Archive for Family Photography

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 17

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, JENNI, JULIE, SAMANTHA

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

KAYLA

My Story:

One evening I was so hungry I ate an entire family sized plastic container of arugula greens while standing in the door of the refrigerator. What’s wrong with me, I thought, as I doused another bunch of green in garlic lemon dressing and stuffed them into my mouth. Two days later I found out I was pregnant after three at-home pregnancy tests confirming my suspicion. Feelings of joy, worry, sadness, and excitement filled my body. 

On December 25, 2018 at 11:22am I gave birth to my sweet Luna Rose following an intense, traumatic, all-natural delivery. They laid Luna on my stomach; her umbilical cord was too short for the usual chest area skin-to-skin bonding moment. I was shaking and confused. Where was this overwhelming joy and intense feeling of love I am supposed to be experiencing? Is this normal? This is not the experience I planned for or the experience my friends with children shared with me. 

Over the next few weeks these feelings and emotions fluctuated from intense sadness and guilt to anxiety and depression. The depression felt numbing, swallowing me in such a way that I did not even realize I was depressed. I was unconsciously trying to hide these feelings from my family and myself. Each day when taking a shower I used the time to cry in private, letting the scalding hot water wash down my face and body. Guilt and shame took over as I whispered to myself “What the hell is wrong with you Kayla. You have a healthy beautiful little girl, how can you not be grateful.” More than anything, I wanted to feel something. 

Before having my daughter, I had previous diagnoses of anxiety and depression. Going into the pregnancy, I was confident that I would notice any onset of symptoms and seek help if I experienced a postpartum mental illness. I was completely wrong. Life became a dense fog and the thought of adding an extra doctors visit, seeing a counselor, or even focusing on how I was feeling was not in the cards. My time and energy was spent taking care of sweet Luna Rose and consequently not taking care of myself.  

During a three-hour cluster feeding session on the couch I scrolled through some articles on my phone. A psychologist interviewed several women with PMAD, asking them basic questions regarding the bond with their infant. One question resonated with my experience. How did I feel when performing simple tasks like putting socks on my baby? Were they laboring and cold or playful and warm? I felt cold. It took 9 weeks to realize that something was wrong and once I did, I did not want to believe it. Logically I knew that hormone changes, sleep deprivation, and stress had a huge impact on brain chemistry after birth, but I still found it hard to accept that for myself.

With the push of my partner, I started going to a local mothers support group. My body would shake with anxiety as I drove with Luna crying in the back seat. My face would flush red and my heart would thump as I sat in this group of new mothers. Knowing that other mothers were going through similar struggles gave me hope and a new perspective yet I still found it difficult to open up and would have meltdowns in my car while driving home. Feelings of not being good enough, not deserving to be a mother and thoughts of not living flashed through my head. I fought myself to accept that these feelings were getting worse.

Mother with her baby in Asheville, NC

At 12 weeks I decided to go and talk to a therapist. After a few sessions, I was advised to talk to my doctor about medication. The idea of medication did not thrill me as I typically use naturopathic medicine and had unsuccessfully been on SSRI’s in the past. Convinced by my doctor that this could be different and with just returning to work full time, I felt I had to do something. The medication allowed me to bring my head above water and get over “the hump”. For the first time, I genuinely smiled at my daughter and felt the feelings so many mamas had described. My change in mood was relieving to not only myself, but to my partner and family.  

As time went on, I realized the medication was changing my personality and the connection with my daughter and my partner was more about getting through each day rather than being present with them. Although I was no longer anxious and depressed, the days would come and go with little regard for emotional connection. The medication made me fluctuate from extreme hyperactivity to a flat affect, lacking depth and purpose with each day. I felt like a machine but not a human. 

I started seeing a new therapist who saw my struggle and felt confident in my ability to wean off the medication with the help of my doctor. I experienced 14 days of side effects ranging from irritability, restlessness and sleep issues, to intense and bizarre feelings of love. Once the side effects subsided, I was back to riding my normal emotional roller coaster. I had sacrificed my stability to recapture my raw life experience. Thankful to be able to feel these emotions and find power in what they were telling me, I realized I could also use them to guide and teach my daughter. 

