In My Photography Project “Postpartum,” Women Reveal The Dark Side Of Becoming A Mother (25 Pics)
My name is Felicia and I'm a 27-year-old freelance photographer and a mother.
For the past 6 months, I have worked on a project called "Postpartum", which tells the stories of mothers who are going through or have healed from postpartum depression, beginning with my own experience.
I was told that the baby was fine. He’s fine, yet brain radiography is needed, to make sure he’s fine. When I went to see the baby, he was in the incubator. He was a tiny old man with rumpled skin, needles and threads embedded inside him. I was again told that the baby was fine. But his image would contradict this “fine” repeated obsessively. Fine was the sanguine babies, like little bread, from the window with fine babies. Mine wasn’t. A baby doesn’t stay in the incubator because he feels fine. A newborn doesn’t wear a butterfly needle because he’s fine.
My job during the months after giving birth was to produce milk and thoughts. White milk. Black thoughts. I felt guilt, worry and helplessness. The baby was so tiny because of me, I had done something wrong and I didn’t even know how to make it better. I didn’t even know how to breastfeed him.
And then there was the shame. The shame that the others might see me the way I am. An incapable mother. A wrong mother. A mother who’s afraid to bathe the baby, a mother who cannot make him grow as fast as he should be. A waste mother. The shame that I had given birth to a baby who’s almost fine. Fine in his own way. And the fear, that he won’t grow, that he won’t be alright. The fear that all mothers have and that not even now do I know how we survive with.
I’m writing these words because I cannot live anymore haunted by the lame mother I thought I was during my baby’s first months of life. I want to release myself. Neither I nor my son afford the fact that I’m a mother paralyzed with fear. A mother who is overwhelmed with depression, guilt and shame. And we don’t deserve this. In the last months, I’ve learned to have compassion towards myself from back then. Now I can understand and forgive myself for everything I thought I did wrong.
I am a visual artist from Bucharest, Romania. In 2016 I graduated from the Bucharest National University of Arts, Photography and Video department, and in 2018 I successfully completed a MA degree in Ethnology, Cultural Anthropology and Folklore at the University of Bucharest.
My artistic roots can be found during my childhood and adolescence when I engaged with painting, music and writing. At the age of 13 I came across the works of Magnum photographers, which later became a representative moment in my evolution as a visual artist.
Two months after I gave birth to Aurora, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression with psychotic elements. For two years, I saw eight psychiatrists, I was hospitalized three times, I tried nine psychiatric treatments and I traveled to Oxford and Madrid to put my hopes in an experimental treatment for depression. My name is Felicia and my daughter called me “mommy” for the first time when she was 2 years and 2 months old.
The postpartum depression was the one to smash me to the ground and test all my limits, the one that made me want to call 911 many times, to question my own judgment, to doubt all my thoughts, to wish to be something else, or someone else, anyone else – the florist from the neighborhood, the beggar at the corner of the street, that lady with the shopping bags under her arms, absolutely anyone – or to not exist at all.
I wanted to be that mommy. Mommy with a capital “M”. Mommy who knows everything, can do anything, suffers everything. Mommy who forgets about herself, mommy-without-a-self. Mommy from the commercials, mommy from tales, Instagram mommy.
And life came and made me feel so small.
There were many times when I thought that, if I didn’t focus enough and didn’t keep myself steady enough, I would lose contact with reality. I would count green objects, touch walls with the hollow of my hand, read Mary Poppins aloud, dance Călușul with all my being, anything in order to remain in the concrete.
Two years and two months away from the break of my depression, we are here. I’m a mommy with a small “m”, and that makes me happy. Aurora has grown up; her vocabulary expands day by day, and her curls are thickening as far as the eye can see. Now I can look at my own story with detachment as if someone else lived through it, not me – perhaps the florist from the neighborhood, the beggar at the corner of the street, or that lady with the shopping bags under her arms.
