now; I’m just finding my footing out of the darkness and into the light, bringing with me wisdom from my depths and up to the surface (said perfectly by a dear sister). I was telling my therapist that I feel like I have been standing on the edge of the high dive wanting so badly to start healing, but scared to take the leap and also scared not to. I feel like I have finally taken that leap and like she said, this time I’m not drowning. I actually have tools now to help me stay afloat and swim even. It’s uncomfortable AF and brings up stuff long before motherhood started, but makes so much sense. I feel like I’m finding missing pieces of me and my life and putting them back together. I’m remembering. I lost myself in motherhood and I’m finding myself in motherhood. Becoming a mother broke me wide open and I’m learning that what has felt like defeat has actually been opportunities for growth all along. I’m leveling up every damn day it seems (haha) I want to say thanks to my incredible partner, family and friends for trying the best that they knew how to with what they were given. If there are any moms reading this that are constantly told that they have it all together and make it look easy, I SEE YOU. I am you. I know how you’re feeling and I know how hard it is to not feel seen or heard. You don’t have to carry all of that stuff alone anymore though, because you’re truly not alone, but I also understand how hard that is to believe when you’re in the depths of it. If this can give any hope to just one mom, then I’m so glad. The healing that I have received writing it all out has been completely worth it. I AM an amazing, magical, warrior mama and so are you. 

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 12

We’re BACK! 🙂 We took a two week hiatus for some time with our family to rest & re-charge before our busy Fall Family Portrait Season kicks into high gear! We visited our family’s farm in Western Kentucky, it was exactly what we needed! Check out this sweet photo that I shot of my little (Noah) one evening on the farm! 🙂

Child Photography in Asheville, NC.

This week, we’ll be hearing from Meghan Coltrane who is a licensed professional counselor & is Perinatal Mental Health Certified! Meghan has a (beautiful) office in downtown Asheville, she is personable, competent, kind and compassionate! If you’re looking for a Perinatal Mental Health Counselor, she would be a fabulous choice!

Headshots Photographer Asheville, NC.

The Postpartum Awareness Initiative features regular mothers from Asheville and its surrounding mountains. This blog features women from all different walks of life, all having experienced varying postpartum related symptoms. The purpose of this initiative is to HUMANIZE these experiences, to remove the judgement and shame that women are made to feel about their experiences as new mothers. The goal is to educate everyone on the fact that these things can happen to anyone and that the range of symptoms and severity for postpartum related issues is VAST and VARIED. The intention is to support the new mother who might not even understand what she’s thinking, feeling or experiencing as postpartum related. As a Family Photographer in Asheville (and an empath by nature) I want to normalize these things. I want to do what (I) can to help.

In past weeks, I’ve received very detailed, thoughtful, personal, vulnerable and encouraging stories! I hope you’ll go back & read the stories from previous weeks!

If you missed weeks 1-11, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle, Rachel & Shannon’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE, RACHEL, SHANNON, KATY, KATIE, SARA, BRIDGET, CLAUDIA

Throughout this series, I hope to feature more guest blog posts from Mental Health Professionals in our little mountain town & the state of North Carolina! At the end of each post, I’ll include contact information for local resources where you can get help right away should you need it!
If you would like to contribute a Guest Blog as a Mental Health Professional, Postpartum Doula or other Pregnancy/Postpartum expert , please email me directly at: Brittany@AshevilleFamilyPhotography.com

Meghan Coltrane:

Headshots Photographer Asheville, NC.

Perinatal Mental Health 101

By Meghan Coltrane, LPC, PMHC

Licensed Professional Counselor, Perinatal Mental Health Certified

When Postpartum Depression is mentioned, many people think of “baby blues” or horrific stories they have heard in the news. The truth is, there is so much gray area in between those two extremes. I will share with you some basic information about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). The term “perinatal” includes pregnancy and postpartum. Symptoms of a PMAD can surface any time during pregnancy or during the first 12 months post birth. 

Some research says up to 80% of mothers experience what is known as the “baby blues.” This common experience usually only lasts for about two weeks after birth and symptoms include mood swings, weepiness, vulnerability, forgetfulness, and fatigue. Postpartum Depression, however, affects up to 1 in 7 moms, some research states it is closer to 1 in 5 moms. This is when the mother’s symptoms are getting in the way of her functioning and can include loss of appetite, hopelessness, difficulty sleeping even when baby is sleeping, deep sadness, low self-esteem, and sometimes suicidal thoughts. If you are having suicidal thoughts it is important to seek a trained professional to help you become healthier for you and your family. 

