Parents

Moms Speak Out About Postpartum Depression In Honest Photo Project

"Society puts so much pressure on mothers to be perfect."
01/15/2016 01:11pm ET

Photographer Natalie McCain has found purpose in capturing raw images that highlight real moms' stories, as they bare their bodies and souls.

In the latest photo series of her ongoing Honest Body Project, McCain photographs and interviews women who have struggled with mental illness, particularly postpartum depression. She aims to give voice to moms who suffer in silence, feeling alone.

"Society puts so much pressure on mothers to be perfect," McCain told The Huffington Post. "When a woman has a child and starts struggling with postpartum depression, she often keeps this to herself because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. It is so much more common than most women realize and if we were to speak about it more mothers wouldn't need to struggle alone."

Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project

The series features eight mothers who suffered from postpartum depression, as well as one child-free woman who experienced PTSD after an experience with sexual assault. Some of the moms McCain photographed and interviewed also dealt with depression earlier in their lives, though others faced it for the first time after becoming parents.

The photographer drew inspiration from her own experiences with postpartum anxiety after giving birth to her second child. "It took me months to realize what was going on because I had never even heard of postpartum anxiety," she said. "It is actually a common thing to go through and more people need to speak about it openly. Nobody should suffer alone."

McCain wants people who see her photo series to realize that depression doesn't always "look" sad. Many mothers feel pressure to put on a "fake smile" and pretend their lives are picture-perfect, especially on social media, she said -- noting this phenomenon deepens the silence surrounding the topic.

Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project

"I hope that this series will help women who are struggling silently reach out for help," the photographer told HuffPost, adding, "Whether you open up to your best friend, your family, or your doctor, just speak up. It is so important to be honest and get help. I hope that new mothers struggling with postpartum depression will read these women's stories are realize that they aren't alone and that it can get better."

As for those who haven't struggled with mental illness, McCain believes her series can help foster greater a understanding and desire to help.

"If your friend just had a baby, even if she says she is okay, if you think she may be struggling then reach out to her and be there for her," she said. "Go help clean her house. Hold her baby while she naps. Be present and proactive. Postpartum depression is a serious problem and just having a friend who is supportive can help so much."

Keep scrolling for a sample of McCain's photos and interviews with moms who suffered from postpartum depression.

