I didn’t hear it at first. Then, just a subtle tap. Tap. Tap. It was probably nothing. I promised myself, it was nothing.
But then the tap grew to a knock. KNOCK. KNOCK. Then, quicker than I could have imagined, the knock became a bang. BANG. BANG. It became pounding, deafening, all-consuming.
I heard it, now, so incredibly loudly. Then, silence. The type of silence that is louder than noise. The type of silence that means something is wrong, fundamentally wrong – a balance has been disrupted. The type of silence that sounds all of the alarms.
That is postpartum anxiety.
Postpartum is much more than a phase or a segment of time. It is much more than mom jitters or feeling down. It is something that pounds on the door until it splinters into pieces. It teaches you to wear a fake smile and then smothers you with it. It whispers your biggest fears while you try to sleep and laughs when you believe it. It is a lifestyle shift, a world tilt, an imbalance, a force.
At one point in my life, the word ‘postpartum’ was meaningless – like the words lettuce or wallpaper. But now, that word is part of who I am. It has become part of me, relentlessly etched into my being, painful moment by painful moment. It became the unwanted visitor who forced its company on me, despite my pleas. And it is the visitor that still comes back unannounced, perpetually keeping me irrationally vigilant when it comes to you.
And I have found, over time, that I am not original or special – postpartum visits many others. It pounds and breaks countless doors. It isn’t consistent. It isn’t expected. It may look different on my doorstep than on someone else’s, but it is still a chameleon who only changes into dark colors. When it whispers doubt, the words may be different from mother to mother, but the message is the same. It is fear. It is pain. It is heartache.
But just when that noise was at its loudest and I felt most alone, you would smile at me.
And eventually, that pounding, deafening noise quieted, slightly at first, then more as the months went on. And it was because of you.
You were with me when that silence fell around us, like a hush in fog. Your smell gave me air when I was gasping to breathe. Your touch warmed me when I shook beyond control. Your smile gave me hope in moments I experienced the purest fear. When I rocked you, I comforted myself. When I held you, I held my heart. In the truest of meanings, your life gave mine purpose.
When I had you, I split myself in two, and in feeling your warmth and smelling your smell, I became whole for a few special moments. So, when I come up to you, and I put my nose to the crown of your head, let me do it. It is a reminder of my safe place, my home. It is my answer to the loudest noise or the quietest silence. You are the force stronger than postpartum.
Thank you for every woman who expressed interest in this project. And for the women pictured, thank you for giving postpartum a face, showing what love, strength, and motherhood can look like.
Thank you to Papago Golf Club for providing a place for us to gather and create images to accompany piece.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with a postpartum mood disorder, please reach out. Local resources can be found at http://www.postpartum.net or http://postpartumhealthyalliance.org – just to name a few.
Photography: NVS Photography