My name is Amanda O'Donoughue. I am a mother and portrait artist in North Central Florida. I specialize in documenting the mother/child bond. This personal project is a natural progression of the photographic work I have done with mothers and their children over the past two years. Working so closely with young mothers, I began to notice a recurring pattern. Many of the women I encounter struggle with postpartum depression. In some cases their pain is palpable and enduring. In others it is fleeting. The suffering can strike anyone, regardless of age, socio-economic status, ethnicity, or medical history. The specter of postpartum depression is universal.
Postpartum depression is commonly described as a type of clinical depression that a man or woman can suffer from after the birth of a child. The experiences of people with PPD are variable and complex, and so it is hard for the medical community to precisely define the symptoms, treatment, and outcome. It does not fit into a box—nice, tidy, and square. It may be obvious or subtle, may come on rapidly or sneak up on you slowly. As a result, many don't understand the challenges they are facing, or seek the help they need.
So perfectly said by an anonymous participant of this project,
"When we experience symptoms of postpartum depression, we are the embodiment of a society that undervalues motherhood and denies the importance of community in raising children. I understand the usefulness of giving a name to this problem, but it seems that PPD is often discussed as if the problem lies solely within the individual, and not also in the environment outside the individual."
A lack of understanding and support—medical or otherwise—in this country has had a profound effect on those that suffer from postpartum depression and related perinatal mood disorders. Some women are aware that something is not right, others dismiss it as a mild case of “baby blues,” and still others believe it is a natural reaction to childbirth. Even those that haven't ever suffered know someone that has. Often, a woman's concerns are too easily dismissed. We need to raise awareness for those that suffer from perinatal mood disorders like PPD and provide accessible support for those who so desperately need it, because it can be cured. If caught early enough, the residual effects won't be as severe.
Listening to women and their stories comes naturally to me, as does the process of therapeutic photography. There is so much heart in motherhood, and so much desire to create a natural and loving environment, that their efforts seep through my images and take on a life of their own. As a birth photographer, I have been involved in many aspects of women’s health. Whether it is breastfeeding, childbirth, or postpartum care, I have found that problems arise when we are without our "tribe." I would love to see the community turn its attention back to child rearing. Support from family, neighbors, and friends, especially during the difficult newborn stage, can mean everything to a new or struggling mother.
I photograph from the inside out, following a drive to be deeply present and empathize with each woman as their story unfolds through images and words. I am always conscious of slowing down and listening to my subjects. They want to share with me, and I need them to know that I am listening. While some of these images are more along the lines of traditional portraiture, others are pre-visualized, environmental portraits that arise while reading a woman's story or discussing ways to share but preserve their anonymity. The efforts to recreate an image or feeling are void of pressure. If either of us begins to feel stressed, we pause and reevaluate our intentions. More often than not, a moment presents itself during the session that allows me to say exactly what the subject has been trying to all along. I have found great peace in working with these women, and continued growth, both as a woman and photographer, as the work has progressed.