Christa Lee: On Postpartum Depression, Body Image, and Loving Yourself Through It All
As a busy mom of three and owner of two businesses, Christa Lee knows firsthand the importance of time. When a traumatic pregnancy and postpartum experience forced her to slow down and reevaluate what she valued most, she was left with a profound new outlook on parenting, body image, and postpartum depression. Christa shares her raw and real experiences that many of us feel ashamed to talk about, and encourages us all to really embrace the good, bad, and ugly of motherhood.
With up to 20% of new moms and 10% of partners experiencing a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD), it’s easy to wonder when changes in mental health teeter on something more serious. It can be helpful to learn how to determine if what you are experiencing is part of the expected journey, or more troublesome.
Christa, tell us a little about you:
I’m a 40 year old mama living in Michigan with my husband of ten years and our three kids, Parker, Perri, and Palmer. I went to business school and am a licensed cosmetologist and makeup artist, and I also own two businesses. I’ve had my beauty and wellness company, Younique, for nine years, and a clothing boutique, Fate & Company, for the last two years. I am a self proclaimed crazy hockey goalie mom, cheer mom, Disney fanatic and lover of all things hair/fashion/makeup!
What has been the most unexpected part of your motherhood journey?
Getting pregnant with my first. All the firsts are unexpected for every mom. But it especially felt different because my husband Eric and I were not yet married. Navigating all the outside scrutiny that came from being a young, unwed mother was very difficult. I felt as if I wasn’t allowed to enjoy my pregnancy (and I avoided talking about it a lot) due to fear of other people’s judgment and questions. I still hold on to a lot of guilt associated with those past feelings. I wish I wouldn’t have cared or allowed others to steal that precious time from me.
I was also brand new in my career as a hairstylist and trying to establish myself. I was only able to take one month off before going back to work. It makes me sad thinking about the pressure and financial need I had then. I missed a lot in that first year that I cannot get back.
When I had my daughter five years later, it was a textbook pregnancy (except she decided to meet us ten days late, making her birthday two days before Christmas!) I remember begging to leave the hospital on Christmas Eve and they finally released me at 11:00pm that night so I could get home to my 4 year old who was waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. I was at a much different chapter in life and was able to take 12 full weeks off with her before returning to work at the salon.
My third pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 11 weeks. I don’t think those who haven’t been through this type of loss can truly understand the depth of grief and sadness it entails. I had two successful pregnancies prior and I was in disbelief that this was happening. Telling my older two children was one of the hardest conversations I’ve had to navigate. I felt like I was taking something so precious away from them, at the same time as I was grieving the loss myself.
After miscarrying, Eric and I started trying again, and about 6 months later we got pregnant. My fourth pregnancy was a rollercoaster, to put it mildly. At 10 weeks pregnant I started bleeding at a pool party and, sure I was having another miscarriage, was rushed to the doctor. I was told that my baby was perfectly healthy, but I had a very large subchorionic hemorrhage causing the bleed.
The bleeding never stopped. I developed a second hemorrhage, I was monitored closely as a “high risk” pregnancy, and for the next sixteen weeks I bled on and off. Then, on an otherwise normal Friday afternoon right before Thanksgiving, while picking my kids up from school I noticed I was “leaking” fluid. I made a call to one of my close friends who is a Labor and Delivery nurse and she encouraged me to head to the Emergency Room immediately. It turned out my water was slowly leaking and while on the table at the hospital, my water completely broke. I was what they call a “PPROM” patient and had to be admitted to the hospital until delivery. I was only 26 weeks pregnant! I was shocked, sad, and scared. I was terrified of it all. Missing the holidays, missing my daughter’s birthday, and of course what was going to happen to my baby.
After an 8 week hospital stay, they decided it was safe to induce me. Palmer Edison was born on Jan 13th, six weeks early, safe, and healthy. He remained in the NICU for a week and then we were able to finally bring him home.
What was “new mom” life like after such a traumatic pregnancy?
Within my first few weeks home, I knew something didn’t feel right in my body. I was doing what I needed to do to meet my son’s needs, but I felt so disconnected from him. It was nothing like the euphoria I felt bringing home my first two children. I realized then that postpartum depression was setting in.
I have never publicly spoken about my feelings of what I experienced. I felt completely robbed of his first year of his life. I am so torn when I let myself really feel all the emotions I experienced after having him. My sweet third baby… our final act. How I desperately wanted to enjoy & embrace all of those newborn moments & last times. I am washed over with emotion of how I was just trying to survive. Trying to get up everyday, to make sure his needs were met, to try to connect and be present when all my brain & body wanted to do was disconnect.
