A mother holding her baby's hands

To the mom who struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in silence: I see you.

To the mom who spends all of her “me” time crying into her pillow: I get it.

To the mom whose eyes dart across the room, wondering who is worrying about her sanity: I feel your pain.

To the mom who fears holding her child: You’re OK.

To the mom who fears not developing a secure attachment with your child: It will come.

To the mom who’s hungry, but can’t eat: I’ve been there.

To the mom whose greatest fears are stuck on repeat in her brain: I know, it’s hell.

To the mom who feels trapped in her own mind: You will escape.

To the mom who mourns her former self: You will be restored.

Right now you may feel helpless, alone and misunderstood.

You might look in the mirror and not recognize the woman in the reflection. You’ve always been strong, self-sufficient and courageous, but now you find yourself needing reassurance for every move you make. The fear is real. The emotions are real. The way out seems impossible.

You obsess over having “the thoughts.”

You obsess over not having “the thoughts.”

You cry when the thoughts upset you.

You cry more when they don’t.

You wonder where these thoughts came from and fear what they could mean.

You long for a clear mind, something you never before considered to be a gift.

You’ve become robotic. You don’t act how you feel, you act how you think you should. You smile is empty. Your eyes heavy. Your face is still, but your mind is racing. Your body is withering away. Your once strong spirit is begging for shelter. Shelter from the thoughts and anxiety. Shelter from the chaos. Shelter from yourself.

You’re running. Endlessly running. Your mind is running. Your body is running. Staying in one place is the enemy. An empty schedule invites the thoughts. Being alone is not your “safe space.” You have no sanctuary.

Why are you like this? How did you get here? What did you do wrong?

You are like this because you love hard. You got here because you are selfless and protective. You did nothing wrong.

From the depths of despair, there is hope. OCD feels like an Everest you were never trained to climb. You will fight this until you don’t feel like you can go on and then you will fight some more. You will find inner strength you never knew you had and discover parts of yourself you didn’t know existed.

OCD can feel like an identity crisis. Your mind has turned against you and you feel completely betrayed. I’m here to say: It’s OK.

It’s OK to cry, hard and long.

It’s OK to mourn for time lost.

It’s OK to feel defeated, though you swear you won’t give up.

It’s OK to fake being “OK” long before you feel it.

I’m here to tell you everything will be OK. Maybe not now, but eventually.

Eventually the fears will fade. The obsessions will lose their grip on you. Your mind will rest and you will relax in the serenity of silence. On the other side you will be stronger. You will be sensitive and understanding. Empathy will be your greatest strength.

On the other side, there is joy and there is peace of mind. On the other side you will understand yourself far more than you could have ever imagined. The fear will have left you, but the lessons remain. On the other side of it:

You will know what true strength is.

You will have fought for yourself and those you love.

You will be able to enjoy your life and your family.

The author and her husband and two songs stand outside You will forgive yourself.

You will have overcome unimaginable obstacles.

You will be grateful for the little things.

You will enjoy simply being.

You will be able to help others through their struggle.

OCD is like the world’s greatest test of character and I promise, you are acing it.

Follow this journey on Delicate Change.

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If you or a loved one is affected by postpartum depression or other postpartum disorders and need help, you can call Postpartum Support International’s hotline at 1-800-944-4773.

Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz


Depression, for me, wasn’t a dulling but a sharpening, an intensifying, as though I had been living my life in a shell and now the shell wasn’t there. It was total exposure … What I didn’t realise, at the time, was that this state of mind would end up having positive as well as negative effects.”

– From “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig

When I was first diagnosed with postpartum depression towards the end of 2009 I had no idea of what was to come. But a door had been pushed ajar. A portal to another place, or perhaps, a portal to the true place had opened, where I would find myself once and for all complete with all my contradictions and complexities.

This is what pain does, if you let it. Pain reveals the truth.

Pre-diagnosis I spent a lot of time pretending. I anaesthetized myself from reality wherever possible. I dulled my senses with routine. I kept myself numb to the vibrancy of life, for fear that it would catch me off guard and make me feel out of control. I hid in my shell.

Whenever I had a panic attack or felt I was slipping out of control, I believed I was weak and stupid, that I didn’t have enough faith or couldn’t control my behavior and thoughts like everyone else, that I lacked self-control.