There are more mental health experiences than Postpartum Depression. Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders also include Perinatal Anxiety, Perinatal OCD, Panic Disorder, Perinatal Bipolar, Perinatal PTSD, and rarely Perinatal Psychosis. A very common experience of moms suffering from a PMAD is having cary thoughts. Many moms have intrusive thoughts or images that are often perceived as disturbing and unwanted. Up to 80% of new parents have obsessive thoughts. These can range in intensity and frequency. 

Are you worried you might develop a PMAD? Here are the risk factors: a previous history of a mental health diagnosis, family history of a mental health diagnosis, poor partner support, moving, illness, financial hardship, social isolation, and past trauma. Having a traumatic birth experience or having a baby in the NICU can also increase a mother’s chance of developing a PMAD. It is important to remember you did not cause this and you are not at fault. 

The good news is, PMADs are treatable! Treatment options include counseling, natural treatments, psychiatric medication, and support groups. I recommend finding a counselor who has specialized training in Perinatal Mental Health. Postpartum.net has a directory of trained professionals, resources for support groups and online chat. There are many medications that have been researched to be safe during pregnancy and lactation. Often moms will worry about the baby being exposed to the medication, however you have to weigh the risks vs benefits; a baby being exposed to untreated mental illness can also have detrimental effects. If a PMAD goes untreated, the illness can escalate with each pregnancy, the symptoms can become chronic, and there is an increased risk of your baby developing psychiatric disturbances. 

One of the most helpful things you can do during postpartum is to enlist as much support as possible. This can include having a meal train, hiring someone to clean the house, connect with other new moms, support groups, etc. Another tip I have learned from my clients, is adjust your expectations; try to be open and flexible when things don’t go as planned, such as your birth plan, life after baby comes, and breastfeeding. Another thing I want to leave you with, be gentle with yourself. This culture is tough on moms; there are so many judgements and high expectations. You are doing the best you can and you are doing a great job.

Meghan Coltrane, LPC, PMHC

www.MeghanColtrane.com

MeghanColtraneLPC@gmail.com

34 Wall St. Suite 604 Asheville, NC

(828) 457-7197

Resources: 

Looking for an updated list of Postpartum & Perinatal Counselors: Click Here

Postpartum Support International postpartum.net 24/7 support hotline 1-800-944-4773

If you are local to the WNC area, click here for a list of counselors, therapists, and prescribers who are trained in PMADs by Postpartum Support International.

Headshots Photographer Asheville, NC.

Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC

Family Vacation Portraits have become more and more popular in Asheville as city’s popularity and tourism has grown over the years!

Over the last few years, I’ve been asked to shoot more and more family portraits sessions for extended families who are meeting in Asheville for vacation! In fact, this type of portrait session makes up about 50% of my Family Photography business!

Abby C got in touch on behalf of her extended family a couple months ago to schedule a Family Portrait Session for her sweet family while they were visiting our blue ridge last week! They were so sweet & just such a pleasure to spend a little time with! 🙂

Enjoy!

Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville

Family Vacation Photography in Asheville

I often photograph families reuniting in Asheville for vacation together!

I have photographed groups as large as 150 people here for a giant reunion at Grove Park Inn & I’ve photographed sweet families like this one who came from across the country to rent a cute little vacation home in Woodfin so that they can explode our Blue Ridge! They often ask me to either come out to the rental property to photograph them all together (since that doesn’t happen all that often!) OR they ask me to take them somewhere amazing for an Adventure Session with this BIG ole’ Blue Ridge Mountain views! This particular family asked me to meet them at their rental & also wanted some mountain views!

Challenge Accepted! 😉

We first shot a few “safety photos” in the yard of the rental property & then we went on a little excursion just down the street to do a little light trespassing on a nearby horse ranch where I happened upon some lovely rolling hills with mountains in the distance and blue wildflowers for them! I like a little danger with my Family Portrait Sessions! 😉

I don’t typically ever shoot in the mid day sun BUT the forecast was calling for rain in the afternoon so we made a last minute decision to get it done in the mid afternoon (I hoped we would’ve had a little more cloud cover for these photos for more even light but I think they turned out beautifully all the same!

Enjoy

Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC.
Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC.

OH! Check this out! 🙂

Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville

Have you ever dreamed of having a Mountain Top Portrait Session?