1
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"I think the thing I struggled with the most with having depression is really accepting it and knowing that it’s a true problem. At first I just thought something was wrong with me and I could change it. That I was just in some kind of funk. That I needed to be more appreciative of the things in my life, or change them ... I can’t really explain depression to you but I can tell you it’s one of the worst feelings I have ever felt in my whole life. You think you’re not worthy, you think you’re not doing things right, and you’re not quite sure what’s wrong with you."
2
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"What helped the most honestly was the medication. I talked to a therapist for about three years. But when I really felt a difference was after I started medication. I am so glad I took that step. I didn’t take it like I was supposed to one time and I saw myself going down again. I got angry easily, I was mean, I was crying all the time. I’ll never do that again."
3
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"I wish more people knew how serious depression was. People like myself just blow it off like its nothing. Like it's someone looking for attention or them just not being happy. But it is so much more than that."
4
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"When my son was little I was in such a hole, full of depression and I didn’t even know it. I thought about taking my life. Different ways of ending it. I even went as far as thinking about my family coming to my house and seeing crime tape. It was because of my son and that image in my head that I was able to walk past a medicine cabinet and a gun case to my husband. I told him what I was thinking and how I felt. I literally felt like I was drunk or on drugs."
5
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"Since I had already suffered from depression there was a very good chance I would get PPD. I tried to write off the tiredness and moodiness as fluctuating hormones, which is normal. It wasn’t until I started having trouble even functioning in daily life that I knew I needed help. It was hard to get out of bed. There were days I would have to call my mom over just to get the baby and tend to him and I would sleep. The only time I would interact with my baby was when I was nursing him. I didn’t even want to talk to my husband. I felt lonely even though I had my entire family with me."
6
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"I felt out of control. I felt angry and frustrated I was feeling this way. I was supposed to be the happiest person ever! I had a gorgeous new baby and I couldn’t even bring myself to get out of bed and enjoy him. After several months of seeing someone for professional help, I am now functioning pretty well. I work part-time, enjoy spending time with my family and most of all my son. There are still bad days. There are still days I break down crying at work."
7
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"It was really hard. My family walked on eggshells, afraid something they did or said would upset me. I didn’t want to be around anyone, not even my son. I wanted to just run away from it all. It is a really dark, lonely place."
8
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"Do not feel like you have to suffer alone. Reach out to someone you trust and tell them how you are feeling. Do not be afraid someone will think you are an unfit mother because you are feeling these things. There are a ton of people out there who WANT to help you through this! And remember to take one day at a time. It does get better!"
9
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
10
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"With my history of depression and anxiety, I was aware that I might suffer from PPD after the birth of my first child. I remember talking about it with my husband and reminding him to look for the signs the birth instructor talked about during the birthing classes. We were ready for what could come -- or so we thought. After our first daughter was born, I was in a fog. I felt overwhelmed by my perfectionism and scared of not being enough for this most precious being. I felt like a failure frequently despite her loving gaze at me. My dream, my prayer, my heart was in my arms and I felt unworthy to be her mother."
11
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"Motherhood rocked me to the core. I was raw and vulnerable and I had to protect that. So I hid behind a façade of “happy mommy land” and I fooled many. I pretended I had it together because the shame and guilt of knowing that I didn’t was painful. The two safe places I relied on heavily in that first year of motherhood were my beloved husband and the afternoon breastfeeding support group at the hospital. I learned I wasn’t alone despite my efforts to hide in my façade. With my husband and that group of mothers, I shared my failures, my fears, my tears, and my raw feelings of guilt/shame. Talking about the shame made it less powerful and easier to handle."
12
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"Honestly, I didn’t realize I had PPD until our first daughter was 10 months old. I remember telling my husband of all these horrible thoughts that would come into my head. I really felt scared of them. He would talk me through them and reminded me they were just thoughts and not real ... I went to a naturopathic doctor and started a holistic regimen which included a homeopathic remedy specific to my symptoms ... When I start to feel “crazy,” I know what to do. I can take my remedy, breathe deeply, take some time to myself to recharge, exercise, journal, pray/meditate, refocus the thoughts in my head on the truth and shut down the shameful thoughts, give myself positive affirmation, and share my story with someone I trust."
13
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"Having a mental disorder does not define who a person is. If anything you should realize how strong that person is because every single day is a struggle just to survive, and they are defying all the emotions raging inside them and pushing through. They are strong beyond belief."
14
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"I am finally on a regimen that is working well. I have also finally found the most amazing counselor I could ever ask for. It took me over ten years, but nothing worth having is easy. I know it feels like you are alone, like the world is collapsing around you and you're drowning with no possible way out, but I promise you, there is a way out. It is not easy, and sometimes the road is a long one, but do not give in. The world needs you, even though is disease is lying to you saying it doesn’t.”
15
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"It is an everyday struggle. Even with medication, it’s not like taking Tylenol for a headache and it goes away, it just makes the struggle manageable. We are not lazy and we are not crazy. We do not just want to be miserable and want everyone around us miserable. Living this way is hard, it is nothing I would wish on someone else, but realize the strength that goes into living life everyday to its fullest when you have this disease constantly lying to you in the background.”
16
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"After my son was born I tried the new normal mom things of adjusting to a new baby and just felt like I couldn’t get everything under control. I went back to work when he was six weeks old, and I cried the whole way to work (which is very unusual for me). I think that was the beginning of me being truly depressed. I kind of went through a fog for the next several months, I couldn’t get my performance at work to be as good as it was in the past and felt like I was just struggling to get through the day. But I figured it was just part of being a new mom. So I started working part-time instead of full-time and that helped a little, But I just still didn’t feel right. Everything was out of control. This went on for over a year.”
17
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