Mother with her baby in Asheville, NC

Truth is, this realization is just a stepping-stone in the process of motherhood. I still struggle all the time with balancing my life and my emotions. My hope is that each new mom can feel a sense of empowerment, and that we all can feel supported and uplifted and never diminish the effects of this process. We should be able to share our stories and bring awareness to these challenges.  Whether you choose to take medication or talk to a therapist or go on a retreat in the woods or hibernate in your house for 6 months… Whatever helps you get by, know that it is ok. You are not alone. Be aware of the amazing community we have here in Asheville- the mamas, the papas, the doulas, the birth companies, the therapists, the doctors. There are people here that will honor your process and never underestimate your situation. 

Mother with her baby in Asheville, NC
Mother with her baby in Asheville, NC
Mother with her baby in Asheville, NC

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 16

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, JENNI, JULIE

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

Samantha

Mother and Son Family Portraits in Asheville, NC.

One Saturday morning on a cold February weekend, I made some hot oatmeal with cinnamon and peanut butter for me and my six-month-old baby. We sat together at the table and ate, he in his high chair with his Stud Muffin pocket bib, and me in the chair next to him trading spoons and trying to limit the amount of oatmeal that landed on the wall. After breakfast, we moved to the couch to nurse. As he snacked on milk, I noticed a little patch of red irritated skin on his chin, which I considered could have been caused by the cinnamon – or maybe he’d just scratched himself. As I sat there assessing his little rash, I suddenly felt the blood leave my face and a brick dropped in my stomach. All at once I knew the reason behind the rash: we had been poisoned. The pot I had used to cook our oatmeal must have been contaminated, and now whatever we had consumed was going to kill us both. I screamed at my husband to call 911. My heart pounded. My hands and feet went cold. My vision started blurring. The chance to save our baby was slipping away with every moment. I panicked. I wanted someone to take him from me so I didn’t smother him with my body when I lost consciousness. My mind ran through every step of getting us to the hospital, and I was sure that we didn’t have time. Whatever this poison was, it was already in our bloodstreams. 

My husband is a first responder, and he did not call 911. Like a reasonable human, he wanted to know what the emergency was before he called. Of course, we had not been poisoned. That pot had not been used for anything but food. He reassured me again and again, and the devastating crush of my panic began to subside. I landed back in reality like a rock hitting the floor, and got off the couch to go look at the offending pot. There it was, just a pot. Black, with a stainless steel handle. Not used for anything but food. I wandered around the house marveling at my mind. What an impressive way for it to let me know I needed help. 

I learned later that they are called intrusive thoughts. This type of interrupted logic presents itself on a spectrum of sorts, ranging from reasonably mild and with no lasting consequence (as was my experience) to truly devastating or repeated episodes that drives mothers mad with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. Though not the same as postpartum psychosis, it gave me new respect for the reality of more severe mental health diagnoses. This altered perception is reality for those experiencing it. I was terrified that it would happen again. 

My slide was gradual, almost imperceptible at first. I felt that I had no reason to complain. After all, my only “trauma” was becoming a mother. My “trigger” was the physical pain I felt when I had to leave my child to return to work, to a job I had worked hard to land. These are shifts in my life that I wanted, that I appreciated. These feelings are common and certainly not unique among the working mother community. I knew I was in good company, and I listened when people told me that the first year is always hard. But as the dark winter months went by, I found myself staying in bed for days at a time. I was carrying this crushing invisible weight everywhere I went. I was, on occasion, pumping milk in my car so that I could cry without listening ears through the walls at work. These were all signs of depression that somehow seemed manageable to me. I had exercised and meditated my way out of similar states before, back in my twenties. I would be just fine when I finally got my act together. I blamed myself for my lack of motivation. My body that was still so unfamiliar to me would have to be the vehicle to resolve this, I just needed to get it together and show up.

Though depression felt familiar, anxiety completely sideswiped me. I was not at all familiar with this sensation of full body panic and loss of control, and it was terrifying. In the weeks before the poisoning episode I began experiencing panic attacks at work, where I was new in my field and keeping up, but lacking in confidence. It was becoming clear that I was hitting a wall. I could no longer use a forced smile to make it through my day. I truly loved all the pieces of my life, but it seemed that they weren’t fitting together. I was in an invisible free fall. 