Well, around here, (in the words of Atlanta’s own TI ) “you can have whatever you likkkkkkeeee!!” Seriously though, your dreams can become your reality! Did you know that we offer “Adventure Sessions” in which we’ll take a hike with your family to shoot mountain top family portraits! Or — we’ll happily go on another adventure with you: Lavender Farms, Apple picking at one of WNC’s Orchards, Climbing or White Water Rafting, Flower or Berry Picking! We’ll come along and document the whole thing in the most beautiful way!

If you’re FUN, Adventurous & a little Outdoorsy, If you want something out of the ordinary & REAL (and stunning) — Get in touch, ask us about our Adventure Session option for your family! xo

You may remember baby Abe’s Newborn Session about a year ago! How could you forget!? It was my favorite! 🙂 Here’s a little refresher:

Newborn Photography: Father with his Newborn Baby in Asheville, NC.
Newborn Photography: Mother with her Newborn Baby in Asheville, NC.

So, Baby Abe turned ONE last month & when his sweet mama got in touch about his first birthday session, I told her about our new Adventure Session option and she was totally on board! 🙂

Adventure Sessions require a little more of a commitment from both of us.

They’re a little more expensive (because it turns a 1hr session into a 5hr event with driving time, hiking time & shooting time) and the effort required is a little more but the photos…. OHHHHH the photos!!!

They’re SO WORTH IT!

Enjoy!

Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.
Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.
Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.
Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.
Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.
Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.
Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.
Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.
Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.
Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.

For ONE day only: Mountain Top Mini Sessions are 60% off! Join me Saturday August 24, 2019!

Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 11

Featuring regular mothers from our community, from all different walks of life, all having experienced varying postpartum related symptoms. I wanted to HUMANIZE these experiences, I wanted to remove the judgement and shame that women are made to feel about their experiences as new mothers. I wanted to educate everyone on the fact that the range of symptoms and severity for postpartum related issues is VAST and VARIED. I wanted to support the new mother who might not even understand what she’s thinking, feeling or experiencing as postpartum related. I wanted to normalize these things. I wanted to do what (I) could to help. Thus, this project was born.

In exchange for free portraits with their children, I’ve asked participants to tell their stories. To write about their background – what makes them relatable, what they do for a living, what are their interests or hobbies? I’ve asked them to tell their story as they remember it. I’ve asked them to write about how they came to recognize their struggles, how they discussed their needs with their loved ones, how they sought out help, where they are now, how they’re taking care of themselves etc. In past weeks, I’ve received very detailed, thoughtful, personal, vulnerable and encouraging stories! I hope you’ll go back & read the stories from previous weeks!

If you missed weeks 1-9, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle, Rachel & Shannon’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE, RACHEL, SHANNON, KATY, KATIE, SARA, BRIDGET

Throughout this series, I hope to feature guest blog posts from Mental Health Professionals in our little mountain town & the state of North Carolina! At the end of each post, I’ll include contact information for local resources where you can get help right away should you need it!
If you would like to contribute a Guest Blog as a Mental Health Professional, Postpartum Doula or other Pregnancy/Postpartum expert , please email me directly at: Brittany@AshevilleFamilyPhotography.com

Claudia:

I have thought through how to tell my story so many times, but I’ve never told it all and never spoken it in a public setting. It has many layers of vulnerability. Sitting down to write this is scary, and a part of me wonders if it would be better to keep it in and cancel this photo shoot. Despite my anxiety to share, I believe our stories are powerful. So here it is.

 My story of PPD starts a long time ago.

I was raped early in my freshman year of college. It was then that my symptoms of depression started to change. I had been on an antidepressant since my senior year of high school. I called my family doctor and told her how I was doing. She changed my medicine. That medicine was not a good fit for me, and I began to have hallucinations. It was then that I gained some self-awareness & awareness about psychiatric drugs that would come in handy later on. 
In my sophomore year of college, I was raped again. There is no comparing experiences of this nature, but this time was so much more violent and left a huge mark on my brain.  The symptoms from the year prior grew, a few new ones popped up, and at times I could barely function. I saw a psychiatrist and I was diagnosed as bipolar. The appointments were eight minutes long, there wouldn’t have been time to tell him my story of sexual abuse if it had even occurred to me that it was why I was feeling that way. 
I took an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer for the next few years. I didn’t feel great, but I thought that I felt better than the alternative of no medicine. 
As those few years passed, I became more confident and felt better mentally. I decided to go off both medicines with the support of my then boyfriend (now husband) and my doctor. It went well! I was off medicine for about three years. After my grandfather passed, I had so much trouble grieving that I recognized as more than normal. I went back on an antidepressant and mood stabilizer for a few months. Almost as soon as I was on them, I realized that they were not really a good fit. I weaned off of them per my doctor’s advice. 