“When he was about 15 months old things started getting really dark. I started noticing that as I would get ready for work that my heart would start racing, I couldn’t breathe, I would start to feel sick and as I was driving to work I would have these panic attacks. I didn’t know at the time that they were panic attacks I just thought I was really stressed out. I was constantly missing work because I just couldn’t get myself together. Finally one day as I was getting ready for work my husband happened to be home and walked in on me a while I was having a major panic attack. He told me that it wasn’t normal to be feeling this way and encouraged me to see if I could find help somewhere. He had been noticing that my depression had been getting worse and was really concerned. So I decided to see a doctor, go on some medication and take a six week leave of absence from work. I figured that would fix it all."
18
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"I would try medications for 6-8 weeks at a time, and they continued not to work. I just kept falling deeper and deeper into this darkness. It was enveloping me. Choking me. It was taking away all my joy, all of reasons to live. I cried all the time and tried to reach out to friends and family to help me. But no one could help me. So I started praying. I cried out in prayer everyday that I would just snap out of it. That I would wake up and it would just be gone. But that didn’t happen.”
19
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"A new doc found the right dosages of medicine and after several weeks the panic attacks subsided, and I was able to wean off that medicine. After about 10-12 weeks, he found a depression medicine that helped me manage my time of darkness. It lasted about four years and it really was one of the worst times of my life. The right dosage of meds and mentally walking through what what causing all of anxiety and depression definitely helped. I learned how to pray and meditate; that way, when I feel overwhelmed or when I feel like I’m starting to slip back, I can stop and focus on what’s important and know that I am bigger than my depression. It’s doesn’t control me anyone. I am no longer a slave to the darkness.”
20
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"I want people -- moms, dads, friends, everyone -- to understand that it doesn’t have consume you. It can be suffocating, but you have to fight for your life. Really fight for it. Because nothing is better than coming out on the other side. That first ray of light after the darkness is enough to satisfy your whole life and then some. I still have days where I want to sleep the day away because I’m so overwhelmed and I don’t have energy to take care of my kids, but the Lord gives me just enough of what I need to get me through each day."
21
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"Depression is as real of a disease as cancer. If someone tells you they have cancer, you don’t doubt them and tell them it’s in their head. I wish that mental illness didn’t carry this stigma."
22
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"I have had issues with depression before, when I was trying to get pregnant. I was so happy when I got pregnant -- I was nervous, but happy. I loved being pregnant. After the twins were born and I had to leave them at the hospital and then when we had to have an extended stay at a children's hospital, I had such guilt. I worried about losing my son, I worried about not bonding with my daughter, I worried about my breastmilk supply, I worried all the time! I still struggle with the guilt and that the way I dreamed about motherhood was not the reality."
23
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"It was about two months before I got help and medicine for the PPD. It got better pretty quickly. I did struggle with my decision to stop breastfeeding which depressed me, because I only nursed my son three times, although he was on just breast milk for the first two weeks of life."
24
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"Postpartum depression is more common than you know. It is debilitating and can steal the wonderful joy of having a precious newborn, but don’t let it! This is perfectly normal, think what your body and mind have been through with pregnancy and childbirth. Being a new mother is a wonderful, scary experience. Be kind to yourself, if you need help, ask! Know that everyone’s experience with birth and the newborn days are different, and you are doing great!"
25
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"I felt so sad. I cried for no reason. I cried for every reason. I felt alone. My husband tried to help. God bless him, he was my rock. He never stopped loving me. He wanted nothing but to help me but I worried he would not know what to do with Emmy or not do things the way I did. I did not let him provide any care those early days. I felt my life was gone. It would never be back to any kind of normal, not even a new normal. I was not sure I could be a mom. I loved this tiny human more than words, but had I made a mistake? I felt selfish for thinking those thoughts. I felt guilt. So much guilt."
26
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"The guilt I felt over not being able to breastfeed was all consuming. I couldn’t breathe. The Lactation Consultant implied that I was a terrible mom for considering formula. I cried way more hours than needed over my failure at breastfeeding. So, I started supplement formula and agreed to try to pump once home. I felt immense guilt over the cost of formula and felt like I would be burdening our finances. I had to keep trying. I hardly ate in the hospital. I was too sore, too tired, too scared."
27
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"Finally, one morning after a restless night of worry and sadness, I woke my husband up and told him I needed help. I went and the doctor prescribed an SSRI. As the weeks passed, things started to get better. The medicine started working. My daughter was diagnosed with a milk allergy and a formula change gave us a whole new baby. Sleep became more plentiful and I was able to ask for help. I started eating. The anxiety lessened and the sadness faded. I wish I had the time back I lost."
28
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
“I hate the stigma of PPD and anxiety. I felt like a failure having to seek help. It was embarrassing. I now know it was nothing I did. Seeking help saved my relationship with my daughter. She is one of the best things to ever happen to me and I love every moment with her."
29
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"No one should have to suffer from the pain and damage caused by anxiety, depression and PPD. It doesn’t just affect individuals. It directly affects their children, the “normal” that these children are raised with (and the way they will then interact with others and future spouses and their own children), their spouses, their siblings, their friends … everyone they interact with regularly. It is so, so much bigger than one person."
30
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"I wish that more people in general took anxiety, depression and PPD seriously. Most who have never suffered simply DO NOT GET IT. And sure, that makes sense. But if you have known someone who is in it, or you sense they might be, BE SENSITIVE. Be thoughtful with your chosen words. Hug them. Take them seriously. Hold back your judgment. Encourage them to seek help. Offer solutions like phone numbers and referrals rather than saying things like “if you would just take a deep breath and calm down…” or my personal favorite “there are many people in the world who have it so much worse than you…"
31
Natalie McCain/Honest Body Project
"It will get better. Repeat after me: 'It will get better.' You are strong. You have been through and are going through a major life and hormonal change. Your feelings are valid and you deserve to be heard. You deserve to feel better ... When you are alone in the house because your husband is at work and your friends and family have gone back home, and all the frozen meals they brought you have been eaten, and all the 'Congratulations on the new baby!' cards and gifts have been put away, and you haven’t slept more than one hour at a time in four months, and you don’t want to pick that screaming baby up, say out loud 'it will get better.'"

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