I am Cristina. A year and a half ago I came back from maternity with Ioana, my daughter. A year and a half ago I began to see a shadow of what my husband used to be and a shadow of what I was. I was a mountain of anger and he was a mountain of sadness, mountains that had between them a valley full of joy, full of Ioana. The joy that we wished to feel, we wished to live, but we couldn’t. I was more and more furious and more and more violent, my husband was more and more distant and more and more woeful. I was breaking pictures on the walls, he would bury himself in silence.
We went on like this for 6 months, until we decided we had to change something. We went to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with Adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression symptoms, him, with Depression. We both began therapy, him with medical treatment, while I refused it, as I wanted so badly to keep breastfeeding.
And I did. And all this time he started to feel better, while I was feeling worse. So bad that one day he had to leave his job to come to pick me up from the kitchen floor. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t take care of Ioana. Then I decided to stop breastfeeding and begin treatment. From the very first week, everything was much better.
During all this time my husband was a straightjacket to me, while I was his comedian and Ioana was our motivation. We were for each other. We were alone, just the three of us. Some didn’t understand, some didn’t accept, some vanished, some gave up, some judged us. We stayed, we remained for each other, and now, in the less fine days, we know what we have to do.
As a photographer, I tend to pursue a fine art approach to each genre I focus on at a specific time. I situate my work somewhere near the thin line between reality and fiction, easily floating from one side to another. In the last couple of years, I have withdrawn inspiration from cultural anthropology, exploring themes such as family, identity, dynamics of tradition or body.
I remember. I still remember everything. The cold, sad hospital. The shock. The scattered figures around me, the screams, the cries.
How did I get there? It’s a prison. It’s a nightmare. You’ve abandoned me here. I feel like I am going crazy for real. A claustrophobic feeling overwhelms me. Through the window, I can only see the hospital courtyard. It’s cold, I’m shaking under a blanket and I’m crying, desperately crying and I cannot stop. I’m exhausted, I would like to fall asleep, to forget, but it’s noisy and there’s a lot of light.
From time to time, a nurse comes in and sits with me: “stop crying, enough”. My roommates, whom I haven’t even noticed until then, gently approach me and whisper to stop, because it will get worse.
But I can’t. I can’t stop thinking about my little girl. I don’t know what time it is. I wonder when the doctor will appear. I get up with great effort and I wash my face at the sink in our ward. But the tears keep falling. I look at myself in the mirror. It isn’t me. I clearly look like a crazy person. My eyes are so swollen that they’re almost glued.
I can no longer be in the same room with my baby. I can barely look at him. I feel I have nothing to give. I feel shame and guilt and I don’t know why I’m alive anymore. And now, more than ever, I need my mom. I want her to hold me, to witness my suffering, to soothe my pain. But mom herself is no longer able to give. I regress to being a child. I cling to D., himself tired and scared.
Days go by, soaked in fear. D. is now a mother and father to me and our baby. He sleeps with the baby, he feeds him, he sits next to me, calm and understanding, while I cry as I’ve never cried before.
I gave birth to a little girl named Aurora two years and a half ago, and since then both myself and my life have changed completely. I experienced severe postpartum depression for 2 years and came back to life from it half a year ago.
Ever since I was struggling with depression I thought about doing a project about it. But I didn't have the courage to do so back then, I lacked the healing experience. When I began to heal, I also began to gain strength to start the photographic series. It came naturally to me to do this project. It was part of my own becoming. I knew I was ready to share my story when I was sure I was feeling much better. There was no better time to do this.
Within just a few months after giving birth, I lost my voice, I couldn’t focus on daily activities and I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I was spending my whole day breastfeeding; this new role was so uncanny to me! From a researcher career, concentrated on discovering new things about the world every day, to sitting in one place for hours, and holding a baby at my chest for her to keep sucking. My husband got involved as much as he could, but I was, literally, in my own movie…
I felt terrorized by the thought that if my attention wasn’t fully orientated towards my baby girl, she would die! This thought wasn’t by chance; my maternal grandmother lost a baby because of the sudden death syndrome. In the mirror I would notice how I was losing my color, my hair was falling and I always looked sad, with dark circles around my tired eyes. I realized that, by giving birth to this amazing little girl, I had put my whole energy, my whole spirit and what I had best… and now I felt empty, I felt that I hadn’t kept anything for myself.
