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Finding the Light after the Darkness – My Journey through Postpartum Depression

Rebecca Fox Starr is a recognized author, featured writer, blogger, and most importantly mother. I will be honest, when interviewing Rebecca, I wasn’t sure how to approach this story. I cannot relate. I’ve never walked in her shoes. Within minutes, she had me laughing and at ease. I found that I don’t have to walk in her shoes to understand her story. I immediately felt how warm, honest and energetic she was. I could not believe this was the same woman who just a few years ago, battled with postpartum depression. The passion in her voice and her story is captivating. She brings you right into her story, and she’s not shy about any of it. The truth can be a hard pill to swallow, but the truth is real. My time with Rebecca was inspiring. Below is her story, her truth. - Priscilla

My name is Rebecca Fox Starr. I am a mother, an advocate and a believer that an image does not have to be pretty - or expected - to be beautiful. Here, I share with you a snapshot of my honest story; one about motherhood and my battle with postpartum depression. This picture — just one frame — is my story. It may not be the picture you’d expect. It is not the picture of a sad woman, sitting in a robe with a box of tissues, clasping a mug with two hands. But, it is real. This is my story.

My story with Little Nest is one that straddles the past and the future. It began when I first visited the sun-filled studio with my daughter Belle in 2011, right before she turned one. We had a photoshoot that was, at the time, so emblematic of our lives. We got dressed up, giggled and got amazing photos. We were happy. It was the sweetest experience with Belle as she wore tutus, smashed a cupcake and nuzzled into my chest. At that time, I was happy. I was an archetype, in a way; I was someone who walked into Little Nest, holding my dream daughter, who was enveloped in a too-big tutu, and have cherished these photos ever since. But, as they often do, things changed. Just a couple of years after our first Little Nest shoot, my world shifted. My world got dark.

In 2013, I got pregnant with my second child, a little boy we named Beau, and it was a very different experience. From the beginning, I simply didn’t feel right. I was anxious and depressed. Once he was born, though I loved him fiercely, I was one of the many women to be hit with a walloping case of postpartum depression. I vividly remember the day, 10 days after Beau was born, that I got a text message from my husband, Kenny. “Are you okay? I see the light going out in your eyes.” At that moment, I broke down and cried because he was right. I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t alright. And, from somewhere deep inside, I also cried with relief. I could finally let go.

I believe that one of the worst feelings we can have is when you’re supposed to be happy— when everyone expects you to be happy—but you can’t. You feel guilty. It is brutal. With Beau, I didn’t do the maternity photo shoot, we didn’t take newborn photos or a one year cake smash. I felt extreme guilt about this, but I was focused on survival. It is so important to know that it is okay to not always be okay. It doesn’t make you weak. It does not have to put an indelible stigma on you and those feelings are not forever.

Being a mom is hard. When a woman is going through a tough time after giving birth, it can be hard to determine if it is because she's exhausted and adjusting or if it is truly diagnosable postpartum depression. It’s important to distinguish between “baby blues” and something more pathological. In this case, my advice to a new mom or a member of her support team is to take the time to take the hard, close look; to see if you or the woman is able to tip the scale towards joy in her life. If sadness is what prevails most of the time and there are few moments of happiness, I would say that (as someone who is not a professional) this could be cause for concern. You know yourself or your partner best. Look in her eyes and ask how she is. Tell her that it’s okay to not to be okay.

I just alluded to this, but I was not alone in the darkness. Partners are silent sufferers. The number one thing your partner needs to do when they are taking care of someone is to take care of themselves. Being the partner of a sufferer takes a tremendous toll on someone, emotionally, physically and in almost every way imaginable. My husband, Kenny, also needed support. Not only was he taking care of me, but he was also caring for a newborn and a young daughter. He put his family first, but, as they say you cannot pour from an empty cup. Partners: Ask for help. It is hard, and you can feel guilty, but please ask for help, whether it is from a family member or friend professional. It is not weak; it is survival. Truthfully, a romantic relationship can become a silent casualty in postpartum depression and other mental health issues. The happy spark can so easily fade. It is not a fertile, warm environment for a relationship to be blossoming at it’s fullest. But, for me, with time and work, it is more than possible to blossom again. My relationship today is more solid and loving than it ever was before. Every day is a gift.

