Desiree Fortin is a mom to 18-month-old triplets — Charlize, Sawyer and Jax — but the California mom is currently not pregnant.
So when several of her friends congratulated her via social media on her "baby bump" in recent photos, Fortin was hurt, and began to question both her physical appearance and her feelings about body image.
Fortin, who delivered her triplets in August 2015 after a long struggle with infertility, says after some soul searching, she was reminded that her scars, stretch marks, and extra skin — which she affectionately calls "hope wounds" — are symbols of motherhood that remind her daily of the way her body grew and delivered her three babies.
In a touching blog post about body image and postpartum depression (PPD,) Fortin shared personal candid photos of her post-pregnancy belly, along with encouraging words for other mothers who are also struggling with postpartum body image and mental health.
"Despite my 'baby bump' when I look into the mirror, I see so much more beauty than I've ever seen before because my hope wounds, which are with me forever, have far greater meaning to me than I ever knew they would," Fortin wrote in the post. "Even though I may have a little extra pooch and lots of tiger stripes, I longed for wounds like these."
"My hope wounds are the change my body never saw coming, but my heart desired so deeply. They are reminders of the excruciating pain and grief infertility caused my heart," she continued. "They are pure beauty because they represent my miracles."
Fortin says sharing her postpartum photos — a black and white image of her triplets playing around her belly, and a series of images shot in a milk bath that show her postpartum stomach — was an empowering experience.
"To be able to say, 'These are my scars, and I love them,' — I went through so much before I received my scars, while my scars were forming, and after they really set in, and I feel like capturing these images was a beautiful representation of my journey," Fortin told TODAY Parents.
In addition to the physical changes caused by a triplet pregnancy, Fortin's journey was also a mental one. The stay-at-home mother struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety, and, in the early days of motherhood, took anxiety medication to control panic attacks.
"When I first realized I was struggling with PPD and anxiety, it was very difficult for me to admit because I had longed so deeply to be a mother and I felt so guilty and ashamed for not experiencing all the mommy joys I thought I would," said Fortin. "It was hard for me to actually recognize I was not happy and really struggling as a new mom."
"I did what I needed to do to get through that season of life," Fortin continued. "As mothers, we need to have grace for ourselves."
Fortin says she hopes sharing her message will help other mothers take necessary time to offer themselves grace and patience, and to get the help they need, whether it's hiring a babysitter so they can catch up on sleep or seeing a doctor to discuss their feelings.
"Ultimately, I just hope that women everywhere can embrace their bodies, because growing a human being and delivering one is not an easy job," said Fortin. "It isn't an easy job being a mom either, and our hope wounds are something we should be proud of, not ashamed of."