When I wasn’t suffering, I existed in blissful ignorance. I buried my head in the sand. “That was a one-off,” I would tell myself. “I won’t let that happen again… I just need a good night’s sleep and then I will be able to maintain control.”

Once I had a diagnosis, there was no pretending. I was suddenly aware.

The freedom that comes with a diagnosis, with therapy and medication – for it is freedom – is multifaceted. Yes, I know now I am not alone, that I am and have been ill, and it is not my fault. But I also know that it is real. I didn’t dream it, or make it up. And it might happen again.

I can no longer pretend I am able to control everything.

At my most weary, after a long day of battle, the temptation to go back to the me who didn’t know about this stuff, the person who didn’t have the ability to articulate, or the awareness to admit what was happening, is desirable. To be ignorant sometimes seems like bliss.

But it is also true that if you were to medically remove my mental illness and the events of the past six plus years, I would not be myself. I would be a different person. And, despite the pain, the fear and the anguish, I wouldn’t go back.

Despite the fact that small things that never used to concern me can now take a huge amount of energy to manage – a work meeting, or an evening at a restaurant – and despite the loss I have felt and the difficulty this suffering has caused my family, despite the worry that I may always be like this, I wouldn’t go back.

The negative effects are bad, and well documented, but the positive effects are also huge. It is liberating to not have to hold it all together and pretend. It is a relief to be honest about how hard life can be.

And I like the me I have started to become.

Because I know stuff now I could never have known otherwise and it has made me kinder.

Because I have found being vulnerable and open about my struggles with friends and family, connecting us in a deeper way.

Because I can see the good in the world so vividly now. I don’t take joy for granted.

Because I am getting to know myself, remembering to accept myself and realizing that I like myself (quite a lot).

And because, I am not hiding anymore, I am learning how to really live, and, as scary as that is, it feels good.

Follow this journey on Hippo Chronicles.

If you or a loved one is affected by postpartum depression or other postpartum disorders and need help, you can call Postpartum Support International’s hotline at 1-800-944-4773.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Waking up each morning should be the simplest of tasks. I vaguely remember a time when getting out of bed was easy. Since postpartum depression came into my life, rising from my pit is the first battle of many to kick off what will inevitably be a very long day.

With a weary mind and an aching body, I spend a moment applying my “game face.” This is the face that my children know and love. This is the face that strangers in the street wish “Good morning,” and the one from which they get a cheery reply. That’s the best bit about being a parent, isn’t it? Our ability to shake ourselves into action. We wade through each day acting like the pinnacle of strength for our children, who get us through.

My “game face” is my favorite face. It portrays the person I strive to be, the person who I used to be. I struggle with the knowledge I must psych myself up to be that person when before it came so naturally. The old, pre-child me was never perfect, but looking back I didn’t appreciate being that person enough.

Most of the time, under the surface of my façade I take life minute by minute. I keep a constant eye out for lurking triggers and if I see one coming, I run like the wind as I seek to circumvent it. On those days when I simply cannot face the world, my children and I laugh and play in our own four walls. I read to them and we craft. I seek to educate them and stimulate their minds. On these days, I have perfected letting my tears fall only when my back is turned. Only when it is safe to do so, do I dwell on the demons in my mind.

Like most others, I find being a parent exhausting. I’m not afraid to admit that bedtime is my favorite time of day. On particularly bad days, when I have been plagued with anxiety, I use this time to collapse into a heap. Sometimes I wallow, often I cry and occasionally I let out the panic attack I’ve been trying to hold back for hours. Sometimes it’s impossible to shake the feeling of sickness and dread. A lot of the time my concentration fails me, as I search for answers to a question I haven’t even been asked. Every night I crawl into bed, only to worry about waking up.

Parents far and wide are good at pushing those hidden faces to the back of their minds. We will always carry on for our children, we will never let this thing win. I can’t help but wonder, though, what would happen if we let others into our secret? If we stood tall and put our hidden faces on show for all to see, we could rid postpartum depression from the stigma that far too often makes it taboo. We could unite and make a difference not only to our lives but to others who may be suffering from this illness.