The process of finding professional help was entirely daunting. There were pages and pages of insurance-approved therapists, and none of them were the ones my friends had recommended. I tabled my search for a while out of pure overwhelm until a colleague at work called me out on my decline and lovingly gave me a deadline. It took the attention of an acquaintance to force me to recognize that my experience was not one I could handle on my own. 

The oxymoron of depressed gratitude is one that it seems many of us encounter as new mothers. I was grateful. I was in love. I was clinically depressed. The contradiction is confusing, and I’m sure many of us feel that we just need to try harder to be happy. Mamas, even if you “don’t have a reason” to be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, please seek help if you have noticed anything out of the ordinary for you and your mental health. Though our stories may not be as riveting as some, as tragic or traumatic as others, or as solidly rock bottom as we could allow ourselves to go, they still matter. Your story matters to you, your family, and to your child most of all. It is probably true that the first year as a mother is generally challenging, but it doesn’t have to completely suck. Don’t waste any more time missing out. Call your doctor. Ask for a specific recommendation for a mental health provider and a phone number so that you don’t have to rally too much energy for research. And then, maybe very slowly at first, you will begin to shine again. 

Mother and Son Family Portraits in Asheville, NC.
Mother and Son Family Portraits in Asheville, NC.
Mother and Son Family Portraits in Asheville, NC.
Mother and Son Family Portraits in Asheville, NC.
Mother and Son Family Portraits in Asheville, NC.

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 15

This week, we’re featuring Mental Health Professional, Julie Derouen, LPC      of Skipping Stones Counseling, PLLC         www.skippingstonescounseling.com

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, JENNI

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

This week, we’re featuring Mental Health Professional, Julie Derouen, LPC      of Skipping Stones Counseling, PLLC         www.skippingstonescounseling.com

Birth Trauma

For most women pregnancy comes with excitement and anticipation to meet your little one. For some pregnancy and birth also bring anxiety, fear and vulnerability that one is dependent on health care professionals to manage their health as well as their baby’s. Pregnancy, birth and parenting bring up emotions so similar to past trauma that it is often the catalyst for difficulty coping. 

During pregnancy and birth women may experience self-doubt, not wanting to offend others by stating their needs or that they are uncomfortable, feel they are suppose to trust and not question doctors, embarrassment that they don’t have control over their body functions, their fears are minimized, they may ask for help and get a negative response, may feel objectified and not seen as a person, feel a loss of control, vulnerable and dependent on others for needs to be met. It is rare that we hear about the fear, embarrassment, vulnerability and feeling unheard that unfortunately accompany many births. These are such intimate experiences that many women share them rarely if at all. They may feel shame for not fully embracing the experience. They may feel that no one will understand or worry they will be perceived selfish because they are thinking of themselves and not devoting every minute to their baby. These incidents happen far too often. We need to do a better job of supporting each mother’s unique experience of bringing life into the world and being born into their new role as a primary caregiver. 

Several factors increase the risk of a traumatic birth:

  • Prolapsed cord
  • Preterm labor
  • Medical trauma during pregnancy
  • Unplanned C-section
  • Use of vacuum extractor or forceps to deliver baby
  • Baby going to the NICU
  • Feelings of powerlessness, poor communication and/or lack of support and reassurance during the delivery
  • Women who have experienced previous trauma, such as rape or sexual abuse, are also at a higher risk for experiencing postpartum PTSD
  • Women who have experience a severe physical complication or injury related to pregnancy or childbirth, such as severe postpartum hemorrhage, unexpected hysterectomy, severe preeclampsia/eclampsia, perineal trauma or cardiac disease
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Past miscarriage, pregnancy loss or infant death
  • Complications with feeding

Symptoms seen during a traumatic incident

  • Shutting down, looking spacey, appearing fearful or blank stare
  • Overly agreeable, confusion, indecisive
  • Tense, shaky, fidgety
  • Not following directions
  • Irritable/angry
  • Wanting to flee or fight back
  • Overly talkative
  • Overly apologetic
  • Asking a lot of questions or the same questions repeatedly

