The symptoms of postpartum anxiety are often overlooked by women after the birth of a baby, but they can be debilitating. Although it’s more familiar for us to talk about postpartum depression, one study found that postpartum anxiety is even more common.
Fortunately, more women are opening up about their own experiences with postpartum anxiety and how they are dealing with the condition. For example, birth and family photographer Nicole Streeter, 29, of Nicole Streeter Photography in Oregon, WI, shared a powerful image that summed up her own personal struggle with postpartum anxiety on her Facebook page, along with a series of other photos intended to highlight the condition.
The first image, inspired by the 52 Week Project to capture the word “unseen,” is a self-portrait of Streeter standing in front her bathroom mirror that evokes the reality of her anxiety.
The mom of two tells Babble that she wanted to bring the unseen struggles of postpartum anxiety into light, so she decided to write out everything that was on her mind at that very moment. Everything from worries over being a good mom to bills, cancer, cleaning, and being sexy enough spilled out onto her reflection.
“I knew I wanted to capture my anxiety in some way because it’s so unseen to other people who look at me and they’re like, ‘Oh, she’s happy, she’s fine,'” Streeter explains. “[But] I worry non-stop. Something is always in my head that I am worried about or thinking about.”
Streeter tells Babble that she first began suffering from anxiety when she was 14 years old, experiencing symptoms that left her feeling “outside her body.” She underwent tests and doctor visits before finally being diagnosed with anxiety at age 19.
“It made me feel good to know what it was, finally I had a name for it and I could cope with it,” she says.
Since being diagnosed, Streeter has been able to manage her anxiety with coping mechanisms learned in therapy, but after the birth of her daughter Charlotte six months ago, her anxiety “exploded.” She began experiencing physical symptoms, such as tension stomach aches, which left her in pain for hours, unable to function.
One of the reasons Streeter wanted to highlight postpartum anxiety is because she thinks that many times, people don’t understand the very real physical manifestations anxiety can bring.
“I felt like someone was sitting on my chest all the time, it felt so heavy … like I was just constantly trying to breathe,” she explains. “I would take big breaths all the time to try to get air in. I had no patience at all … I would lash out at things that were so stupid; I didn’t know why I would be crying over such small things … It affects so much; it starts to seep into all these areas of your life.”
After what Streeter says was a silly argument with her husband one night, she had a panic attack and wound up sobbing on the bathroom floor. Witnessing his wife in such distress proved to be a wake-up for call for Streeter’s husband Shawn. He spent the night researching providers in their area and sent his wife an email with everything that he had found, explaining that he thought she needed help and that they would get through this together.
Her husband’s support made all the difference. Because, as Streeter pointed out, when you’re in the midst of dealing with a mental health crisis, it can feel almost impossible to get the help you need on your own.
“It’s such a small thing, but when you have to reach out to get help, it’s such a daunting task; it’s just one more thing you have to do,” she explains.
Streeter was able to get the help she needed and this time, utilized medication to manage her anxiety. Although she had some initial concerns about taking medication while breastfeeding, she and her doctor were able to settle on a dose that was safe for nursing but still effective for her symptoms. Streeter has been able to successfully continue breastfeeding and even donate some of her extra breast milk.
Part of the aftermath of her anxiety has been losing some of her passion and motivation for her work. Streeter shares that this photo project — and getting the help she needed — has paved the way for her to regain what anxiety stole from her.
“I’m in such a better place,” says Streeter. “I’m happy; finding myself laughing and smiling much more, which is amazing.”