Before and after photos are used to show change, good or bad. They are used to show improvements... sometimes regression. They are used to motivate, encourage, suggest. You either love them or you hate them. I'm on the fence.
This afternoon I had the chance while I was child free (thanks Grandma) to look through some old photos. Some of them brought back happy memories... some of them made me cringe. Then one popped up that made me stop... and stare... and wonder. I looked at it for what seemed like ages. I was remembering with painful clarity how I felt the day it was taken, in the depths of my second round of postnatal depression. Tears came to my eyes as I looked at my face with its empty expression.
Eventually however, I started to shift my thinking. I started seeing someone different to the sad and distant mum sitting on the sofa. I started seeing a survivor.
I am able to look at this photo from two very different perspectives. I can describe it from the eyes of a mother battling with mental health issues. I can also describe it from the eyes of a mother who has recovered from PND.
Here's my personal description of the photo... BEFORE and AFTER recovery from postnatal depression.
I was starting to hate the idea of getting dressed. It took up too much energy. So I'm in my pyjamas, again... still. They're probably old and stretched, possibly covered in baby spew and breastmilk. I give absolutely no thought to how I look, all I need my clothes to do is cover me up so I'm not exposing myself. They are purely used as a way of conforming to social ettiquet, nothing more. Can I feed the kid in them? Yes. Fine, they can stay on another day, whatever.
On the night I brought him home from the hospital, he bit me while feeding so hard, my nipple bled into the nipple shield. Yes, I was using those horrid, ghastly things again. After my first baby, and months of nipple shields, I was determined to not need them this time. Yet here I was, only 6 weeks into his life and I'm having to use them EVERY SINGLE TIME. I absolutely hate them... Why can't he just feed normally like every other kid?
My 2 year old daughter refused to let me feed her brother without climbing on top of me, constantly competing for my attention and affection. It drives me crazy. The only way I was able to feed him this time was to have her curled up uncomfortably between my legs with my spare hand resting on her hip. If only she knew how awkward it was holding the baby with one arm while I was feeding him. My goodness, she's so selfish. Can't she see I'm busy? Can't she find something else to do?
There's a good chance the tv is on but I'm not interested. I stare into space, lost in a world of sleep deprivation and hormones. Someone could be talking to me... I wouldn't know. I'm not even in the room. I'm a machine, a robot. I have no emotion. I just feed the kid and satisfy the toddler. The world could very well be buzzing around me but I don't notice it. I am not there.
There is nothing about this that is enjoyable. I'm miserable. I want my old life back.
I thought about my brand new baby first when I got dressed. I didn't think "Will I be comfortable in this?" or "Will I look good in this?" but rather "Will my baby be able to access my truly incredible breasts so he can receive the liquid gold that is my lovingly created breastmilk?" When I realised I would be able to do the only thing that mattered to me in the clothes I got into, I was satisfied that I had chosen wisely. I didn't care how I looked or how I felt... all I cared about was feeding my baby.
Breastfeeding has been a hard journey with a few road bumps, yet here I am... here WE are, still going at 6 weeks! The little fella isn't so little anymore. He's getting chubby arms and thighs and it's all because I kept using the nipple shields instead of giving up completely! I am so proud of myself! My right arm is wrapped around him tightly, assuring him that right now he is loved and safe. He rests his tiny hand on my chest and can no doubt feel my heart beating. He can smell my smell and feel my skin - he is comforted and protected.
My big girl still loves me after being unintentionally pushed aside for the last 6 weeks enough to want to sit on my lap as I rest. She too feels loved and protected as she curls her legs up in between mine and rests her head on my leg. My left hand resting on her hip reminds her that although her brother is taking up a lot of my time, she is still my favourite girl in the whole world. She knows I love her... even though I am often distracted by the baby.
I'm not distracted by the hustle, bustle and business of the world but rather I am sitting quietly, alone with my thoughts. I'm savouring this magical moment and realising how blessed I am to have our two little miracles in my arms. I'm not running around furiously picking up dirty laundry. I'm not frantically emptying the dishwasher. I'm not cooking dinner or vacuuming the floor. I'm taking the time to sit... enjoy... thank.
So much about this is enjoyable. I am happy. I wouldn't change a thing.
Sadly the first description is a more accurate recount of what life was like when that photo was taken however now I am finally on the other side of my PND I can look back on it with a fresh perspective. I am so grateful to everyone who has helped me get to the point of being able to do that.
My world back then was very grey... now it's full of promise, hope and bright colours.