Symptoms often seen after a trauma include 

  • intrusive thoughts, images or sensations associated with the birth or past trauma
  • flashbacks or nightmares
  • avoidance of stimuli associated with the event including thoughts, feelings, people, places and details of the event
  • persistent increased arousal (irritability, difficulty sleeping when baby is asleep, constant worry that something bad will happen, exaggerated startle response, feeling that no one can care for baby besides mom) 
  • anxiety and panic attacks
  • feeling a sense of being detached or that the world feels surreal

What we can do to help

  • Advocate for doctors to stop, listen, give choices, educate women about what they are doing and why, slow down and avoid phrases like “I thought you wanted this, It will only take a moment, this isn’t so bad and there are worse experiences”. I shutter just hearing many of these, they all minimize a woman’s experience and make her feel she is doing something wrong by saying she’s uncomfortable or wanting to be more informed during her care. Ask if it is helpful to explain a procedure before, during, after, or not at all
  • Thank women for sharing how they really feel, trusting us with their thoughts and feelings
  • Redirect them to additional emotional supports if needed
  • Talk to women and partners before a birth to inquire about what their preferences are
  • Ask what makes them uncomfortable and what would make them more comfortable
  • Avoid a rigid birth plan, have an ideal but be flexible with end goal that momma and baby are healthy
  • Create a safe, nonjudgmental space for women to be what they need to be during birth and postpartum so they can find their strength and feel empowered as a new momma. Let them tell their story, only ask clarifying questions and normalize their emotions. 
  • Support momma to find a feeding technique that they are most comfortable with (nursing, pumping/bottle feeding, formula) 

Resources in our community Please talk to your friends, family, neighbors and normalize  that birth trauma, postpartum anxiety and depression are real and with help they will be okay.

Therapists who have been trained by PSI are listed on the Perinatal Emotional Health Network of Western NC FB page https://www.facebook.com/pehnwnc/notes/. Other community resources are also listed on this page.

 Recommended therapy for perinatal mood disorders and trauma include 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) -challenge negative thoughts, distortions, increase compassionate self-talk, support awareness of how emotions and thoughts contribute to responses. 
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) -teaches distress tolerance, emotional regulation, mindfulness (be present in the current moment) and relationship/communication skills
  • Eye Moment Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) targets past trauma and supports reflecting on past experience while maintaining calm and gives one the ability to notice things about the experience that help give new meaning and acceptance to experience. 

Encourage play dates and groups and connect with other moms who “get it”. 

Support groups available:

  • Mindful Mothers- coping and making sense of the challenges of parenthood.  Tuesdays weekly 9:30-10:20a Skipping Stones Counseling 3601 Sweeten Creek Road Arden, 28704
  • Everybody Yoga Fridays 11-12p weekly, children welcome
  • Infertility- send a message at AshevilleInfertilitycounseling.com to inquire about openings, 2nd Monday monthly 6-7:15p
  • Online support groups through postpartum.net

Postpartum Support International (postpartum.net) is the most well known organization that supports the emotional needs of mothers, partners and other caregivers. It has a wealth of evidence that shows that postpartum depression, anxiety and rarely psychosis are real. With help you will be well. 

I have been amazed to see how our mountain community is rallying around mothers and families in the last several months. With crisis comes the opportunity for great change. I am honored to support families who recognize that they need help and who are courageous to ask for that help. So brave are we when we are aware of what we don’t know, what we want to know and to bravely seek those answers that will make us better parents, partners and friends. 

Julie Derouen, LPC      Skipping Stones Counseling, PLLC         www.skippingstonescounseling.com


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.

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.

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 9

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 1-7, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle, Rachel & Shannon’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE, RACHEL, SHANNON, KATY, KATIE

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

SARA

My name is Sara and I am the proudest mom to the coolest kid, Greyson. Happiness and laughter are two things that I try to make happen daily. Being able to provide care and joy are by far some of my favorite things. Though that wasn’t always the case. Here is my story.

