Leah Bennett (40), Audrey Rose (8), and Eliana Faith (6)
Elkton, MD | Photographed in Philadelphia, PA
Leah is a previous project participant. You can see her previous photo and story here.
Leah shares -
"In June of 2010 we picked my father up from the hospital and took him home on hospice care. In August he was gone. Still reeling from his death, I found myself pregnant with my second babe with my husband Chris. We were very excited at this bit of sunshine in our cloud of grief. We were at the ocean when we found out. I started bleeding immediately. After consulting my midwife, I had several blood tests confirming my HCG levels were not rising properly and that I was miscarrying. I was numb. We lost our baby in October of 2010 at around 6 weeks. I’m not sure I ever properly grieved this loss.
I am very shocked and in awe that my body, that is so broken mentally, birthed two beautiful humans vaginally and naturally fairly easily. I’m still not sure how I was able to have two uncomplicated, medically hands off and quick births. My body was a rockstar. I have gained a lot of weight after having humans. I don’t love how my body looks anymore honestly. I don’t hate my body I’m just kind of ambivalent. I love my pregnancy and delivery scars and marks - from the torn labia to the deep prolific stretch marks strewn across my tummy as they tell my story.
After struggling with the postpartum weight for 4 years, I had gastric sleeve surgery in November of 2015. It was not successful for me as I did not heal my underlying problem of over eating. I’m a little sad over this as I feel I failed. Currently, I just try not to think about or look at my body much, sadly. I am comfortable in my own skin and comfortable showing my body (I’m scheduled to pose nude for a figure drawing class at the art center soon) and I’m always naked at the house. I am really trying to have a better body image for my young girls so they have a healthy body image and don’t body shame themselves or others and don’t develop an unhealthy relationship with food or exercise. It’s a work in progress.
My postpartum journey has been difficult and amazing and hard and transformative and sweet. I had miserable pregnancies. I was nauseous the entire pregnancy with both girls. I developed every annoying and bizarre symptom from carpal tunnel to a lisp and swollen legs. I had a love hate relationship with pregnancy.
After Audrey was born I was a complete mess. I definitely did not adapt easily. I was off all psychotropic drugs and struggling with severe postpartum depression, intrusive thoughts, OCD, anxiety and trichotillomania. I was having major problems bonding and breast feeding. Audrey had acid reflux and screamed constantly which made my anxiety go through the roof. I felt like a total failure.
I felt scared, depressed, guilty, exhausted, completely blind sided by my feelings and the amount of physical and emotional work parenting a newborn required. I felt alone isolated and desperately wanting to runaway. I also felt disconnected; from my husband and the world. At my 6 week postpartum appointment with my midwife my PPD survey was off the charts in a bad way and I was immediately put on meds and began therapy which helped with the symptoms but the guilt remained and hung heavy like a chain around my neck.
Motherhood was not the magical effortless loving adventure I thought it was suppose to be and what I thought everyone else was experiencing thanks to social media. It was hard and messy and complicated and confusing. I have slowly learned to love it though. I have learned bonding can take time, the first few months are survival mode, and to stop comparing myself and my journey to others. I have learned how to enjoy, truly enjoy, moments of motherhood if not every aspect of the journey and to not obsess on the bad days, the bad moments because there will be bad days. I have learned to let things go. I have learned i’m not alone. But most importantly I have learned that mental illness, especially prenatal and postpartum mental illness needs to be talked about and stories shared and the stigma broken and supported. It’s okay to ask for help, there’s no shame in it and it’s okay to not be okay.
I really wanted to share my story about my struggle with mental illness to give others hope to help them feel less alone and isolated and to encourage dialogue. I’m a huge advocate for mental health awareness, especially for mother’s. I want moms to know all feelings and emotions they might feel during pregnancy and postpartum are okay and normal. I want to help obliterate shame and stigma around being a mom with mental illness because moms are so much more than their diagnosis.