No one is immune to whether or not they get postpartum depression. Up to 20% of women experience the effects of a mood disorder within the first year after giving birth. And it is important to understand that these statistics only account for live births - and don’t include the many who never reach out for help.
If you would have asked me three years ago if I would ever share my struggle, I would have said no way. I felt so much embarrassment and shame associated with my diagnosis. I didn’t have PPD with my first 2 kids so I was sure it wouldn’t happen to me this time. I would have NEVER let anyone know I was “weak”, “struggling,” “sad”, “lonely”.. all the lies my postpartum depression put into my head.
My son just celebrated his third birthday, and I am happy to share that I have come out on the other side. Although I once felt like my experience was never going to end, with the help of medication and therapy, it has. I pray that if you’re reading this, and experiencing any of these thoughts or symptoms, you know that you are NOT alone and help is out there.
“Postpartum is a quest back to yourself…alone in your body again. You will never be the same BUT you are stronger than you were.”
How does Matrescence’s Mission to “mother the mother” resonate with you as a mom? In your career?
I love that Matrescence’s mission centers around thriving in motherhood rather than surviving it. Too often moms sacrifice their identity and basic needs because society has told them that is “what moms do.” Matrescence is redefining that motherhood can look and feel good! Working in the beauty and fashion industry for 14 years, I wholeheartedly embrace and support this exact mission. There is no better feeling than seeing that smile when a woman sees her true authentic beauty. Not because of an outfit she is wearing, a new haircut or shade of lipstick, but because she sees the warrior and mother that she has become... and she is worthy.
Body image is such a big issue for new moms. In what ways has it impacted you?
With the ever growing social media platforms, there has been such an unreal expectation of how women “think” they should look after having a child. Watching celebrities and women online look as if their body didn’t just grow an entire human IS NOT REAL LIFE. If anyone is guilty, it’s me. I have tried it all! The wrapping, the waist trainers, obsessing and putting that pressure on myself to “get my body back.” But I learned that my body is my body and it made those three perfect humans that I would sacrifice for over and over again. I learned no one was expecting me to bounce back and not look like I had a baby. I learned that my husband loves me and my body after babies because we created life together. I learned that it’s ok to still look pregnant after leaving the hospital with your newborn. That it’s ok to still have a round, loose and sagging stomach 2 months after birth. And it is ok that you may be holding onto 10 - 15 extra pounds at your baby’s first birthday party. It is ok! Breathe momma! I have done this 3 times and with each child, my body responded very differently.
Your baby doesn’t see a number on the scale or what size jeans you are wearing. They see their warrior momma who they love unconditionally. Give yourself grace, give yourself time, nurture and take care of your body, but do not put any ounce of pressure or value on your weight or pant size. You are beautiful and perfectly imperfect because you are their momma.
Our focus this month is “loving the new you”. What does that mean to you as a mama?
I have mentally and physically given myself room to embrace life SO MUCH more. And can I tell you, at 40 years old I have never loved my mind, body and life as much as I do now. I actually wore my first bikini in 20 years on a trip to Mexico with my husband last month!
I value time - with and without my children. My batteries need recharging in order to be the mom and wife they deserve. That can be taking 30 minutes to take a bath, put on a face mask and paint my nails. Other days it's an afternoon facial, or shopping or lunch with friends. As a mother, too often we forget to put our name on the “list” of what we need to take care of for the day.
I value moments. As a mom there are so many that flash before our eyes. Our baby’s first word, first step, first food. I want as many of these moments as I can get, trust me, I live for them! But, I also want moments that remind me of who I am and what goals I have in MY life. I wholeheartedly believe it is important for our children to see what makes us happy and proud of ourselves.
I value relationships. My spouse, extended family, friends. Take the time to put them on your list. Thriving parents need time to be more than just moms and dads. They need time to be the two people who fell in love with another and to be continuously reminded of that love and connection.
What’s one thing you wish you had known before becoming a mom?
Honestly, I don’t wish I had known it all before becoming a mom. I believe we are designed to mature and develop into the mother we were meant to be through the first hand experiences that becoming a mom presents to each of us. There’s a lot I could tell myself if I could go back in time - but I had to learn those things in the moment. Breathe and know that you are perfect just the way you are in that moment, and at the end of the day, YOU matter. YOUR needs and desires are important and deserve attention. And always remember that your children and your significant other love YOU unconditionally, and to them, you are exactly who they need in their life.
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