Archive for Uncategorized

Blue Ridge Parkway Family Portraits in Asheville, NC

This current Blue Ridge Parkway Fall Foliage Report (as of October 10, 2019) brought to you by the Jansen Family of Asheville, NC!

We photographed the lovely Jansen Family this afternoon out on the Blue Ridge Parkway! As of now, the parkway is not seeing too much change but don’t worry, it’s coming! I definitely saw a lot of yellows and oranges in the higher elevations along the parkway, South of Black Balsam Knob!

Fun Fact: The Jansen’s live in my neighborhood but I hadn’t met them before this portrait session!

That NiNi is something else! 🙂

Enjoy!

Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC.
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC.
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC.
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC.
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC.
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC.
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC. Why
Why YES, I do offer drone footage!
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC.
I swear I didn’t tell them to look at him like this…the just did! <3
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC.
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC.
This little girl loves her pawpaw!
Blue Ridge Parkway
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, NC.
Sunset Family Portraits on the Blue Ridge Parkway 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.

How to Slay at Fall Family Photos:

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

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

See ya soon!?

brittany@ashevillefamilyphotography.com

828.779.8401

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

How to Dress for Fall Family Portraits:

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you all this fall!

XO

-Brittany

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

Family Vacation Photography in Asheville, NC

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

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

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

Enjoy!

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

Family Vacation Photography in Asheville

I often photograph families reuniting in Asheville for vacation together!

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

Challenge Accepted! 😉

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

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

Enjoy

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

OH! Check this out! 🙂

Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They’re SO WORTH IT!

Enjoy!

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

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

Mountain Top Family Photos in Asheville, NC.

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia:

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

 My story of PPD starts a long time ago.

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


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


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

I was cautiously optimistic. 


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

I probably had PTSD from the rapes.

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


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


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


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

The “SlideOut” — you know it.

-Claudia

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRIDGET:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Bridget

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. 

Sign Up For Our Mailing List
awaiting activity ...