As happens between women who have experienced postpartum depression (PPD), we find our ways to each other. Out of seemingly nowhere — an email, a conversation — some sort of connection is formed and coincidence creates opportunity to share the extraordinary journey of motherhood with a postpartum mood disorder (PPMD). In this case, Melissa and I were introduced to each other! I watched her photo project, “PPMD“ and my heart was so moved. She captures the essence of the beauty and bravery of women who have walked through hell and back — not only recovering from PPD, but growing from it. What Melissa brings to Giving Birth with Confidence is the real story of a real mom realizing her creativity as an essential part of the healing process following postpartum depression. I am honored to know her, and introduce her to you!
When did you realize you had postpartum depression?
This is actually a tough question for me. Not for emotional reasons but because I think I was in denial or maybe even unaware I had PPD for a long time. Postpartum depression came about after the birth of my 2nd child. I am also beginning to realize I may have suffered with depression while I was pregnant with her too. After she was born I made excuses for my depression and anxiety that it was due to lack of sleep and my daughter being colicky. It was on a visit to my daughter’s naturopathic pediatrician that my having PPMD came out. The doctor had been concerned about me when I brought my daughter in and it was during one of the visits that she addressed her concerns with me. Although I felt there was something wrong with how I was feeling, I was still in denial about admitting I had postpartum depression. I was scared to admit it. I tried confiding in a few people and the look on their faces told me they didn’t understand and they were now scared. Some even suggested taking my kids. I clammed up. I didn’t say another word. Again, I was grateful for my daughter’s doctor. She is also a midwife. She was the one person I could speak to without judgment and I owe her so much.
How did your photography and creativity help your recovery?
Photography became my voice. I remember days when I would be crying, anxious and filled with so much emotion that I didn’t know what to do. I could pick up my camera and in a way, detach myself from it all. All of a sudden I was looking through my viewfinder and looking at life around me in a different way. It is difficult for me to express but at that moment it helped me, it helped lift the anxiety and depression for just a minute. It broke the cycle. At other times I couldn’t express to people how I was feeling so I used my photography to express emotions in other ways. Not specifically just my emotions and voice, but others too. I couldn’t talk about what I was feeling because I didn’t feel anyone would understand. As I poured myself into my photography I found myself wanting to do more, to learn more, so I went back to school. It is funny how, in life, there are really no accidents. If it hadn’t been for my picking up the camera as a way to stay creative being at home with my kids I wouldn’t have had this incredible gift to use while dealing with my PPMD. And, if it hadn’t been for my having PPMD I wouldn’t have gone back to school and if I didn’t go back to school I wouldn’t have done my project, “PPMD.”
Walker: Tell us about your current photo project, “PPMD.”
My project. Well, as I mentioned about no accidents in life, I was sitting in my Assignment and Editorial class and the topic of our final assignment came up. We had weekly assignments throughout the 10 weeks of class while also working on a final assignment to be presented at the last class. The instructor mentioned the best projects are those we can connect with. I don’t know how it came out but all of a sudden postpartum mood disorder (PPMD) popped into my head. I also immediately questioned how I was going to present a photo essay on postpartum mood disorder. I had no idea but presented my idea anyhow. My instructor loved the idea and encouraged me to include audio. So, I decided I was going to take photos of women who had or were currently struggling with postpartum mood disorder. I was going to pose them in their homes and then ask them to provide me with an experience, memory or something else of significance that related to their own experience with PPMD. I was encouraged to have 10 images for my final and this meant 10 women. I had no idea how I was going to find that many.
I should also point out that my main goal was to create a project that would not only empower women who had experienced PPMD but to also educate people about PPMD in hopes of eliminating the judgment and stigma associated with it. I didn’t want women to be scared, like me, to share their experiences and I wanted all women to get help and to not be ashamed. I want women to look at these photos and hear the voices and say “hey, I am not alone,” and “these women don’t look crazy; I am not crazy either.” I used my resources and emailed my local parents community yahoo group and the staff at the non-profit I volunteered for. I was overwhelmed at the responses I got. I had over 15 people respond. It also awakened me to how many women suffer PPMD. I scheduled time to meet with each woman without my camera. I wanted to connect and hear their stories. This was the most amazing experience. I cried with these women, I laughed with these women. I heard their stories, I shared mine. We were not alone. It was amazingly cathartic for me and for them. I have received many thank yous, because for most of us, it was the first time we were able to share our stories without judgment. The horrible things in our heads we were able to laugh about. We knew they were not reality and we just needed to be heard. My project shares the voices of the women and their portraits capture them in a way that is reflective of me and my experience. This project has only just begun. My dream is to share this project worldwide. To travel and meet with women and then photograph and audio record them. At this time I am unsure how the project will continue to grow but am still going to school and this project is an active part of my education.
Melissa Miller is a photographer, student, wife and mother of two living in Seattle, WA. Photography came about as a way to explore her creative voice. She’s done work for Open Arms Perinatal Services, PALS Doulas and Thrive by Five’s “Love.Talk.Play.” campaign. She is currently enrolled at Photographic Center NW where she is taking classes and continuing her personal project, “PPMD“ on the subject of postpartum mood disorders.