Sometimes, Pictures Do Lie

This is not a story about an amazing photographer or stunning photography. It’s about photos that are taken by non-photographers, in everyday situations, documenting a moment in time that is supposed to be filled with joy and happiness. The time after a baby - that fresh-smelling bundle of joy - came into the world. These are the faces of mothers, suffering from postpartum depression, hiding their angst behind a smile.

If you are not a woman, or never gave birth, postpartum depression (PPD) might not affect you directly. But it can affect your loved ones, or even the mother with whom you just shot a baby session.

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I was going through crippling self-loathing, constant systemic panic attacks that ravaged my digestive system, and a lack of desire to live.” --Morgan Shanahan

Katherine Stone is an award-winning blogger, and the founder and editor of the blog Postpartum Progress. She is also the founder of Postpartum Progress Inc., a non-profit focused on improving support for women with prenatal mood and anxiety disorders. Her blogs and website offer in-depth information about birth-related mental illnesses. Her goal is to raise awareness, and fight the stigma of PPD.

“When this picture was taken I was suffering through severe postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but just hours before this picture was taken, I tried to kill myself. I had been sobbing for two weeks. An hour after this picture was taken, I got up on stage and performed for a church talent show like everything was fine.” -- Adrienne Feldman

Katherine Stone kindly answered a couple of my questions:

LG: "The subject of PPD has been 'swept under the rug' from the beginning of time. How did you gather the courage to bring awareness to this subject by 'exposing' your own experience?"

KS: "The only way to make this better is to expose it. When I had postpartum depression and anxiety I felt so alone and ashamed, and later when I found out how many women get these illnesses I was angry that I hadn't known that. It felt unfair that I spent so much time feeling awful about myself when someone could have told me, "Hey! It's not just you." It didn't feel hard to share what happened to me because I felt like it would make things better for another mom -- I felt like I could do that and I wanted to do that."

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I was self harming and trying to manage deep depression and intense rage.” -- Alena Chandler

"I was also mad that the media generally portrays women with maternal mental illness as bedraggled and dangerous. That imagery, which is ridiculous and unfair, adds to the stigma and prevents women from getting help. So it wasn't that hard to figure out that we could start fighting against that by sha­ring our own imagery. Postpartum Progress created the first and only photo album featuring moms who've had maternal mental illnesses like postpartum depression and psychosis because we wanted people to see that it's the mom around the corner, your friend, your co-worker, regular everyday cool women who get these illnesses."

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression and severe anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like a horrible mother. I had been suicidal a few months prior. I was having racing & intrusive thoughts, experiencing moments of rage I couldn’t explain or understand, constantly sweating from anxiety, having at least one panic attack daily, and found myself stuck in gravity wells of sadness every few days that made just getting out of bed painful and exhausting.” -- A’Driane Nieves

"And then recently I created the story "You Can't Tell A Mom Has PPD By Looking" because I hear from so many mothers struggling with maternal mental illness who are deeply frustrated by the people around them saying, "You look just fine to me! You can't have PPD. You don't need any help." Even some doctors say this, and these are women who can hardly hold it together, if at all, and some of them are even considering suicide. I think photographs help tell the story that PPD is not a one size fits all type of illness. There is not an obvious "look" that a mom with postpartum depression has. It's way more complicated than that."

LG: "What is the best way to support and help a friend or family member who is going through PPD?"

KS: "I think the best way to support someone that you think has PPD is to say to her that you love her and support her no matter what. You know she's going to be a great mom, and if she is struggling that's okay because postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth. One in every seven women will get it -- even more than the number of women who will get breast cancer every year -- and you don't get it because you're not a good enough mom or because you are weak or because you have some sort of defect of character. It's a real illness, it requires professional help, and while your friend or sister or partner is getting the help she needs and deserves you will be happy to do whatever it takes to support her."

“You wouldn’t know by looking, but I was suffering from postpartum anxiety, OCD and PTSD. This was the week after I got out of an inpatient facility, and while I was attending an outpatient program. I was suffering from constant panic attacks, inability to sleep, eat or even sit still, and my mind was running a mile a minute with severe and persistent intrusive thoughts, including suicidal ideation.” -- Kendra Slater

You can read more about Katherine Stone’s work at here and here, as well as Buzzfeed.

