My maternity leave was a bit of a blur—all baby well visits and spit-up and breastfeeding—but I can remember those early postpartum days like they were yesterday. I was a wreck. I did a lot of waiting: for my milk supply to come in, for maternal love to kick in, for my son to wake up so I could give nursing another shot, for all the guests to leave my house, for me to feel normal again.
I also did a lot of panicking. I'd think, "This is forever, this is real," and then worry that those thoughts meant I was already a bad mom. I fretted about accidentally dropping him, swaddling him too tight, and not babyproofing my apartment right. I worried about my leaking, sore, still-puffy body and whether I'd ever make peace with the changespregnancy and childbirth brought.
Fact is, those first days of motherhood aren't always Hallmark-card material, and that's not just okay, it's also perfectly normal. Fluctuating hormones and sheer exhaustion are enough to drive even the sanest mama to the brink. And though the parenting books do warn about the challenges of postpartum recovery, the words can't do them justice.
But a photograph can.
Earlier this month, Danielle Haines posted a shot on Facebook showing her three days into motherhood. Topless and holding her tiny baby, she's looking directly into the camera with a heartbreaking expression on her face. "I was so raw and so open," she wrote of those early days of motherhood. "I was a...mess." Then she explained all the thoughts racing through her mind: love for her baby; missing her husband, who went back to work that day; cracked and bleeding nipples; suddenly oversized boobs; a sore vagina; exhaustion; sadness...you get the point. (Any of this sound familiar?)
Luckily for Danielle, she was able to hash out the tidal wave of her feelings with one of her sisters, Sarah, who confessed that she experienced the same feelings postpartum. Sarah went one step further and asked to take Danielle's photograph because she looked "so raw and so beautiful." The new mom agreed, and the result is an honest portrait of what immediate postpartum can look like for so many of us.
The photo has clearly struck a chord. As of this writing, it's been shared more than 22,000 times and has garnered lots of supportive, encouraging comments: "[Y]ou are such an inspiration to myself and so many others," wrote one fan. "Thank you for sharing this part of motherhood. Raw open and beautifully crazy. I didn't even recognize myself pp. Then I had to get to know not only my baby but myself," another commented.
Despite the slew of emotions she felt at that moment, Danielle described her postpartum as "magical." She explained that she relied on her support system to help with everything from feeding the baby to reassuring her that he was happy and healthy. "It wasn't easy," she wrote, "but I was so supported and fed and reminded that the mothers before me had been through this part of motherhood, and that I'd get through it just fine, too."
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