Leading by Example
Danielle shares her experience with PPA (postpartum anxiety) and how she managed the isolation and stress of raising her son far from the friends and family she grew up with.
“I have never been an anxious person and the feelings I had postpartum were foreign and overwhelming.”
“I had the best pregnancy and felt amazing, which was a blessing because at 7.5 months in, my husband needed open-heart surgery.”
“I was taking care of him straight into my labor and delivery…time stood still and flew by at the same time. I didn’t have much time to think the last few weeks before Scott arrived.”
“After having him, I felt very anxious because I was unable to breastfeed. I have never been a anxious person and the feelings I had postpartum were foreign and overwhelming. However, because my doctor thought I was ‘happy and upbeat‘ she kept saying I was fine and did not have postpartum depression.”
Before Danielle became a mom, she was extroverted, energetic, and quick-witted
And she still is.
That’s the thing about anxiety. It’s something we define in relation to how we want to feel, and it’s invisible to outsiders.
Thousands of mothers experience PPA, only to be dismissed by medical professionals and even those close to us. Until it gets to the point when we can’t function, moms who suffer alone with PPD (postpartum depression) and PPA (postpartum anxiety) can’t ask for help because we’re told we’re exaggerating, it’s all in our heads, or we can’t possibly be having a hard time, because we seem fine.
Danielle is still hilarious and hanging out with her is fun. She talks quickly, asks interesting, thoughtful questions, and listens to the answers. She’s out-going and loves to brainstorm the kinds of adventures that make my inner 8-year-old wide-eyed and enthusiastic.
Obviously, she’s working hard and succeeding as an amazing mother despite her anxiety and the circumstances creating it – but could that first year have been easier? What about those who haven’t been able to manage it on their own?
When no one believes us – how do we dare ask for help when something feels off?
“Sometimes when we say we have anxiety people assume your world must be overwhelmingly negative and that isn’t the case at all…it was just different that what I was used to. It also made me have more empathy for those who have constant anxiety.”
The Year of Danielle
Danielle does not stand still – she’s always been full of big ideas and spectacular adventures. We talked about her plans to organize a ladies’ brunch – when all of us will wear old wedding and bridesmaids dresses. Just for fun! So it’s not a surprise that tackling anxiety was something she took on as an active mission.
“The Year of Danielle was all about new things and spreading positivity/kindness… Having Baby Scott, taking time off work, but trying something new (skincare with Rodan + Fields), becoming a certified personal trainer, signing up for new running races and relays, reading more, and just enjoying life. Babies are sponges so I wanted Scott to see a happy, ambitious, fun, and hardworking mama.”
“In order to combat feelings of anxiety and loneliness (my husband returned to work and travels a lot, our families live far away) I started going to the grocery store everyday to get out of the house, walk around, and just see people. Oddly enough, Scott sort of fell in love with Wegmans and Whole Foods – he is a social butterfly.”
“I got back to running and other hobbies/interests and started to feel better.”
On a trip back to Boston (she lives in the DC area with Scott and her husband) for a wedding, Danielle knew it would be the perfect opportunity to book a short day-in-the-life session to celebrate how far she and Scott have come over the last year.
“My session played a part in our last year because even though I had anxiety for a few months, my life with Scott has been so positive, fun, and beyond worthwhile. I usually hate having photographs taken, but I knew I would regret not booking a session and missing out on documenting this part of life. I thought storytelling photography would more accurately capture our experience as a family.”
“I wanted to capture the story of Scott’s joy in everyday life. He is such a little happy ball of baby. A baby’s personality is so neat around the age of one because they cannot yet fully talk – so communication is creative. He radiates happiness and loves to figure out how things work. He loves to turn things upside down and look for the screws keeping whatever he is holding together. He is probably going to save the world, or at least be president.”
“I felt like a light bulb went on when I heard about this type of photography. I never considered a session with anyone else or any other traditional type of photography. 40 years from now, I will have this album and explain the story in each photo to whomever Scott brings home.”
“There will be a quiz after.”
Everything Danielle does, from her hobbies, her fitness goals, to her next career move – is to set a happy example for Scott. She knows the importance of having a dedicated and focused parent, because her mother Patti set the same example for her.
Our session takes place at Patti’s house, the home Danielle grew up in. Danielle borrows Patti’s car to run errands and visit the park she played in as a child. She tells me about her experience growing up in a single-parent family.
Patti was a school-teacher who dedicated every moment of her life to Danielle – even going so far as to put off marrying her long-term boyfriend (Danielle’s step-dad, John) until Danielle was a senior in high school.
Danielle never felt deprived, even though she felt different growing up in a wealthy neighborhood full of two-parent families. Patti made it clear that Danielle was just as important and able as any of her classmates.
“My mom sacrificed everything for me so I want to work hard for Scott so he has a happy life. We may not have the disposable income that other families do but we love him and have fun with what we have.”
When Danielle’s father would get called into work during a visitation weekend, Patti would spin it into a positive – she’d cancel her plans and turn the evening into a late-night camping adventure in the living room, complete with special take-out from their favorite Chinese restaurant.
Even though her grandson lives over 600 miles away, Patti has built a nursery for Scott in her home, hoping they will visit often. She tells me that she never expected grandchildren – but now that Scott is here, he has completely stolen her heart.
Patti wishes she could see Scott more – she visits them frequently in Virginia, but it’s hard for her to be so far from the people she loves most. It’s hard for Danielle too – she wishes she could move back to be with friends and family, but Danielle and her husband have to stay in Virginia because of their careers with the federal government.
It’s bittersweet – to see the incredible impact Patti has made – the generations of joy she’s inspired. It’s clear how difficult it is for Danielle and Patti to live so far from each other. It seems almost inevitable, though – Patti raised Danielle to know she is strong, capable, and loved unconditionally. It’s that bravery and confidence that inspired Danielle to follow this career path and raise a family in the place she is now.
What I’m saying is – Patti did a damn fine job.
“I felt like a light bulb went on when I heard about this type of photography.” – Danielle L.