Let me start out by admitting that I didn’t always want to be a mother. I enjoyed my life. Doing things that benefitted myself and not having to worry about anyone else. All throughout high school and college I would hear people talking about their future family and life plans and all I can remember thinking was, “Man… I just want to get through this day and go to the barn.” Horses were and will always continue to be my passion and as with any time consuming extracurricular, the opportunity cost is time spent doing other things like, planning a future family or even imagining yourself taking care of a tiny human. Nope, I was perfectly happy with just managing my four legged toddlers.

I think the huge shift in my maternal thought process was meeting the boy. The first time I saw him, I knew. He was the one. His smile was kind and his heart was in the right place. He cared for things he didn’t have to and he made it a point to make me laugh. He made me feel warm. He made me feel like I was home. (He also had a killer ass***) Aesthetically speaking, he was a very appropriate biological partner, the boy was a hotty!

We had a wonderful relationship and decided to take a leap of faith. The desire to create a child grew for both of us and we began the exciting journey. I remember being so thrilled every time I would take a test. It wasn’t until the 6th one or so that I started feeling the heartache. The feeling of defeat was creeping in and I began to feel my new found parental dream slip through my fingers. After a long talk and even more tears, we decided that we would try naturally for a year and then after that, seek professional assistance.

Well ladies, after 8 months of trying (the practice was fun mind you… the constant negative tests were not) I finally saw those 2 pink lines. Now, I had an entire Pinterest page of reveal ideas for the boy. Putting a bun in the oven and making him look for it or telling him that I made him a drink and upon opening the fridge, he would see a baby bottle; I envisioned sweet squeals and tears of joy, all the movie plots. Instead, I lost all creative ability and just shoved the pee stick in his face with a blank stare. 

It. Was. Epic. 

After that, everything was kind of a blur. I had my routine doctor visits. I worked throughout my entire pregnancy teaching lessons and judging horse shows. I even rode until I was 22 weeks pregnant! (Thanks Hattie the halflinger) I started getting down on myself when I couldn’t ride anymore. In most cases, PPD starts after the birth (“POST”) but in my case, it started after the conception. I am a firm believer in having a release. A freedom from the rest of the world if you will. Mine was riding. And my pregnancy took that from me. Without even thinking, I starting resenting the miracle that was growing inside of me. My heart was aching for myself and my unborn child.

The boy and I had been living in a different state throughout my pregnancy and decided that it would be best for us as first time parents to move home and have our village to help us. It was ultimately the best decision we could’ve ever made. 

When Greyson was born, my mind was absolutely blown. My heart was fuller then I ever thought possible and I knew that he was going to be the center of my world. He was perfect. He was everything that I wanted. Everything that I needed. He was everything that I wasn’t. 

I had made up my mind to not breastfeed as long as most moms early on in the pregnancy. It was a decision based on my work life and I was supported by my doctor and the boy fully. Because of that I think, subconsciously, is why we had difficulty latching. I got very upset because I knew that I wasn’t going to be doing it for long and wanted him to get everything that he could. Here comes the first disgusting thought I had about myself. I felt like a cow. A literal dairy cow.  I had heard of the closeness and solidarity of breastfeeding and how wonderful the bond was that formed from it and was beyond disgusted when I didn’t feel any of it. I would lay awake at night just starring at him and hoping that I would feel something. Anything. Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved him. Immensely. More than I could imagine and I think that was part of the issue. I was hit hard with a ton of truths about myself when he was born. How selfish I actually was. The emotions that his arrival evoked were, at times, unbearable. I never wanted him to go away. I always tended to him when he needed me. He was attached to me 24/7. The stereotypical PPD of (as horrible as it sounds) leaving my infant in the woods in a car seat was not what crossed my mind. My projection was a constant belief that he was going to die in the night. He would just stop breathing. My perception was the highest anxiety levels that I have ever felt lasting all day and all night long, for months on end. My energy levels were drained, my heart was hurting, my intrapersonal relationships were all but destroyed, my faith was non existent, my body was over drawn and I was done. Done with people, done with my child. Done with myself. I wanted quiet.  I wanted to rest. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to die. 