I spent six years after that doing really well. I experienced the full spectrum of human emotions. I took care of myself with exercise and healthy food. I nurtured myself and my relationships. I enjoyed my job as a teacher. I spent time with my husband. During that time, I also worked with a counselor that specialized in trauma. I did some really hard work to process the rape incidents, and it was a very powerful experience. Our life was in a really good place, and then we decided we were ready to have a baby. 


We didn’t conceive quickly. It was sad for me and it took more of a toll each day. By the time we began seeing a reproductive endocrinologist, it was overwhelming. We were so excited to conceive in early 2017.

I was cautiously optimistic. 


At my twelve week appointment, I was referred to a genetic counselor because my brother has special needs. At birth, my brother had to be airlifted to a larger hospital for numerous surgeries and there were times my parents feared he would not make it. Based on my family history and her education, the geneticist told us we had a 25% chance of a similar health outcome if we had a son. Then we found out we were having a boy. It was a heavy fear until almost the end of my pregnancy. Because of my emotions about this risk, MAHEC had me see one of their mental health specialists. She gave me a prescription for a mood stabilizer based on my past history, but we had in-depth conversations about the not small likelihood that didn’t have bipolar disorder.

I probably had PTSD from the rapes.

The prescription was ready to go if and when I needed it. 


With three weeks left in my pregnancy, my brother had genetic testing and we received the results. He has an autosomal dominant disorder called DiGeorge Syndrome. Since it is dominant and I don’t have it, we were assured Connor (our baby to be) would likely be completely healthy. 
And he was! I gave birth to Connor on January 20, 2018. I was so happy, and of course completely exhausted. At the hospital, a social worker came in to tell me that I was at an extremely elevated risk of postpartum psychosis. That was not something that was helpful for me to hear. However, we went home from the hospital and things were OK. Bringing home a newborn is hard, but I had wonderful support from my husband and his mom who came to visit us several times. At 5 1/2 weeks, my son spent four days hospitalized with RSV. I thought to myself that if that didn’t give me postpartum depression, I was out of the woods. I was wrong. 


A little after three months, Connor’s sleeping which had never been great became much worse. It was the dreaded four-month sleep regression. I was already struggling with some postpartum insomnia, and it started to increase a little bit. As any new parent knows, sleep deprivation completely changes your mental state. I decided I should probably start taking the mood stabilizer, so I did. After the first week on it, I didn’t feel any better, but you have to increase it really slowly and I knew it could take a long time on it to feel better. During the second week on the slightly increased dose, I started feeling much worse. My insomnia became unbearable. I started having huge panic attacks and screaming at my husband that I was a terrible mother, that the only thing Connor needed me for was milk, and that Connor hated me. I heard the voice of the social worker at the hospital, and I thought I was broken, that I couldn’t get better, that being around would only ruin Connors life. At night when would close my eyes unable to fall asleep, I saw myself walking off the top of our house. 
In a moment of clarity, I recalled that medicine that was not good for me in college and I knew it was the mood stabilizer causing this increase in negative symptoms. I didn’t take it that day, I called MAHEC, and I never took it again. 


I went back to see the lovely mental health specialist at MAHEC. They got me in immediately. She was my saving grace, she believed me and set me up with a perinatal mood specialist. The mood specialist diagnosed me as having depression, general anxiety disorder, and symptoms of trauma. I went home with a prescription for Zoloft, and within three days I felt like a brand new person. It turns out that they mood stabilizer can cause insomnia and mania in people that are not bipolar. I was on the wrong medicine and it threw my world apart. It made me certain my son hated me. It made me think I should just not exist. I wholeheartedly support the use of psychiatric drugs prescribed by a licensed professional when needed. But, I also support parents, particularly new ones, feeling empowered and self-aware enough to have conversations with their care providers that are honest and open. If I have not been open and honest with the people taking care of me, from professionals to my husband, I would not have gotten better. I would not of gotten what I needed. 
Motherhood hasn’t all been roses since I started Zoloft when Connor was four and a half months old, but it’s been a lot better. I still have days that are completely overwhelming, but I have built connections with other moms and I know what self-care steps to take when I need them. I continue to prioritize eating healthy and exercising every day because it helps my mood and it makes me feel good. I do my best to practice yoga on a regular basis because it calms me. These activities that allow me to be a self are the ones that keep me whole for my family. 
I hope anyone who needs help at any perinatal stage will reach out for the support that they need. Being a parent is immensely challenging and beautifully rewarding; we all deserve the good mental health to enjoy the sweet rewards of our children. 