I am a mother and I haven’t slept in four months. For more than twenty out of twenty-four hours I live in a bed. I fasten the “U”-shaped pillow while under the arm where I hold the baby I place one of the small pillows with multicolored diamonds. During the day, she sleeps in short, frequent rounds. I can go to the bathroom when I need to. As for eating, I eat in bed. Sometimes I read. I watch movies. Soundless. I miss the voices and the music. She cries scarcely. And only if I take the breast out of her mouth. Sometimes she bites me with her gums, she nibbles my nipples, she scratches me until I bleed. Fine, thin lines. It hurts. And I wish it would hurt a thousand times more, if that meant for her to allow me to rest at least for a few hours, lying in the whole bed, on my belly. To sleep for real, without my back, my hands, my stomach, my breasts, my neck hurting me. Without moving, without coughing, without dreaming, without feeling warm or cold.
It smells like freshly cut grass. It’s chilly, the balcony door is open and yet I am sweating under the seven kilograms gently snorting upon me. I’m sitting up, perched on the breastfeeding pillow, with my knees bent, so I can have a counterpoint, and my feet are terribly stinging. I’m convinced that I will petrify in this position, I’m already a rock, I’m something that’s not alive, but is breathing because it doesn’t have the courage to stop. I slowly glide downwards. She doesn’t like me moving. She loses the breast and starts to fuss. She searches for it with her mouth and her hands. I can’t see her. It’s so dark inside the room that I have to feel her in order to find her face. She becomes quiet as soon as she receives milk again. Her father is sleeping next to me. I would wake him up to ask him what it’s like to be able to do this. I would ask him to stay with me. To not be alone. From time to time I close my eyes. I cuddle her closer to me. I’m sleepy. I look at the phone. It’s 3 AM. I’m thirsty. A few hours left. I know no one is watching me, but I’m practicing a smile, thinking that if I insist on it, I will obtain something more than a grimace, a crumpled face which scares me, and maybe that’s why I forgot the way I look because I don’t have the guts to look at myself in the mirror. My hand has gone numb and I feel how needles are strolling upwards and downwards. I would go to the loo. I try to stop thinking about it. I squeeze my feet as softly as I can, in order not to move her. I miss dreaming because that would mean for me to sleep. It’s not long before I will drink a coffee with milk, I will go to the bathroom, maybe I will take a shower, I will get back to bed and I will miss my mother. I will miss her yelling at me to go to my room and go to bed and I would cry, I don’t want to, I want to play, I’m not tired. She wouldn’t care, she would yell louder and tell me to sit there with my eyes closed until I fall asleep. It’s light outside I would tell her, but it wouldn’t matter because I had to sleep when the adults wanted me to. I’m thirsty, the other breast has swollen and I feel how milk is pouring out of it.
One of the most difficult parts of this project was to first tell my own story, to make it public, to let it go. Another challenging part was finding mothers who wouldn't be afraid to share their own experiences. But it all became easier at one point when people began to share the project and mothers started to write to me more and more often. I felt overwhelmed with love and support and I hope that this can be seen within the project as well.
I got a lot of responses from other mothers who wrote to me after I shared my own experience - some of them wishing to be part of the project, others just to send a good thought or share their own story. Their tremendous support encouraged me to go on with the series and I forever feel grateful to them.
Andreea Elena Craiu
My name is Andreea and I’ve got an amazing little girl. I thought about myself that I was an optimistic person and that I could never “befriend” depression. Actually, no one wanted to believe that I was suffering from depression, always telling me “you cannot be in depression, Andreea, as you’ve got everything you want. You’re very well, you have a beautiful family and a wonderful child”.
3 months after I gave birth, because of the lack of support, I woke up in another life. One where I didn’t even want to live anymore, one that exhausted me and made me feel unloved, helpless and unimportant. There were weeks when I wouldn’t even change my clothes or pajamas when I wasn’t able to socialize with anyone.