I called someone one day. I remember how the sun felt on my skin. It was warm and it felt nice for the first time in a long time. I smelled apples from the trees that I planted in my front yard years and years ago. I heard the birds chatting all around me. When she answered the phone, I just started crying. She told me that everything would be ok and that she loved me, no matter what. She stayed on the phone with me while I sobbed uncontrollably. She listened to every single tear. She absorbed my pain and rode it out with me. She was the angel that I didn’t know I needed and she will forever be in my heart. 

From that day, I began to really educate myself on what I was going through. I took each wave of sadness as it was and began to finally find peace again. I started looking for small joys again. I made it a point to appreciate what I once took for granted. I sought help from my OB doctor at first. They were very kind and seemingly unjudging of my tears. I then began working closely with my PPC and from there with my current “happy doctor”. (Starr with 2 “R’s”, you’ve been more of a blessing then I could ever tell you with words). The options of help are endless. The hardest part is asking for it. 

My son, Greyson, who is now 3 and 1-2 years old is the highlight of my life. He will forever be the best thing that I ever did in this life. He is kind and happy. He loves without boundaries and holds a certain type of peace inside him that makes me know he will change this world for the better. He helps me daily; because, even after I got the help that I needed, I still struggle with PPD. He smiles and holds my hand through it all. I found myself at the barn once again. The other love of my life is my horse, Luna. Her neck has held more tears than I can explain but her muzzle has held just as many kisses. She had and will always have a huge part in my success in this life. 

I thought I would never be happy again. There are still days were the darkness creeps in without me knowing. There are still days when I cry uncontrollably and think it will never end but they are getting fewer and less frequent. The light at the end of the tunnel that, for so long, I thought was non-existent is shining brighter than ever now and I am so honored to have been given the life I live.  

So, that is my story. I could write a novel of all my trials and tribulations throughout my journey into motherhood (it would for sure be a bestseller) but for the sake of time, this will have to do. If you take anything away from reading my story, I hope it’s this:

You are worth so much more than you could ever imagine. The pain you may feel today is not a sentence of how you must feel tomorrow. Try to live your life by revealing in the woman you are in this moment. Strive to be better in the next. Make yourself a priority. I may get heck for saying this next part but, here it goes…. Make yourself your TOP priority. Not your spouse, not your children. YOU. You are a goldmine of grace and spirit and wonder. Mama, you are capable of moving mountains. You are capable of changing the world. You have the power to create the life you want, but you have to matter to yourself. Take time to enjoy yourself. Notice the little things in life and make it a point to experience every joy you can. If you feel yourself being less then you know you are, reach out. If you are having trouble seeing your worth at all, know this: You were made for more. Your purpose in this life is not subjective to stereotypes or negative self-talk. It is to be amazing. You are the moments that matter most. Your smile, your warmth, your love. You are enough.

-Sara

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 8

WHY am I doing this?

Why am I giving my time (2hrs) each week? Why am I giving my talent? Why am I giving my energy to this?

A couple months ago, a young mother in our little mountain town had what can only be understood to be a postpartum psychotic break. (Disclaimer: This is completely speculation based on deductive reasoning only from having seen her facebook page & having spoken with mutual friends who knew her.) This was a well educated, well respected health care professional in our community. By all accounts she was a good mother & from her facebook page, it looked like she loved being a mother to her older daughter. So when she did something WILDLY out of character, shocking, heartbreaking & tragic…. It made me sick, how people on the internet were responding and reacting to this woman. I felt an incredible amount of empathy for her. CLEARLY, she was SICK. Yet, people on the internet were writing HORRIBLE things about (and to) her on her personal facebook page, on photos of her family…. saying she deserved prison, hell and just like — every horrible thing you can think of. It made me sick.

For a few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman, what she was going through, what she had lost, how she would feel when she came out of this wilderness, the incredibly difficult road ahead of her, all that she would loose… I contemplated what (I) could do to help educate people. What (I) could do to support new mothers. What (I) could do to try to make sure that this type of thing doesn’t happen in our community again.

That’s when it occurred to me, that (I) am a Family Photographer. My function in our community gives me a platform and access to mothers, children and families in our community. I wanted to do what (I) could to help educate people about Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis.