The “SlideOut” — you know it.

-Claudia

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 10

Featuring regular mothers from our community, from all different walks of life, all having experienced varying postpartum related symptoms. I wanted to HUMANIZE these experiences, I wanted to remove the judgement and shame that women are made to feel about their experiences as new mothers. I wanted to educate everyone on the fact that the range of symptoms and severity for postpartum related issues is VAST and VARIED. I wanted to support the new mother who might not even understand what she’s thinking, feeling or experiencing as postpartum related. I wanted to normalize these things. I wanted to do what (I) could to help. Thus, this project was born.

In exchange for free portraits with their children, I’ve asked participants to tell their stories. To write about their background – what makes them relatable, what do they do for a living, what are their interests or hobbies? I’ve asked them to tell their story as they remember it. I’ve asked them to write about how they came to recognize their struggles, how they discussed their needs with their loved ones, how they sought out help, where they are now, how they’re taking care of themselves etc. In past weeks, I’ve received very detailed, thoughtful, personal, vulnerable and encouraging stories! I hope you’ll go back & read the stories from previous weeks!

If you missed weeks 1-9, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle, Rachel & Shannon’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE, RACHEL, SHANNON, KATY, KATIE, SARA

If you are a Survivor & would like to contribute your story (I heard that there were no available spots left, I will be opening up additional spaces at the end of the year, if interest is still there & I still have the stamina to keep up with it!) – I shoot portraits (my gift to you) every Friday from 5:30-6:00pm in Downtown Asheville (& your written story would be due by Sunday night for publication on Mondays!) You can sign up here: Contribute

Throughout the series, I’ll also feature Guest Blog Posts from Mental Health Professionals in our little mountain town & the state of North Carolina! At the end of each post, I’ll include contact information for local resources where you can get help right away should you need it!
If you would like to contribute a Guest Blog as a Mental Health Professional, Postpartum Doula or other Pregnancy/Postpartum expert , please email me directly at: Brittany@AshevilleFamilyPhotography.com

BRIDGET:

As a Registered Nurse and classic type A personality, I approached pregnancy, child birth and motherhood as I had many chapters in my life – with a clear plan in mind and all the information I could gather.  I had a “best practice” approach:  a home birth, a natural vaginal birth for a healthy gut microbiome, gentle transition into the world, breastfeeding, midwives and doulas.  I was armed with all the resources I needed.  I expected it would be difficult, but in the end I would succeed in birth as I had in so many areas of life.  My pregnancy was absolutely perfect and I was physically stronger and more confident than ever.  But then, despite all my careful planning, things fell apart.  I failed to follow the birth plan I had meticulously crafted.  I failed to have a home birth, I failed to have a drug free, natural birth, and I failed to deliver my daughter safely and gently into the world.

There were signs of meconium in my amniotic fluid while I labored at home so I had to transfer to the hospital.  Then I developed a fever during the last few hours of labor.  The NICU team had to be present for my daughter’s birth and she developed a respiratory infection requiring a NICU stay.  This was completely unexpected and frightening.  After she was taken to the NICU, and while I was being admitted to the Mom/Baby unit, she had a cyanotic episode and the NICU team had to get her breathing again.  I knew it was important for new infants to remain close to their mothers after birth to help regulate their breathing and temperature.  Why didn’t I insist on going with her to the NICU?  I’m supposed to be her fiercest advocate!  Add that failure to the growing list.  

During our week in the NICU, I was exhausted and in a state of constant worry. I was completely focused on my daughter’s recovery and neglected my own.  I felt the need to stay on top of every little thing and only left the hospital for a total of a few hours that entire week.  I was having trouble breast feeding this little baby who was sick and very sleepy.  Two NICU nurses were impatient with me, causing me to further doubt my breastfeeding skills.  Worst of all, I felt I had completely failed my very first task as a mom – to bring my daughter safely and gently into the world.  What the hell?  This is what my body is basically designed for right?  That’s what I’d heard during all the classes I had taken, “this is a natural process” and “your body will know what to do” and “follow your instincts”.  Well, none of that had prepared me for the reality of my birth experience.  

