One of the neatest parts of this series is connecting (or in this case, re-connecting) with women about their real lives. I met Hayley in 2007 when I moved in with some of her dear friends towards the end of college. After that year, we graduated, started careers, got married, lived in different cities and hardly ever saw one another. Then, Hayley signed up for Gather, a business workshop Kaitie and I used to host in Atlanta. It was so sweet to catch up on life since college and her growing photography business. Hayley was also newly pregnant at Gather and shared some of her motherhood journey with me in light of my infertility struggles. I knew when I began brainstorming the right women for this series that Hayley would be perfect to share. Her warmth and gentle honesty is so refreshing and I’m honored to have her tell her story.
Tell us a little about yourself!
I am a part-time working mom and photographer. I specialize in newborn, maternity, and family photography and love the opportunity to capture families in this unforgettable chapter of life. My business feeds three passions of mine: the art of photography, personal and professional development, and connecting with other moms on a personal level. One part of my job that I find especially rewarding is capturing the newborn babies and moms residing at a local homeless shelter. Before I became a mother myself, I worked at Habitat for Humanity International, and still find what’s most fulfilling in life is giving back – whether that be pouring into our children all day every day, or using our unique talents and skills to do that through our work.
When did you first experience postpartum depression?
It wasn’t until my first daughter was six months old that I picked up the phone to ask for help. I had noticed some of the symptoms before, but nothing was loud and clear until I was about six months postpartum when I was having bizarre delusions about my daughter getting seriously hurt while I was either watching or accidentally causing it. When I noticed this on top of continued sleep issues and anxiety, I knew something was wrong.
Are/were you married? If so, for how long at the time?
Yes, we had just celebrated our fourth anniversary.
Can you describe how you felt in those first days and weeks?
When I first called the nurse at my OB’s office and described how I was feeling, she honestly made me feel silly. I just remember her asking, “why have you waited so long to call?” The depression was so gradual and sneaky (and the onset of severe symptoms was so late), that I really thought I was just a worried new parent. I came to realize later that postpartum depression is commonly diagnosed anytime within the first year of having a baby.
What/who was your “saving grace” in that dark season?
My faith played a big role, and my husband and family were incredibly supportive. I remember coming home one day to a book Kramer had bought for me about postpartum depression and healing. I also opened up to several friends, and they made me feel loved through it all.
Were you able to carry on with daily responsibilities?
Yes, for the most part I went through the motions although I probably didn’t realize how much my mom and husband were doing for me!
What was the season like physically for you?
Naturally, giving birth and nursing caused my body to be all out of whack. In addition to the raging hormones, my delivery was pretty rough and my daughter struggled to breath for a while after she was born. According to one of my nurses, my recovery would have been easier had I opted for a C-section. Then, because of my anxiety, I didn’t have much of an appetite which I believe hurt my milk supply. All of this – according to my therapist – could have contributed to my depression.
How did others react (whether they knew the details of the situation or not)?
I was met with overwhelming support and a couple of people I opened up to also had very similar struggles.
What was the most helpful or powerful encouragement you received?
I had actually heard a testimony from a friend of mine while I was pregnant about her PPD, and I carried that “I’m not the only one” encouragement with me. I also read This Isn’t What I Expected by Karen Kleiman and Valerie Ruskin and remember thinking, “that’s me!” on every page. This ah-ha moment, combined with my husband encouraging me to take the necessary steps to get better, was huge.
Any particular resources you found helpful during this storm?
I accepted the advice of my doctor to start medication and see a therapist. My therapist was the most pivotal part of my recovery. She helped me understand my personality and see what may be contributing to the depression. She also helped me carve a path forward that was a better lifestyle for me personally as a mother. I gave up the expectation to nurse for a certain amount of time (which is the hardest, least talked about part of motherhood, in my opinion) and started taking more time for myself. I started renting an office space to nurture my business a couple days a week and surround myself with other adults.
What is your health like today?
I certainly haven’t overcome all of the anxiety that comes with being a mother, but after the birth of my second daughter, I took a few steps to help prevent postpartum depression from recurring. I took preventative medication during pregnancy and had a childcare plan in place before my daughter arrived. I’ve placed less pressure on myself to do everything the “right way” as a mom and I’m now concentrating more on what’s going to make me the best version of myself for my husband and my girls. Now, my youngest is a year old and I feel like I’ve enjoyed the infant stage much more this time around.
Are there struggles you still carry from this season?
Absolutely. Motherhood is an incredible blessing but it’s also still really hard. I feel like anxiety is something I am always trying to keep in check.
What do you wish now, a bit down the road, that you had known?
I wish I had understood that the onset of postpartum depression can happen not only in the weeks immediately following childbirth, but anytime within the first year. It doesn’t always involve a lack of maternal-infant bonding or a mom wanting to hurt her child. I also wish I had given myself more grace to adapt my nursing goals to my personal situation. I didn’t fully understand the physical, hormonal and lifestyle demands of nursing.
What would you say to a woman in this same storm?
I’d tell her she’s not crazy. She’s still a great mom and with the right amount of help and prayer, will start feeling like herself again soon. If she’s reading your blog, she is already a well-intentioned mama. 🙂
Hayley, thank you so much for sharing your heart and encouraging other moms in what can easily be a dark, lonely place. Friends, if you’d like to encourage or celebrate Hayley, please do so in the comments! And, stay tuned for more stories on bravery in motherhood in the coming weeks.