I believe that raising awareness around mental health is key to making a change, in a world that is too easy to judge. Talking is educating and that is a perfect place to start. Join in and put your hidden faces of depression on show — let the world know that it’s OK not to be OK.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Taws13

Many people don’t know about the wide range of mood disorders that can affect new moms beyond the deep sadness of postpartum depression. I experienced one of the most rare and severe maternal mental health disorders: postpartum psychosis. I became delusional, paranoid and suicidal (view my Tedx talk here for the whole story) a few weeks after having my daughter.

At the time, my mom felt helpless as she witnessed my downward spiral into exhaustion, hopelessness, confusion and then psychosis. Three years later, here’s what I think all grandparents need to know about postpartum depression:

So, your daughter or daughter-in-law just delivered you the biggest bundle of joy on earth and you’re ready to spoil your grandchild and shower them with love and attention — congrats! It might be hard for you to imagine this new mom is feeling anything but the joy and love you’re feeling for your new grand baby.

You might not realize it, but many new mothers feel completely overwhelmed after their babies are born.

For some of these new mothers experiencing postpartum depression, their minds race, they feel guilty they aren’t handling motherhood better, they worry about a range of issues. Is my baby getting enough breast milk? Is it OK to supplement with formula? Is my baby breathing at night? What if I get exhausted and fall asleep and drop my baby? Am I fit to be a mother? Why can’t I lose the baby weight? I can’t seem to appease my colicky baby. Am I a bad mom? They might feel sad and hopeless. In rare cases, these women may even feel indifferent or disconnected from the new little being they just brought into the world.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. It’s more common than you think.

Postpartum depression affects one in seven women who give birth each year. Postpartum Progress, a leading resource on mood disorders related to pregnancy and postpartum, estimates 600,000 women a year in the U.S. get postpartum depression. Lack of sleep, the stress of being a new mom and the hormonal changes after birth can be triggering events that bring about maternal mental health disorders.

2. There are risk factors, but maternal mental health concerns don’t discriminate.

Any new mom can experience postpartum depression, even if they are healthy, even-keeled, successful and have never had any previous mental illness. Some risk factors to be aware of are a history of depression or anxiety in the new mom and/or her family and any recent major stressor such as a house move, job loss, job change, etc. But lesser known risk factors include a perfectionist personality, mothers of multiples, a previous miscarriage, fear of childbirth or a traumatic childbirth experience.

3. It’s not just depression you should watch out for.

Some new moms experience postpartum anxiety and symptoms can include feelings of being overwhelmed, racing thoughts, excessive worry, extreme guilt, difficulty sleeping and/or eating. Other maternal mental mood disorders include postpartum OCD, PTSD and psychosis.

4. It’s completely treatable and often temporary.

Postpartum mood disorders are completely treatable if moms ask for and get the professional help they need. Research has shown women not treated for postpartum depression are less able to bond with their children and care for them properly. Treatment can include therapy and medication and working with a therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in maternal mental health can significantly improve outcomes. See specialists by location here.

5. It doesn’t go away on its own.

Sadly, only 15 percent of new moms get treatment which means way too many moms are struggling in silence. Many new moms fear being being judged and are afraid to ask for help because of the stigma associated with maternal mental illness. If we can get past the stigma and start a dialogue that it’s completely OK to ask for help, mothers and their children will be better off.

6. Family support helps with recovery.

For many new moms, admitting something is wrong and seeking treatment is very challenging, so it’s important she has as much support as possible. Everything from helping her get the right amount of sleep and helping around the house to taking the illness as seriously as a broken bone makes a big impact in her recovery. Just as you wouldn’t expect a mom on crutches with a broken leg to be able to manage everything on her own, you should reach out ask the new mom how she’s doing and how can you help. And then take her lead and help in the ways she needs.

7. It’s not your daughter’s fault and it’s not yours either.

Remember, she didn’t choose to experience this maternal mental health disorder and it’s not something she can just “get over.” You can remind her by being brave and getting professional help, she’s showing what a capable, loving and wonderful mother she is because she is doing what’s best for her and her little one. And I can’t think of a better way to model courage to the next generation than by admitting when we’re in over our heads and then getting the help we need.

