When you become a mother you suddenly have an overwhelming urge to capture every moment. As a photographer the urge was even greater. Every moment you have with them is a first, something to be commemorated. But what happens when your beautiful moments aren’t as photogenic as you had dreamed?
I remember sitting in the hospital smiling down my gorgeous newborn son Maximus, not realising that my smile was beginning to become lopsided.
Bell’s Palsy took over the right side of my face just a few days after having a traumatic birth experience.
I didn’t notice completely until I was in the shower 3 days after coming home from hospital. My right eye kept blurring. I thought perhaps I had soap in my eye. I looked in the mirror and thought I might make myself feel a bit more alive again with some mascara. It kept going all over my eye…..
‘I’m not that clumsy’ I thought. Then I noticed only my left eye would blink. I had no control over my right one.
Am I having a stroke? Was all that was going through my mind.
Rushing out to my Dad, Fireman and trained medic he assured me it wasn’t a stroke. But unsure of what was causing it, stress? Illness? The uncertainty made me feel very vulnerable, especially after the stress of giving birth.
Looking in the mirror again I screwed up my face. Only half of my nose would scrunch. Then I tried to smile, only half of my mouth turned up.
A doctor then confirmed Bell’s Palsy. A condition causing temporary weakness or paralysis in one side of the face. These symptoms mirroring the symptoms of a stroke*.
In my case it was paralysis. I had no control over anything on the right side of my face. The doctors I saw (one who used google to talk about my diagnosis, which gave him the nick name Dr Google!) denied it was caused from the events of my sons birth, most likely for legal reasons. However after conversations with my midwife I was assured it was related.
Without going into a lot of detail, a midwife who was looking after me during labour failed to see that my baby’s head had become stuck in my pelvis while I was pushing. 5 hours after being in this state and a total of 35 hours of labour I was rushed into an emergency cesarian. The stress of these events caused the nerve to compress and the paralysis.
After the diagnosis of Bell’s Palsy I felt mortified! Ashamed! Embarrassed! I was a new mother with my loving fiancé and family around me. I had just had a beautiful baby boy, who was healthy and happy. He was 7 days old and this was supposed to be the most joyous time of our lives.
I couldn’t smile at my son. I couldn’t laugh, eat properly or drink – think after having an injection at the dentist when you can’t take a sip from a glass without it dribbling everywhere. Trying to drink through a straw was even worse! I turned down family and friends wanting to come congratulate us and see our new baby boy. I just wanted to hide.
At night I had to wear an eye patch so my eye wouldn’t get scratched and dry out. My fiancé called me a pirate when ever the eye patch came out, with a pirate accent and followed by ‘arg!’.
This did put some humour into the situation – he still calls me a pirate (affectionately of course!).
I also couldn’t use my camera. Which for me was the hardest part. This broke my heart. As my right eye couldn’t focus I couldn’t see through my lens. I had only taken a few shots of Max so far. Obviously there is automatic focus on my camera lens but you still need to set up the shot and make sure the right part of the subject is in focus etc. I also wanted some photos with my new baby and fiancé Alan. But at this point I didn’t want a camera anywhere near my face. I felt ugly and deformed. Family friends who new would come up to me and look up close at my face and comment. I cried on the inside. I wanted to scream at them to just go away. I covered my mouth when I talked and laughed as I felt so self conscious.
Then my midwife told me about another new mum who went through a similar birth experience and also got Bell’s Palsy because of it. She along with Alan and my family encouraged me to keep a positive mindset, stay relaxed (as much as you can with a new baby) and believe it would pass.
I spent hours on Pinterest looking for other photo options so I could still have photographs with my newborn and feel beautiful. I set up my camera for my younger sister and she and I worked together to create some images I absolutely treasure.
Basically all images of me during this time were of my left side with a bit of a smirky smile.
I can also say I really appreciated my iPhone camera!
My sister who was studying Beauty Therapy gave me facial massages to stimulate the nerve that was causing the Bell’s Palsy. One of her classes addressed Bell’s Palsy and the positive effects facial massage has on the condition.
What also helped was being at home with lots of family support. We flew back to my home in New Zealand so I could have Max with my family there to help us while we became new parents. The extra sleep, company, sunshine and cooked meals I know helped me recover.
Eventually I made fun of myself and the condition, saying things like “I’m about to have a drink, get a bib!” and “I would laugh, but I can’t”. I also joined in on the pirate jokes……arg! Finding my sense of humour about what was happening to me helped me feel less out of control and lessened my own self-consciousness, though I still felt vulnerable.
My experience with Bell’s Palsy lasted about 6 weeks. Every time I had a sensation or movement back it was a little celebration as the condition can last a lot longer and in some cases there is only about 60% recovery.
I have 99% control over my face and only I can notice the 1% remaining.
Of everything, the main thing that helped me to cope with Bell’s Palsy was my son Max. Him snuggling into me, gripping my fingers, first smile and laugh. Everything he did filled me with joy and made me realise how lucky I was to have such an incredible child.
I have posted this experience not to garner sympathy, but to show empathy for other mothers suffering from the same condition. I say suffering because you do suffer emotionally and physically from it.
I understand how you feel. Having this new amazing little person that you created and brought into the world and you can’t even smile at them. Or you feel that you will scare them if you do.
My experience of a less-than-perfect birth and new motherhood has made me feel especially motivated to help capture the beautiful moments for families who are also facing problems. I feel a connection to stories that don’t play out in the way families might be hoping.
I can work with you to capture images that will make you feel like the beautiful person you are. Not just those with Bell’s Palsy but those of you who have gone through an ordeal during the birth of your child and need something to treasure.
Every family deserves to have their happy moments preserved in photographic form, and I want to help do that, even when circumstances are more difficult.
*Bell’s palsy is an idiopathic condition, meaning that no conclusive cause has been established. It has not yet been possible to find out why the facial nerve becomes compressed; however, links have been made with viruses as well as a depleted immune system and stress.
For more information on Bell’s Palsy click here.