Depression was the most ruthless, the toughest and the most painful experience in my life, which taught me that no one is there for me when it gets hard. I went to various therapists by myself, I underwent various medical analyses and I was stunned that nobody would say anything about depression.
Only now, after 2 years of searching, trials, going to therapy, swallowing hormones, I have reached haven, or at least I am close to it. I currently go to a therapist, a soulful human being so open-minded, who helps me be that mother that I dreamed to be and wish to be for my little girl – an alive, conscious, loving and caring mom for the most wonderful tiny child.
Even now I can feel the fear I had when we brought Vladimir home. The first night was the toughest. And that’s when all the fears and changes in the world began inside me, things I didn’t know existed and that I could feel.
Somehow, all my senses and all my dreads amplified. Afterward came the worries, the pressures from the ones around me. And it hurt to feel that everyone was judging me because I didn’t want to get out at all, that I didn’t want anyone to see my baby because he was only mine and his father’s.
I cried for a whole lifetime. He would fall asleep, I would cry. I was constantly glued to him, I couldn’t leave far. And I didn’t know what to do, how to distract him, how to soothe him, how to play, how to take care of myself too, how to cook, how to clean the house. I didn’t know anything.
There were times when I thought I was going crazy, moments when I would yell inside myself so that no one could hear me when I would run to the bathroom only to cry when I was so angry that I could destroy anything. And there were other moments when I wanted to leave home when I would physically hurt and punish myself for not being a good mother.
Time passed by. It’s two years since I became a mother. I feel better now, I have accepted myself somehow. But I know I wouldn’t be better today hadn’t I had my husband next to me, the strongest and most understanding man. I’m healing.
The general response I got from people who saw this project was a great one and a truly supportive one. I think people felt empathy and love towards the mothers and their children. They were definitely impressed by their stories, and even in awe.
I plan to transform the project into a book, "POSTPARTUM", with text and images. Despite this, I'm planning a trip to Iceland, where I will create a photographic project and performance together with my husband.
I knew it would be difficult to be a mother, but I couldn’t imagine it would be so challenging on all levels. Everybody wants to know how’s the baby, so you stop thinking about yourself. However, after a few months, the idea that I don’t know who I am anymore, that I don’t know what I’m doing in my own life, that I don’t belong to myself anymore, hit me. Together with the persistent, obsessive thought that I’m doing everything wrong. That I’m not enough. That I didn’t do enough. That I definitely ruined the baby’s life forever. The tiredness, the frustration and the anxiety created a monster who would come out of me more and more often.
I didn’t know there can be so many extreme states that I could endure. I clang desperately to everything that would make me feel better: long strolls with her in the pouch, on the fields, in the woods, on the beach, in parks. Watching the sea from the cliffs and breathing exercises. A few podcasts and something nice to eat. A walk to Mega Image on my own. A few minutes escape with the bicycle. And, finally, when I was able to do it, therapy.
All of a sudden there are two strangers in my house. One is tiny, cries, sleeps, cries. The second one looks at me in the mirror. Who am I more afraid of? How can I sense regret over something I wished for? “Congratulations! Are you pregnant again?” – a neighbor asked me while I was struggling with Eva, the stroller in the elevator and the anxiety of going out. Eva was two-months-old. “No, I just gave birth.” I just gave birth – the feeling that stuck with me for over six months. Actually, I couldn’t say that “I gave birth”. The emergency C-section changed that into “when she came”. Other women give birth, my baby was pulled out of me. 18 hours of labor and I had no merit. And many months I didn’t. “I’m only a mother now. That’s all.” How useless I felt to myself. I was anxious about going out, anxious about staying inside, anxious that she would wake up again and I would cry in pain again while breastfeeding her. Anxious that not even today did I begin to love her. It took a pandemic to get to know both strangers.