I wanted to feature regular moms, from all different walks of life, co-existing in the same community, all having experienced some or all of the aforementioned postpartum issues that we just don’t talk about enough. 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 that the range of symptoms and severity is VAST and VARIED. I wanted to be a support for new mothers who might not even understand what they’re 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 1-7, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle, Rachel & Shannon’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE, RACHEL, SHANNON, KATY, KATIE

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

Megan

Megan is from Madison County. She found the Blog, signed up to contribute & drove into Asheville to participate in the project.

I got postpartum depression with my son when I was 23 years old. I was diagnosed with a chemical imbalance before I got pregnant with him but the doctor said that I couldn’t take my medication while I was pregnant so I stopped taking it. I had terrible ups and downs with depression and mood swings during my pregnancy.

After my son was born, my depression and mood swings got really bad and I started pushing people away without really noticing it and when I did realize what I was doing, I got mad at myself and I went from depression and anxiety to rage and I would just yell whenever I got the least bit frustrated.

When I noticed that i needed to ask for help my son was a year old. He got sick on whole milk from heat and threw up on my rug and i couldn’t get it out, so I got frustrated so of course I started yelling and my son looked at me like he was absolutely terrified of me and that broke my heart to see that kind of fear in his eyes and to know it was because of me. I picked him up and held him and told him I was sorry and I just started crying. The next day i called my mother in-law to ask if she would go with me to the doctor to see what I could do to get help to fix what was going on with me. I told my doctor that I felt like such a bad mom but she reassured me that postpartum is more normal than most people know and that I shouldn’t feel bad and that it made me a good mom to come and ask for help to take care of myself.

Later on, down the road I found myself pregnant with my daughter. I didn’t get postpartum with her even though I was so scared that I would get it. But the doctor’s put me on something that was safe for me to take while I was pregnant with her and they made sure that I took it when I was in the hospital so I never got postpartum after my second pregnancy. But no matter if you get postpartum once or twice you should never feel bad or ashamed of it.

Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum Rage & Postpartum Psychosis: A Conversation – Week 7

One Asheville Photographer Mama doing her small part to further the conversation in an effort to remove the stigma.

If you missed weeks 1-6, you’ll find the introduction & Desiree, Claire & Michelle, Rachel & Shannon’s stories here: DESIREE, CLAIRE, MICHELLE, RACHEL, SHANNON, KATY

For the remainder of the year, each Monday, I’ll be sharing the stories and photos (new) and old of normal, regular mothers in our community who have struggled with a range of postpartum issues, symptoms and severity & have come out on the other side!

If you are a Survivor & would like to contribute your story (we have a few available spots left!) – 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

KATIE

This is my story of bringing children into this world & becoming a mother. A story I felt compelled to share in the hopes it may align with or encourage yours. 

I am anxious as I write this, tense and distracted.  Overwhelm is a frequent guest and I have already gotten up several times to shake it off as I write. Bear with me, this is my current truth.


I have been pregnant 4 times, and I now have 2 wonderful sons.  My husband and I both wanted children and a family, but our first two pregnancies ended in early miscarriages.  My 3rd pregnancy was successful, although difficult emotionally; being pregnant did not mean I would have a baby and it took me a long time to feel safe with the pregnancy.

My first son was born by cesarean due to fetal distress and stalled labor after my all natural birth plan was squashed by being induced due to low amniotic fluid at week 39.  The birth was traumatic for me and was followed by him being taken to the NICU for low blood sugar for 3 days.  I cried often in my mother/baby room as I tried to pump drops of milk and felt like a failure for not “birthing” my baby.  I felt like “they” birthed him for me.  I remember the nurse asking me if I had ever been depressed before and did I want to call my mom to come be with me.  I sobbed even harder, “yes I want to call my mom!” I remember snapping … but she died when I was in middle school. 

I had no idea at the time, but the risk factors for PPD and PPA were just stacking up.

Upon going home, I had flashbacks of the NICU and/OR, hearing sounds and beeps and being brought to my knees in tears. I began having intrusive thoughts of my son dying and finding him dead in all kinds of graphic and horrific situations.  I checked the crib frequently for him breathing in the night.  My pediatrician suggested I had PPD but I denied this stating that I didn’t have thoughts of wanting to hurt my baby.  I had no idea everything I was going through were classic signs.