So, there we were, in the NICU and the exact opposite of a gentle transition into the world was going on.  She was being poked and prodded, had oxygen tubing in her nose and a tube going down into her stomach.  She was hooked up to monitors that made it hard to hold her.  She was being given IV antibiotics – destroying her gut microbiome! – and when they had to change her IV several times they gave her sugar water which helps distract from the pain.  I didn’t want her to have sugar!  I wanted none of this and yet here we were, having to compromise on pretty much everything.  The sweet time of post partum bonding and comfort at home in our family bed that I had been picturing in the months leading up to her birth had been taken away, not just from me, but most importantly from her.  The guilt and shame I felt were strong.  I did not want to talk to anyone about her birth or about her NICU stay.  I couldn’t even think about it without crying.  I was truly grieving the loss of the birth experience I had dreamed of, but I didn’t realize it.   

Once the course of antibiotics was complete and her lab work showed the infection had cleared, we went home.  We were so happy to be home and tried to put the hospital behind us.  My husband was starting a new job and two weeks after our daughter was born, he started to travel again, meaning he was only home on weekends.  I was breastfeeding exclusively so I was up every 2 hours feeding.  Once the meal train ended and the family visits stopped, we settled into our new routine – me home alone with our daughter for the majority of the week. 

We did not have any family or close friends in the area, so I tried to schedule play dates with other moms, but illness, sleepless nights, conflicting nap schedules always seemed to make that difficult.  We live in a rural area and I started to feel very isolated.  Thinking back on that first year, I don’t think I have ever felt so alone.  As a nurse, I knew that I was likely suffering from Post Partum Depression, but I had many reasons for not seeking help.  I am a stay at home mom, I should feel lucky to be able to do that!  Unlike so many moms, I had very few other stressors in my life.  I had no reason to be depressed and even if I was, I didn’t have the time or energy to seek help for myself.  Other moms with multiple kids seem to be functioning just fine, so why am I struggling with one?!  This was my choice and I just needed to power through, but no amount of self determination seemed to be helping.    

I took my daughter to a music class and library story times. I was functioning despite a severe lack of sleep that caused me to have peripheral visual hallucinations.  I was experiencing persistent thoughts of worry about the safety of my daughter and would obsess over theoretical dangers.  Finally around 13 months, my husband decided that we needed to stop co-sleeping and night wean to regain our sanity.  I was grateful for his intervention, even though I’m sure I didn’t show it.  Although I was finally getting more sleep, I was still pretty miserable to be around.  I poured what energy I could muster into my daughter and left nothing for myself or my husband.  Several times, I researched therapists in our area but each time I came back to the excuses:  you have no reason to be depressed, you’re lucky, there is no time for you to go to therapy, people will think you’re a bad mom.  I would cry in the car, in the shower, basically anywhere no one would see me.  In my mind, I had already failed at so much, I couldn’t admit to anyone that I was struggling.  

It took me two and a half years before I finally told my husband about my depression and reached out to a therapist.  I was diagnosed with PPD and PTSD stemming from our time in the NICU.  I started with EMDR therapy and later added Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  It has been a long process, but through these treatment modalities and self compassion work, I have been able to gain perspective about my experience.  More importantly, I can look back at that time and extend kindness to myself instead of criticism, shame and guilt.  I could not control the things that went medically wrong during our birth experience and in the weeks that followed I did the very best I could.  This self compassion work has been important, not just for me, but for how I view other mothers.  Once I started to treat myself with kindness, I could more easily extend that kindness to other moms, instead of judgement.  

When I read the article that precipitated this project, and saw the mug shot of the local mother who threw her baby into the ravine, I was struck by what I saw and felt.  Prior to therapy I would have jumped on the condemnation bandwagon, but now I recognize that her photo  reflects how I felt during those very difficult first years.  She’s a smart, medical professional, with a seemingly happy life displayed in Facebook posts, and no one predicted her actions.  I’m sure those who know her best are shocked and saddened that they did not know she needed help.  People who know me were, and will be, shocked to know the extent of my struggle.  I also hid it very well behind smiling pictures and an appearance of holding it all together.  

Dealing with perfectionism and the impossible societal expectations of mothers is still a challenge for me.  I’m learning that I cannot bend everything to my will, and that the things I once viewed as personal “failures”, were more likely me being hypercritical of myself.  I’m working on showing myself the same kindness I would show a friend who’s having a bad day.  There is a lot of talk about self care and that can come in many different forms.  The best thing I can give myself is the gift of improved mental health.  I hope that if you are like me, and have considered reaching out for help, you will make that phone call.  You deserve to feel better.  It’s not a failure to admit your struggle, and it absolutely will help.  

-Bridget

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