Guilt that I’m not the mother that A. needs, that I didn’t feel a wave of love when I first held him in my arms, an emotion that so many mothers had told me about. That I didn’t fight to be allowed to put him on my skin in the hospital. That I didn’t feel any overwhelming joy when I was with him, nor pain for his sufferings. That I felt nothing. Guilt that I was empty inside. Guilt that I was not “normal” like the other moms.
Do you know what it’s like to desperately cling to any good thing that’s happening in your life, in order to remain mentally stable?
To feel like you’re losing ground and all you can wish for is for her to stop crying relentlessly, every single evening, for months, for her to sleep, so you can sleep, as well?
And afterward to feel how the panic attacks, caused by your father’s death, outrival the ones caused by the acute lack of sleep, in terms of pain and intensity, and by your mind, who craves for a tad of silence? A silence which is most often attained only at the end of the day, in the shower, with the door shut and praying to God that, when you leave the bathroom, she would stop crying.
And all the heaviness was amplified by the frustration that I’m only a mother and not the woman whom I’ve always put pressure on myself to be.
Three years later and I’m still a work in progress within this rollercoaster of feelings, emotions, frustrations and successes.
One of the first mornings with her, while I was changing her overall and she was quieter than ever, I had the certainty that I had done a wrong move and hurt her neck. My insecurity had reached that far.
For the next two years, Silvana didn’t exist. Silvana had become Ileana’s mother, she didn’t know what it was like to feel something else besides maternity, she felt constantly insecure and guilty, as most of the time, my intuition seemed to be nonexistent. When Ileana was crying, my mind would get stuck and I couldn’t distinguish the cause, thus the solutions were nowhere to be found.
To feel unable in front of your own child hits with such great strength, that you don’t even realize you’re underfoot. Today I often wonder what was Ileana like, what was she doing, what did she enjoy and how our days looked like. Why did I miss two years? Who stole them away from me and how will I ever have them back? It is true that, within all this abyss, within all this dark, without even seeing, parts of me began to flourish.
Once I was little. Once I was a shadow. Once I thought that nothing of what I was would ever come to the surface. Now I know that all this experience was actually a road to who I truly am. And most of the time, I am glad about it.
Yet a part of me still asks herself: will I ever have back the first two years with my daughter?
My daughter, Aurora, who now is 3 years and 5 months, began her embryonic life wholly wished for, but until her birth, I already regretted having her. It’s probable that my depression had started before birth. After eight months of pregnancy with terrible insomnia and risk of premature birth (the reason for which I stood still, in a horizontal position, in the last three months), after fury outbreaks – which I will always ask myself if they have influenced or will have an influence in her life, as they say – I had already had enough of it. I was telling myself tough words, that only I would hear. I wanted to break loose, to finish, at last, I wanted to give birth, so I could go back to my life. Such horrible, regrettable thoughts forever remain inside the memory of a mother. Was she hearing them? Did she feel how I couldn’t accept her?
Acceptance was the toughest part of the therapy. Ten months after I gave birth I understood it was time to talk to someone, when I realized I couldn’t bear with the fact that my little girl wouldn’t fall asleep when I wanted her to. The rage would always come up, pointed towards her. The second therapist I saw was scared for my daughter’s life. He would call me day and night to see how we were doing. It’s then that I became aware of how severe our situation was. I confessed to my husband that I needed a psychiatrist. We both did our best to accept the fact that I was going to take antidepressives and sleeping pills (along with the fear of addiction, as the treatment lasted for six months with weekly supervision), that I would sleep in another room to be able to recover, that something was going on with me.
But I did it. I accepted her relentless crying, I accepted her kicks, her insults, her rejections, her screams. And it’s only afterward when love appeared inside our relationship. At 3 years and 5 months, Aurora runs towards me, opens the door and shouts: “I forgot to tell you something, mommy. I love you!”. And everything becomes easier. Now I accept myself the way I am and can be, as the best mother my child could have.
I used to believe that a mother’s love can overcome anything. That’s what I had read, what I had heard. On September 7th, 2020 I gave birth to Lucas. Even now it’s difficult for me to express through words how many different emotions I felt, at once, when I saw him. We were alone for the first three days. A month before, my Mom had lost the fight with cancer. For almost one year we had struggled to keep our business alive, in a time when almost all the projects stopped and everything was about the pandemic. I worked the day I gave birth and many days after, by fits and starts. But it didn’t matter, I thought I would be strong enough for both of us.