If you or a loved one is affected by postpartum depression or other postpartum disorders and need help, you can call Postpartum Support International’s hotline at 1-800-944-4773.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via contributor by Claire Mulkey Photography.

I had felt its presence before, but have never known what it was. It was like being jerked awake by a hard poke in the back then simply turning over, thinking dreamily it must have been my own imagination, and sleeping on. My life was like this. Foggy slumber from which I never awoke, punctured by unnamed, faceless creatures that didn’t emerge in their entirety until much later.

In the beginning, half-formed thoughts and hazy feelings of despair would engulf me, choke me, and my mouth would open on its own accord — I’d hear myself say hideous things. Fury and anguish would spew from me uncontrollably without trigger, without cause. I’d hear myself as though I wasn’t there and think, Why am I saying this? Why am I so angry? What has hurt me so much?

Though the answer would swim in the back of my mind, obscure and enigmatic, I could never reach down and grasp it. It took very little to set me off. Sometimes there was no reason at all, just a blank empty stretch of self-loathing and torment. But mostly, it was simply someone looking at me the wrong way. Somehow proving, through an unanswered text or an unenthusiastic greeting, just how little they cared for me. It could be the coffee shop running out of my preferred flavor of donuts. It could be discovering my bedspread pattern didn’t quite match the carpet. And where would I be without the desperate assurance from others I was loved and cherished or the security of refined sugary treats and the comfort of an immaculately beautiful home? Surely these things will guard me from the monsters in my head? Surely they will protect me in an impenetrable blanket of safety on which I can rest my head and sigh with contentment? Doesn’t pain leave, doesn’t it go with the acquisition of these things? Doesn’t it heal you? Isn’t this what will finally make you happy? I wasted half my life running because I had thought the answer was yes.

It is a sad thing when you don’t know what it is plaguing you. My darkness followed me everywhere I went, but I didn’t even know its name. It was such an enormous part of me and it took so much from me, but still every night I would find myself on my knees screaming for someone to tell me what was wrong with me. If I had understood then something wasn’t right, I wasn’t just lazy, tired and bad tempered, maybe things would have turned out different. But as it was, I didn’t see beyond my low moods and seemingly incurable lethargy. I shrugged it off as a bad day, never stopping to see just how many bad days I was starting to have. I wish it had occurred to me something much deeper was at play, but it’s hard to admit. And if only I didn’t fall into this trap, maybe I would have found peace sooner.

One day, it all became so much worse. I became a mother. I was handed a beautiful, healthy baby boy who would one day grow to entrance me with his wide-eyed gaze and unencumbered smile. But back then, it was as if my world had imploded. Call it nerves or blame it on naiveté, but throughout my pregnancy I had never pictured what it would be like to become a mother. I spent those nine months thinking about ways I would lose the baby weight. I thought about the impact it would have on my relationship with my husband. I wondered where I would keep the cot in our bedroom, how I would store away the bundles of baby clothes. But I never imagined what it would be like to hold a real living thing in my arms, look into my baby’s eyes and know he was mine. My child, with my blood running through his veins. I took for granted I would love him. After all, isn’t this what mothers do? Eventually I learned loving my child was not a right, but a privilege.

It happened in the moments right after my son was born. A stealthy presence had crept over me, slithered into my chest and planted its claws into my heart. I looked at all the happy, tearful faces around me as if I was watching from one end of a long tunnel. They were so far away from me, their voices resounding strangely in my ears. Was this really happening? Why didn’t I feel this happy? I waited for that rush of joy to consume me, for my heart to burst with gratitude and delight, but it never came. I yearned for it, tried vainly to convince myself of it, but my heart had closed itself to any emotion. I spent the night battling exhaustion and fatigue as my baby slept in a bassinet beside me. The only sounds in the room were the voices of other mothers crooning and murmuring into their newborn’s ears and the beating of my own empty heart.