After my maternity leave, I went back to my full time job and began falling further apart.  I cried at my desk, I came home and saw my son and cried more.  I wanted to be alone and became fearful of leaving the house.  I still didn’t think I had PPD but I knew I felt terrible, so I sought a therapist and began regular acupuncture and yoga, two of my best healing allies after my miscarriages that had been put to the back burner.  I refused medication due to concern of breastfeeding.  I learned more about PPD and PPA and felt so embarrassed that I didn’t know what was going on with me.  I knew I wasn’t able to keep going at this rate and heal from this, so I was able to go part time at work.  Slowly, ever SO slowly, I began to find myself again about 2 months after my son’s first birthday.  I resolved then that if ever I experienced postpartum mood issues again, I would be open to considering medication. I felt I had made it through, but I also really suffered.  


Just about the time I was loving long nights of sleep, a toddler that wasn’t melting down every day, and a little bit of routine, we decided to try to get pregnant again.  This 4th pregnancy was easier, not “high risk” but still  a “geriatric pregnancy” (give me a break…) I bonded with this baby faster in utero.  I began working with my therapist again in preparation for the birth.  I had been hard and fast advocating for a VBAC convinced that a cesarean was the LAST thing I wanted.  However, months later and birth looming, I decided that actually a planned cesarean felt psychologically safer as it eliminated the risk of “trying and failing” at natural birth again.  I fought through this decision process for weeks. I knew this was my last baby and I wanted a wonderful birth experience and found myself shocked that it might include another cesarean. In the end, it was just what I needed … I held my 10 pound son as they stitched me up and reveled in his beauty and size.  We avoided a NICU visit this time and my recovery began so well.

  We went home to the support of my family and I felt wonderful.  My sister even commented that I seemed so much better than last time and I felt so hopeful.  I had typical emotional swings, but it was manageable and not consuming.  But, they didn’t go away and in fact became much worse about 3-4 weeks after birth. I found myself crying constantly, inconsolable at times, sobbing over nothing and yet everything.  I felt so alone even though I wasn’t.  I had no appetite, I wanted to stay in bed all day, and had no interest in playing with my toddler.  I was exhausted from sleepless nights.  I sat on our porch swing one day holding my newborn watching the fish swim in our little pond and I cried and cried. At times, I had no thoughts, only sadness.  And then other times, the intrusive thoughts abducted me into graphic scenes of either my boys dying or me dying in front of them.  I was helpless to them.  Friends and family reminded me of my coping skills, but I had no traction to even try.  I felt helpless.

I remembered my promise to myself from before and at my next doctor’s appointment, asked about medication.  It gave me bearings again, it was like regaining gravity.  I still had muck to sludge through, but at least my feet stayed underneath me.  I began to rally and noticed my appetite returning and I began to laugh and play with my son again.  I hired a college student to help me around the house while I continued healing from the surgery. And yet, it stalled.  I was no longer sad, but the intrusive thoughts continued, now accompanied with increased anxiety, anger, and even paranoia.  And here I find myself.  I am a social worker and help people with their depression and anxiety … how could I fall victim to this?  Shouldn’t I know what to do??


Last week I went to see a new Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner that specializes in Postpartum mood disorders. We changed my medications and developed a sleep plan for me to address my severe sleep deprivation; I hadn’t slept more than 3 hours in a row since February.  I see my therapist weekly and I get on my yoga mat at home as often as I can. It’s really hard to take care of myself with a toddler also.  It’s hard to want to be able to do more than I can. I go back to work in a few weeks, part time still, and of course have anxiety around this. I am preparing now and will get take out for dinner, ask for help, and be as easy and gentle on myself as possible.  
My sister said to me weeks ago, “just do the next smallest thing. What is the next tiniest step you can do, and do just that.  Then look for the next one.” So I keep stepping forward, hopeful I will rise from this in time just as I did with my first son. In the meantime, I go to counseling, exercise, try to be gentle to myself, not make any big life changing decisions, and just do the next smallest thing.  And chocolate and popsicles help too. 

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