This photo of a new mother holding her 3-day-old son has gone viral and started a conversation about the struggles of new motherhood. (Photo: Facebook/Danielle Haines)
A photo of a new mother is going viral this week — not for her “perfect” post-baby body or her newborn’s loving smile, but for the honest, raw picture she is portraying of those first days postpartum.
Danielle Haines gave birth to her son, Ocean, in November 2014. On Saturday, the Phoenix mother posted a Facebook photo of herself holding Ocean when she was only three days postpartum. In the photo, Haines is shirtless with eyes that are red and puffy, seemingly from crying. In the accompanying caption, Haines writes: “This is a picture of me 3 days postpartum. I was so raw and so open, I was a f***ing mess. I loved my baby, I missed his daddy (he went back to work that day), I was mad at my mom, my heart hurt for my brother because my mom left us and now I had a little boy that looked like him, my nipples were cracked and bleeding, my milk was almost in, my baby was getting really hungry, I was feeling sad that people kill babies, like on purpose, I had not slept since I went into labor, I didn’t know how to put my boobs away, my vagina was sore from sitting on it while nursing constantly, I was kinda [losing] my mind.” The post has since been shared more than 15,000 times.
Haines goes on to explain that she had a lot of support during those early postpartum days — friends and family who brought her food, helped her nurse, and simply told her she wasn’t alone. “It wasn’t easy 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,” she writes.
In the comments, other mothers have been volunteering their own experiences with the early postpartum days, some even sharing similarly vulnerable photos. “You made me cry. [Postpartum] was so hard for me too. Not having the delivery I wanted, especially not getting to see him be born. I was afraid milk wasn’t going to come in, my nipples hurt so bad. I didn’t know how to ask for help,” wrote one commenter. “My postpartum was difficult at first. I felt like I had failed since my birth was nothing as planned. I felt like everyone came to see my baby one time and then I was completely alone. I knew I should’ve reached out to other women, but I didn’t really have anyone I felt close enough to, to ask. Next time I will definitely keep more women around me and I never pass up the opportunity to help a mother during postpartum because I hated the isolating feeling … although I loved every minute with my baby,” explained another. And one mom, who shared her own postpartum photo, wrote: “This is so so beautiful. Seriously, I felt exactly the same way and I wish more people talked about it because it’s so unexpected. You feel so guilty for thinking, ‘what have I done?’ even though you love that baby so hard. And yes to the nether regions and the tears and the mom angst.”
Many women who struggled in the early days of motherhood are thanking Haines for her honesty. “I love this whole status because it is real,” wrote one user. Another added, “Thank you for sharing that, mama. It takes a lot of courage and confidence to share these most intimate moments. [Postpartum] is no joke! Definitely the most raw and emotional time in a woman’s life. Society doesn’t support this time and honor it as it deserves, as mama deserves, as baby deserves.”
Haines did not respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.
Dr. Sarah Allen, a psychologist who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum mental health, says Haines has done a service to all new mothers by sharing her photo. “We tend to picture a new mom cradling her baby, and she’s looking down and smiling and the baby is looking up at her lovingly, and the husband has his arm around the mom. Those are the images mothers are usually putting out there,” Allen tells Yahoo Parenting. “This is a mother saying, ‘This is the reality.’ I think it was so brave of her to share, and I applaud her. These things need to be shared. You don’t just have a baby and it suckles right away and it’s all happiness. It’s hard! If women realize that going in, they won’t be so hard on themselves when they have tough times.”
Allen says that while 20 percent of mothers suffer from postpartum depression, 80 to 85 percent get postpartum blues, which occurs during the first two weeks of a baby’s life and is likely what Haines was dealing with when the photo was taken. “The transition in the first couple of weeks postpartum, it’s difficult. Women have a lot of thoughts and myths and fantasies about what those days should be like, and it can be very isolating when what you do feel is overwhelmed and loneliness,” she says. “Plus, there are the physical effects — having a baby, it’s a lot for your body to go through, and your hormones are all over the place.” And even though those baby blues are incredibly common, most women don’t talk about it, which Allen says makes the experience even harder.
Karen Kleiman, the founder and executive director of the Postpartum Stress Center, agrees. “We live in a culture that doesn’t make it feel easy to say out loud that it doesn’t always feel great to be a mother,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “We have this pressure to look good and to say this is the best time of our lives. And now with social media, we see pictures of mothers and their babies and the moms are wearing makeup and look so proud, and, meanwhile, mothers are sitting at home, looking at these pictures and weeping and thinking their kids would be better off without them.”
Haines’s photo is a perfect answer to the overly curated image of new motherhood that we get on social media, Kleiman says. “The picture is beautiful,” she says. “It is very raw and honest and very much a smack in the face of all the perfect pictures we see on social media that are not doing new mothers any favors.”
What Haines has done, Kleiman says, is put a face on a very real — and very normal — issue. “There is something that is brutally awesome about the authenticity of saying, ‘This really sucks. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to love my baby or I’m not a good mom, but I feel terrible,’” Kleiman tells Yahoo Parenting. “[Haines] has allowed this to be out there to say, ‘Look, here we are. We’re new moms, we’re tired, we’re exhausted, our body parts are compromised, and it’s OK.’”
To cope with those difficult early days, Allen says women need to accept and ask for help. Let people bring you meals or do your grocery shopping, she says. “Women try to do it by themselves, but get practical help,” she says. “Sleep when you can, get as much rest as you can. Make sure you’re eating and drinking regularly. And if those overwhelmed feelings continue for longer than two weeks, or you can’t sleep because your thoughts are racing and you’re riddled with anxiety, then that’s the time to reach out to a professional.”
For the more common baby blues, Kleiman says that simply speaking the feelings aloud, as Haines did, will do a lot to lessen a new mother’s pain. “What happens when we are real is that there is less shame. These kinds of feelings and fears get bigger when we are isolated and don’t talk about it,” she says. “If you don’t put words to it and we don’t get somebody telling us it’s OK, we think we’ll never get out of it. Some women think this is just what being a mother feels like, and that it will suck every day until their kids go to college. The more we normalize it, the easier it is to say, ‘I’m having a bad day, this sucks, maybe tomorrow will be better.’”