When I returned home from the hospital, I felt no joy and no sense of fulfillment. My husband tried thinking of ways to make me smile, to get me to talk to him about what was wrong, but for some reason my mind wasn’t my own anymore. It was functioning completely apart from me, because surely the thoughts I was having couldn’t possibly be mine. Oh I felt determination, yes. But not for the crying bundle beside me. No, I wanted to run as far away from this as I could, because what could I do to console it? What comfort did I have to give? No, it was much easier tackling the mound of unwashed dishes in the sink and cartons of food that littered the table. This was what I knew. This was something I could do. And when I was done, it wouldn’t cling to me needily the way my baby did. It left me alone. And this was all every pore in my body ached for — to be blissfully and utterly alone. Away from the wailing, away from little hands grabbing at me, away from facing my own horrifying indifference. Somewhere inside me, a little girl buried her face in her pillow and cried and cried. Why doesn’t he sleep? Why doesn’t he ever stop crying? What am I doing wrong? What’s the matter with me? All these desperate questions swarmed round and round in my head like bees until all I could do was grab my head and weep.

I still can’t think back to that time without my hands turning cold. My days became long, dreary stretches of me staring catatonically at the wall while my son wailed in my arms. Other people would bend over him, stroking his cheek and caressing his hair while I sat unmoved, not caring. I wanted so badly to reach over and soothe my child, but the demon held me back. It whispered I would fail anyway, so why bother? It told me my son would probably recoil at my touch. It was always there, watching me, haunting me, mocking me. It bound my wrists so I wouldn’t rock my baby to sleep. It cackled and told me I was the worst mother in the world. It made me stare in bewilderment when other people tickled their children, bounced them on their knee. It was strange to me someone, somewhere, would actually enjoy their child because It had convinced me there was nothing to enjoy in motherhood. I believed all of this to be true.

If I had the words to explain what it was like in my mind, I would. No one can possibly understand what it’s like unless they’ve experienced it. It isn’t as if you don’t love your child — you do — but there is so much sadness and stress over it, the love is diminished, quietened, forgotten. You feel shame and horror that the most basic maternal instincts were denied to you. You feel an almost painful desperation to quiet the demons in your head, who keep whispering how hard it is to take care of a baby. You yearn to sleep again. You resent the constant feeding. You’re sickened by the constant stench of dirty diapers. You can scarcely believe there was a time you could leave the house unbidden and unrestrained. And the ever present, evil thought you are failing. You are ruining your child’s life. Everyone hates you for this. Your son doesn’t deserve someone like you. The earth itself will rise up to reject you. It is relentless.

Ironically my son’s needs were always met. He was always in a clean diaper, well fed and comfortably nestled in heaps of fluffy blankets. I insisted on exclusive breastfeeding. No matter how much it worsened my mood, I nursed and nursed because it was the only way I could think to redeem myself as a mother. I bought him toys. But that was it. No lullabies, no whispers. No tickling of tiny toes. No shared smiles and giggles. Just standing by and watching indifferently.

My husband could of course see by now something was devastatingly wrong. He tried cajoling and comforting. He listened in those rare moments when I opened up to him and admitted I was drowning and he told me none of it was true. He said I was a great mother. I tried to nod, but all I could hear was the laughter in my head at how wrong he was. But he persisted. We went out to restaurants and funfairs in an attempt to awaken me from the zombie I had become. He bought me gifts. He held my hand and told me he was there for me. But still, caring for my child felt like the most exhausting task in the world. I’d still count on my fingers how many months were left until I could shift his cot into the nursery, away from me. My hands would still tremble when I changed a diaper or offered him a spoonful of food, certain I was doing it all wrong. I continued to resist social gatherings because I knew it would mean struggling with a howling baby by myself the entire time. I hated how I couldn’t eat a meal in peace, the way everyone around me seemed to be able to do. I didn’t join in when other mothers laughed and joked about the pitfalls of motherhood because I knew for them, it was all worth it. They were in love with their children in a way that was still foreign to me.

And so my demons kept on knocking, I kept screaming silently for help. The first time we heard the term “postpartum depression” was from the public health nurse sitting across from me, holding the form I had just filled out which quantified depressive levels in new mothers. Her grave tone and immediate referral to a GP was enough to let me know my score. For months, the tornado in my head had plagued me because it didn’t make any sense. Now, I finally got clarification from the psychiatrist we had gone to see. What I had was a biochemical vulnerability, which when triggered by an emotional upheaval or drastic event, had led to full blown depression. In my case the event had been my pregnancy and consequent delivery.