All photos were used with permission from Buzzfeed via Katherine Stone.

Limor Garfinkle's picture

Limor Garfinkle lives and works in NYC as an art director and the in-house photographer for the ad agency SMA. Started out in the field just three short years ago as a wedding photojournalist, and soon after switched to architectural photography, shooting interiors for commercial spaces such as Spotify, Amex, Warner Music Group, Clear Channel, etc.

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When this comment was written, I was suffering post-readingthisarticle depression

A snarky reply to a serious issue for a lot of people is never the appropriate response.

Who are you for spitting "snarkly" and telling wich one is the appropriate response?
Some people are too looky of having a beautiful wife and wonderful children.

George. You're a troll. And an idiot. But... it's the land of the free... so, of course, troll away. (Which, undoubtedly, you will.)

You sir are a numpty !!!

This is an issue that still gets ignored and stigmatized, I guess any comment means one more person is aware.

Thanks a lot for this article. My girlfriend had post-partum psychosis. She was basically 2 years in the hospital, away in another world, while I was working and taking care of our daughter.
My girlfriend is fine now, mostly thanks to the right medication and a stress-free environment. I was really open about her condition, because I needed to let stress out and be able to talk about it to sane people. I was amazed by the number of people telling me that they suffered from depression. Even close friends and family members were ashamed to admit it at first.

The point about this article is that the title lies

How so?

Too sticky replies.
Yes, I'm not affected by postpartun.

I think he means it's not the pictures themselves that are lying, but they are accurate representations of people who are lying to the world.

I think he might be drunk.

PPD, like every other mental illness, has a stigma that is associated with it. Mental illness in general in the USA has a stigma. People experience a level of shame, regardless what label is put on it, and resist seeking help. I'm going to be a bit of a hypocrite for a minute (I'm working on a project that does involve war vets with PTSD) and say that sometimes labels are as harmful as they are helpful. People who don't have an "excuse" of a new baby or coming home from a war often feel they either don't really have a problem or shouldn't because they didn't experience certain events.

Also, a point to make is that parents, regardless of gender or age of their children, often do not want to seek help because they are afraid of having their children taken away. In the current mentality of people making ridiculous calls to DCF over differences in opinion about parenting styles, it's a valid concern. I do think this makes parents less honest with their healthcare providers.

Awesome article - this is something that so many deal with and as so may mothers have said - they think they are the only ones going thru it and feel like bad mothers. Just getting word out and women into support groups (and also any significant others to see what assistance they can be of and to understand what is going on) will help all in their recovery process. Perhpas one day the pictures will be telling the real story of a happy mother with her beautiful child.

Every time I hear stories from people who are married with kids it makes me happy that I'm single and childless.

Thanks for this article. I sure didn't expect to see something like this when I came to visit FStoppers this morning, but it was a pleasant surprise. Social stigma causes so much unneeded suffering. It's hard enough for a woman going through PPD, for her to feel shame and confusion on top of it is needlessly cruel.

Shine a light on it!

PPD is a very real and very serious issue. My wife had a rough time with it after she gave birth to our twins. She developed a severe hemorrhage postpartum which resulted in a hysterectomy, they almost lost her during the procedure which took roughly 5 hours. She was in SICU for 4 days and didn't see our twins for a week, this filled her with guilt. She was "fine" for about a month before she started having thoughts of harming herself and the twins. I would not leave her alone in the house with them for nearly a year, this took it's toll on both our marriage and our finances. There is definitely a stigma attached to it, very few of our friends and family understood what the problem was andmost just shrugged it of with "But you're soooo blessed just be happy!".

Do you still believe in lapidation in your country?
Or is that webpage promotes insulting.

Thanks for the kind comments Eric, Jennifer, Michael, Gregg and Thomas. I hope things got better. And Thanks for the beautiful picture Thomas.

Limor, you're welcome and thank you. It did and it does get better though I will say it is very easy to lose faith that it ever will when you're in the middle of it which is what makes the stigma attached to all mental illness quite damaging - It keeps people from asking for help.

This is a very interesting article and although I don't have children and cannot relate to post postnatal depression, I do have personal pictures of my own where a seemingly positive expression can be compared to a captive dolphins smile; the biggest, fattest lie ever.