However, one month later, I felt how everything started to spin at a speed that would make me barely stay on the ground. After hundreds of awakenings each hour at night, the struggle with breastfeeding, nightmares, insomnia, panic attacks, sometimes unbearable physical pain, lots of crying inside my soul, efforts to be the perfect mother and hours of hit or miss work almost every day. I began not to be that strong anymore. My mind choked, it turned mad.
Three months later I felt alone, even though I wasn’t. Sad, powerless, ugly, wrong, more and more often. It seemed as though my life was surpassing me, miles away, and not even all the books I had read or the love around me could help me pick myself up again. I literally crawled for 5-6 months: between joy and hopelessness, between beautiful moments and depression, between hyperactivity and lethargy, between the baby and the mourning, between good days and hard days. Between tenths of analysis, doctor visits and therapy. Between gratitude that I understood what was going on with me and the rage that I didn’t understand why.
Lucas is now one-year-old and he’s a curious, brave and happy little boy. He’s light, from many points of view. Because he keeps me present because each day with him is full of novelty. And I’m a lot better. I can’t tell exactly when I’ve felt better, I’ve discovered that the comeback sometimes happens with small, intangible steps.
As one can see today, in my case, there’s nothing epic on the road to equilibrium: it’s a slow journey through the darkness, in which, with patience, will and help, you begin to see the light again. A marathon in which it’s vital to learn to love yourself again, to accept yourself and give yourself time, above all, in order to be truly well near the dear ones. What’s wonderful is that this new light seems to be clearer, more alive and more meaningful: what I do, what I am, how I love today and how I cherish each moment with Lucas is conscious and very assumed, this being the good side of the fight with my own mind. A fight where it seems that I was strong enough, after all.
I’m the mother of a gorgeous little girl, Lara-Amelie, who will be 2-years-old at the end of October. She is the happiest child, despite the angst that I experienced for a long time.
For a year and a half I didn’t live, I only survived because of postpartum depression. I was the prisoner of my own life.
My motherhood journey didn’t mean for me anything beautiful, but fears, lots of anxiety and pressure. I changed many psychologists and psychiatrists, while the diagnosis always remained the same: Generalized Anxiety with Somatic Disorder. I only took anxiolytics and fought with my inner struggles as much as I could. I felt physically ill, almost daily.
Now, after some time, patience and psychotherapy, I managed to get over this episode, which stole the joy of motherhood.
Only now can I see, hear and feel my child! Like it should have been ever since the beginning!
I danced with the Postpartum Depression twice, the first time, with Vladimir, I didn’t even realize how it come, but after prematurely giving birth, after sighing with relief for holding him in my arms, I began to think for how long this well-being would last, and I was permanently living a panic where I was afraid to even enjoy my son. I was scared that any moment something could happen and we would be separated again, that someone would take him away from me. I was fearful that I wasn’t doing things well enough, I was fearful of everything and felt guilty that I wasn’t good enough, and all the urgings with the advice to leave him with someone else instead of me didn’t do anything but sink me even further. It seemed sad to me that no one would understand how harsh the separation we experienced in the first days after his birth was and, somehow, it felt as if I were wrong.
The long walks helped me. We would go out for short trips every day, I would even walk for 15 km with him in the stroller. When I felt overwhelmed, I would dress up and go outside. When Vladimir was one year and a half, I found out that I was pregnant again. I wasn’t expecting it, although, in my subconscious I wanted another child, this news put me into a series of questions and fears which slowly disappeared until his birth. The pregnancy was the same as with Vladimir, it had the same term as his, the 6th of November, yet both of them came earlier, Vladimir on the 6th of September, and Carol on the 14th of October.
