When Mabel was born at 6:59 PM on Thanksgiving Monday, I was unprepared for the rush of intense love that would follow those first cries. It’s so true: that you cannot fathom how much you will love your child until you meet them. I remember my husband holding her against my cheek. I remember being unable to see her well but hearing her little noises while I soothed her as doctors finished their work after my c-section. If I close my eyes I can still picture it all.
The next several days were exhausted bliss. I was completely in love with this tiny person. I stared at her, taking photos to remember how she looked when she was so new. I had heard of “Baby Blues” during my prenatal class, and was unsurprised when doctors and nurses checked on my mental health over the first several days. I was doing extremely well.
As we prepared to bring our baby home 3 days later, I cried. I cried as I packed our bag and dressed her in her first little outfit. I remember nurses asking me if I was ok, and I responded, “oh yes, I’m just so happy to be going home.” I cried on the way home. I would stare at her and cry, thinking how perfect she was - how beautiful. Over the next several weeks, I cried all the time. I was overwhelmed with love, breastfeeding and hormones. It was a lot. I began to question how I felt and wonder what was wrong with me. This was not the picture of motherhood I had come to expect. I began to loath myself for feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t recognize myself. I trudged on in this way for 8 weeks. Of course, there were absolutely wonderful moments, even days, scattered through that time: Singing and reading to Mabel, giving her a bath, holding her and watching her sleep in my arms. Those moments were pure and perfect heaven. Over time, breastfeeding got easier, I got into a routine, and things settled down. I (almost) felt like myself again!
What I didn’t know, as I slowly emerged from what I eventually realized were the Baby Blues, was that the pendulum was about to swing back on me. I was always a worrier, that was not new. But this new level of worry was intrusive and devastating. It started when I began to take my baby on outings. On the drive, I would debate about the safest place to park; I would picture how I would get my stroller and bags out of the car first and then take out my baby. I would obsess about the order that this was done. My body and brain kicked into high gear every time I went out in a public space. Eventually, these thought pathways became ingrained and took hold. I felt weak. I could not control the devastating, racing thoughts. I began to repeat my concerns out loud, obsessing over my fears to my husband and sometimes to friends and family. Any trigger sent me spiraling into negative self-talk and anxiety. One day, during a conversation with my husband, it became obviously that anxiety had taken hold of me. I was determined to do something about it.
I enrolled in a program that helps mothers with postpartum depression and anxiety. When I started the program, I was in the anger stages of grief. I was devastated by the loss of my mental health; and I was grieving for the idealistic picture of motherhood that I thought awaited me at the end of pregnancy. I felt cheated by my own brain for filling with anxious and intrusive thoughts. I thought I was a weak person. Worse still, I was angry that it impacted people I cared about.
In the program I attended, I met other wonderful moms just like me. I learned techniques to retrain my brain and create new pathways that don’t lead to a panic attack. If you’re reading this, and you can relate, I’m telling you that you are not alone and that you are strong. Battling anxiety and depression every day does not make you weak, even on your worst days. It makes you a warrior.
I could have written this story without revealing any of my pain and struggle, because there were just that many amazing and wonderful moments along my journey to tell. Along with the lowest lows of my life, I have also seen the highest highs. My heart has never been so full of love. The truth is, that getting help has allowed me to come out of the chaos of anxiety and ultimately recognize my strength. It has allowed me to embrace postpartum anxiety as part of my unique motherhood journey.
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Irina Fortey is an Ottawa and Toronto Documentary Photographer.
Capturing your everyday in the most beautiful way, candidly and unscripted.