At last, an explanation! The knowledge there were other mothers and fathers like me. There was a way out. But it took a long time to accept what I had. Postpartum depression sounded so ugly to me, an embarrassing label to put on myself.

I denied medication, claiming I could fight it on my own. And while I’m certainly not saying the only way to treat mental illness is through pills, it must be remembered depression slowly takes from you any power and control you may have. Saying you will fight it on your own is sometimes asking for more strength than you have. It’s OK to seek help. It’s OK to take medications because they do help. There’s no shame in it. So please speak out. This is not your fault. That’s the most important thing to understand. Depression makes you believe the worst in you then convinces you it is your fault you have these shortcomings. But remember you are imperfect by design and that’s OK.

It took a while, but I began seeing a therapist. At first my voice was barely above a whisper but it grew stronger as I realized what a relief and joy it was to finally be able to tell someone. The more I heard myself talk, the more I felt my burden lightening and the more sense I could make of what I had been going through. I could come to solutions all on my own and what was more, I had found the strength to act on those solutions as well.

There are still days when it all feels like too much. When my patience wears out, my temper gets shorter and I still need moments to myself so I can just breathe. But after a while, the malicious whispering in my ear gets fainter, my darkness ebbs away quicker and it’s easier to find my way out. Now my days aren’t complete without at least a hundred kisses from my son, each one melting my heart. Now I know what it’s like to lift him and bury my face in his sweet smelling neck and look into his radiant face as though I am watching the sun come up. Now I sleep with him beside me, holding his hand tightly in mine. I carry it with me in my dreams.

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Image via Thinkstock

Postpartum depression can be a very confusing time for a new mother when the external expectation and questions put even more pressure on you to be happy — especially at a time when you were likely expecting to be. Up to one in seven new moms will have postpartum depression anywhere between the pregnancy and the first 12 months after birth. Just like other mental health issues, there is often a lack of self-directed tools to use.

That’s why it’s time to pick up a camera and start some photo projects!

It can be really hard to explain how you’re feeling or be able to communicate to people what you’re going through. That’s where photography comes in.

Before you say, “I’m not a photographer” or “I don’t have a creative bone in my body,” allow me to put those arguments to rest. It’s not about the artistic or technical aspects of photography, but rather using your photos as a way to communicate and express what’s hard to put into words.

Hit the shutter button, choose the photo that feels right and write something to go along with it — whatever comes to mind while looking at it. Do you have a smartphone and an internet connection? Great, that’s all you need. Let’s get started.

Why you need to start photo projects for your postpartum depression:

  1. Tell your story visually and express what can’t be put into words
  2. Discover powerful personal insights about yourself and what you’re struggling with
  3. Gain clarity on your purpose, passion and authentic self
  4. Understand your perspective on yourself, your child and the world around you
  5. Find a way to help others understand what you’re going through so they can support you better
  6. Your project becomes an amazing tool for self reflection and giving perspective on personal growth
  7. Every photo and story is a practice of introspection, personal growth and a vulnerable act of courage in building empathy
  8. Feel a sense of accomplishment as you create each photo and gradually complete the project over time

What you need for your photo projects

  1. Any kind of camera (smartphones allowed!)
  2. A mission statement and description for your project
  3. We recommend a minimum of ten stories (photos) per project

You can create a series of photos and stories or project as a way to develop a more realistic narrative and ‘picture’ of the struggles, questions, thoughts and emotions that you’re going through. I highly suggest starting with a theme or a single photo that helps spark other ideas for photos or stories. A snowball effect can start to happen for your creativity and most importantly, your recovery.

There are lots of different photography communities to share your work and connect with others who are going through similar struggles as a way to reduce the isolation and confusion even more.

Once you’re ready, be sure to share your photos, stories and project with people close to you or someone you trust to help them better understand what you’re going through. Hearing their perspective can be very therapeutic and provide powerful insights to help you in your recovery and growth.

If you want a private, safe space to share your work, you can join our online platform for free or enroll in our course.

Please note: I always encourage photography to be a tool within your “toolkit” of techniques and support if you’re struggling with a serious issue like depression or anxiety. It’s not a replacement for professional help.

pregnant woman black and white photo

woman/mom holding a camera




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