When I gave birth the second time, I was completely under anesthesia. I didn’t even see my baby when they took him out of me. It was during the pandemic and although I tried to stay strong, the thoughts overwhelmed me, as well as missing my elder child, and the guilt that I came to the hospital to give birth to his brother, the fear that I wouldn’t love them enough. After I got home, I cried each day for a month. I was scared of everything, it felt like I wasn’t enough like I couldn’t go anywhere, nor do anything. We live on the 9th floor, I would look outside the window and had the feeling that I could quickly fix the situation I was in, yet the thought that no one would be patient enough with my children, more than I did, would wake me up to reality, and I wouldn’t go on the balcony, as I was afraid I would have a moment of unconsciousness and do something irrecoverable.
Now, after having my second child I felt stronger that something was going on with me, and I asked for help. I would talk daily to my friends who also had two children and would validate my experiences, I began talking to a therapist and reading a lot. Lots of books about women who lived during difficult times and prevailed, and that’s how I ended up being grateful for my life and for the wonderful boys I have.
Postnatal Depression is not a joke, it can bring you to desperation and take you to states which are difficult to overcome. It’s really important to have people who understand this near you, and who validate your feelings and reassure you that it will pass because it goes away, we just need to allow this and give ourselves time. And then comes the moment when you truly enjoy what you are, a good mother who does her best to create a better world.
Petra Ioana Știrb-Trifon
You’ve just finished sucking milk from my left breast. You’re slowly closing your eyes and falling asleep, breathing my smell. Instead of comfortably placing my head on the pillow, the evening struggle begins inside my mind.
On the battlefield show up all the things I should have done – today, yesterday, a week ago, in those almost five months since I gave birth to you – and which I didn’t find not even a crumble of power for. In the trenches, the frustration that I don’t spend enough time with you – actively playing or telling stories, massaging or hugging you – meets the regrets of all those things I’ve done profoundly wrong – your first hospitalization, the multiple checks I took you to because of my anxiety as a mother and resident physician, all those times when my motherly instinct didn’t work and I looked at you, powerless, not knowing why you didn’t eat, why you cried, how to calm you down.
I gave up on my dream of becoming a pediatrician in Switzerland, as my training, consisting of a minimum of 12 hours of work at the hospital, would have kept me away from you. Why is it that now I cannot be fully reconciled with my choice? Why can’t I be the calm, patient mother, whose chest you’d find comfort at, the mother I prayed to be? Why can’t I even pray? You’re smiling in your sleep. Your smile, the light from your blue eyes, like the starry sky, the tinkle of your laugh, the joy that fills your face when you look at me, the soft touch of your tiny fingers – I cling on these with all my strength and I breathe; one more day has passed in which you’ve taught me how to love you.
In my case, the postpartum depression was a late one – it appeared 16 months after I gave birth and came along with an army of anxiety disorder and a severe existential crisis.
I didn’t know anything about this, the symptoms appeared all of a sudden one night when I felt that reality was shaking, that I was losing ground and nothing I knew of was there anymore. All the defense mechanisms I had lived with so far couldn’t resist what followed. I wasn’t allowed to take any medication, as I was breastfeeding and I couldn’t accept the fact that I had to wean in order to try a medical treatment or anything that would make the situation better. Until today I don’t know how I was able to go through without it.
I hardly began gentle weaning, which lasted for about three months. I was waiting for the night to come so I could slide into unconsciousness, the most comfortable time of all the dark period.
I couldn’t believe that the things that flooded my existence with happiness – especially the time spent with my baby – would stop somewhere outside my being as if I wore an invisible shield. I felt that I couldn’t live long in those conditions, with those unanswerable questions. For some time, I was even afraid to look at the sky. I could barely lift my eyes in front of the mirror, as the self-detachment couldn’t be noticed there.
I imperiously began the psychotherapy sessions, a process in which I reacquired, after almost one year, more and more mental energy to apply the things I was told. It’s there where I realized that, in the first year of raising my little girl, I didn’t allow myself to live for my own self, as I believed not a single piece of me was worth my continuous attention and the time that I wanted to offer to my child, and also how the separation anxiety made me feel guilty even when her father would take her for an hour-long shopping walk.