If there is one takeaway I want my readers to know, something that I have mentioned as my refrain, is that it’s okay to not be okay. Just because I’ve been anxious or sad, I am no less of a mom. You, the reader, are no less of a mom. If you do a cake smash when your baby is one, that’s great. If you do one when he’s 3, or don’t do one at all, it does not make you “less than.” After I dug myself out of the darkness and the light came back on in my life, I took Beau to Little Nest for his cake smash. It was on his third birthday. I felt that he deserved a cake smash and deserved to do what Belle did, but not because I “had to” - rather, my son loves cake, and enjoyed visiting the studio and looking for “monkeys in the camera.” Little Nest helped me to give that gift to him.

I have done two cake smashes in my time as a mother. Once, it was in the traditional way. A baby, a cupcake and a tutu. With Beau, it was a toddler, a cake and a sense of gratitude I could have never imagined. It was a different path and a harder path, but no less beautiful. You see, these in-between moments can be some of the most important moments; the snapshots that we will cherish most. When people come to my website, Mommy Ever After, I want them to know that they are not alone. They don’t have to be perfect. They should feel like they are, on the worst days “enough” and, more often than not, “everything.” There is so much beauty in the imperfections and there so so much imperfection in motherhood. And, I want everyone to know that there are so many ways to find light. Whether it’s from hard therapeutic work, patience or the flash of a camera, there will be light again.

Little Nest has helped me tell my story about the past. I believe that the future is a much brighter, happier, and hopeful one.

What is different about the photos that we take now, as opposed to the pictures of Belle in 2011, is that it is finally less about being perfect and posed. It became more about keeping it real. Photos capture a single moment; time is frozen for a second. For me, pictures bring back moments that I may have forgotten. I see pictures of my children together and I am so grateful to have these moments, as I can forget that they are not only best friends now, but that they have been best friends since the beginning. I do not remember clearly that time, as I was so deep in the darkness, but I remember now. The greatest gift I could ever give them was that I gave them each other.

Life is not perfect, and that’s okay. The more you see other people letting their guards down, the less alone this big world can seem. If you can feel supported, it also feels safer to not be perfect and to come out from behind the silk screen; to take the filters off.

My road to happiness has been a long, challenging trek, but the journey is one that I am grateful to share if it helps someone else going through a time of pain. I still see a treatment team, go to therapy and get help to be the strongest person I can be. I am not depressed anymore but I still have work to do.

Today, my life is completely different than it was when I walked into Little Nest in 2011. By day, I’m an author, writer, blogger, and mom. By night, I’m the singer in a rock band. Singing is a healing, creative outlet for me. I have always loved music and in this duo, formed with a close friend with whom I’ve been performing since 2014, I have found my voice. I found my identity. When I am on stage, people do not look at me as a mom. I am a woman, in spiked boots, with “belle et beau” tattooed across my side, pouring my soul out into the mic. Before Beau, my essence was different. I still have tutu-clad dance parties with my kids, but I can also rock out to an audience as MYSELF. These are the things that make me Becca, and not Mommy After After.

In this chapter of my story, I can say that I am happy AND there are still times when I get sad. Whenever I am having a hard day, I ground myself with a moment that brings me joy. In my bedroom, we have a photo from a family dance party taken several years ago. In my family, when we are happy, we dance. When we are sad, we dance. We dance it out. This is our story. THIS IS US.

For more about Rebecca, follow her on her blog Mommy Ever After.

Her full story also can be found in her book Beyond the Baby Blues.

Join us on April 15th at one of our "Step Into the Light: A Celebration of Honest Motherhood" events in Collegeville, Glen Mills, or Chestnut Hill studios to meet Rebecca in person.

All images and content © 2017 little nest portraits. Duplication of these images in any way, shape or form is prohibited by law.