Out of desperation, in order to calm vertigo and the sensation of a claw strangling me, I would do tenths of breathing exercises every day, I would analyze the surfaces, the colors and the textures of objects, the sounds around me, I would try to make a forced collage of sensations to keep me as present as I could be. I began reading self-help books, most of them written by therapists who had gone through similar situations, many of which were a tremendous support. I tried hard to socialize and go out as much as possible, to ask my family for help, despite all the heaviness and guilt that I was feeling.
But the thing that finally brought me order, peace and meaning, was the encounter with myself, which was only possible through drawing and painting, basically through the return to what I know to do best.
Guilt that I am not breastfeeding him exclusively, that I’m not the “warrior” mom from Facebook, that I’m not like the influencers and I cannot share a photo with me, my flat abs and my one-month-old baby at 8 a.m. And most of all, the overwhelming sensation that it’s necessary, that I have to go back to my rhythm, my work, my roles as soon as the baby left the hospital. Especially in my job as an actress, having a baby = to limit oneself, to put the creative and professional drive on hold.
I believe everything began once I gave birth. It was really difficult and I was alone there, surrounded by strangers with a cold soul.
But since I first held her in my arms, I forgot myself. For a few weeks, after I arrived home, I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I would stay and watch her, afraid to fall asleep in case something would happen to her during that time. All sorts of thoughts, anxieties, the fear that I wasn’t a good enough mother, would swarm my mind. I simply couldn’t find my peace and place. The anxiety was there almost all the time when we were visited by someone, when I fed her, when I was alone with her at home, but most of all, when the night came. I felt exhausted, both physically and mentally.
I would wake up and become sad, and the days were most of the time a fight between the rational and the emotions of postpartum depression. I didn’t understand what I was feeling and I was frustrated that I couldn’t fully enjoy the beginnings of our life as three. Happily, I’ve got a lovely husband who was my greatest support, while my family and friends were near me in a way they could be during the quarantine from the beginning of the pandemic. I spilled my feelings to anyone who wanted to listen to me and, step by step, I came to be able to truly smile.
The two hours that I spent daily inside the oxygen capsule helped me tremendously. I read a lot, I talked a lot to myself, I meditated, I made a plan of recovery and action.
I still have moments when I believe I’m not good enough when I get angry with myself when he cries and I don’t know what to do.
I work with myself each day. I’ve created mechanisms that help me calm down during hard times. I sing a lot. I dance. I clap my hands. I consciously touch myself. I wash myself with cold water. Every evening, I write what I did during the day. And I take a lot of photos. When he sleeps, I look at the pictures, I relive the moments, I reflect and meditate upon what I still have to work on. Then I breathe and live.
I’m starting to get back my sense of smell and notion of time.
Real-life is stranger than fiction because, unlike feature films, here, the unforeseeable strikes you. I hadn’t seen any scenario where I would play the role of a woman who, at 33-years-old, cuddles at her mother’s chest in fear. But that’s what I did! Postpartum depression is an ample, hormonal process that, in some cases, can lead to complete derailment.
For me, it meant the beginning of a period of insomnia, anxieties, panic attacks and hallucinations! I wouldn’t dare to talk not even to the ones close to me that I was NOT ok, it seemed as if I was spoiled. Shame. That’s what I felt.
I wasn’t myself anymore, and that graveled me terribly for a while. Those days, like two naughty ghosts, two thoughts would haunt me: either that I would go crazy, or that I would die…
The worst was when, all of the sudden, I felt tingles from head to toe, as if the cells were preparing to escape from a body that was already recovering after the C-section. With outer help, later, I understood that the reactions were considered to be normal when the anxiety and the panic attacks “embrace” you.
Within all the chaos, I adored my baby and not even for a second did I turn the storm I had inside towards him. What was his fault, a baby human with tiny hands, lifted towards me?
But who was I and what was I learning those days? The best decision of my life was to get help from a psychologist. Two weeks after giving birth I began therapy.
I can’t tell if it was early or late, but it was my release!