Local mothers show postpartum depression pain in striking photo series

SPOKANE, Wash. — A group of Inland Northwest moms have started a new conversation about a secret many mothers share, but feel uncomfortable talking about.

A newly released photo series is aimed at showcasing the true experience of postpartum depression. Several moms from the Spokane area thought this would be a powerful way to raise awareness about the common issue and start a community conversation.

For the last few years, mother Miranda Cheney has captured moments as a photographer. She gets behind the camera to create snapshots that will last a lifetime.

“I love to show them how beautiful they are,” Cheney said.

But even she knows life isn’t always picture perfect.

Cheney first found photography during a dark time in her life. She had just given birth to her second child when she started feeling like something was really wrong. She said she broke down during an appointment with her OBGYN. She helped Cheney see that she was experiencing postpartum depression.

“I really truly am so thankful for her catching it because I don’t know if I would have ever been strong enough to say this is what’s going on,” Cheney said.

In the United States, an estimated one in seven women become clinically depressed during pregnancy or after they give birth. But, few get the help they need.

Postpartum depression may be mistaken for the so-called baby blues at first, but signs and symptoms are more intense and last longer. They can eventually impact a mother’s ability to care for her baby and handle other daily commitments. Symptoms can included severe mood swings, feeling depressed, difficulty bonding with your baby, insomnia, and fears that you’re not a good mother.

It's a secret so many women share, but feel uncomfortable talking about: postpartum depression. Now a group of women from the Spokane area are trying to bring it out of the shadows. (Photos: Miranda Cheney Photography)

Posted by Ariana Lake on Monday, January 27, 2020

Cheney’s OBGYN helped her find the best treatment options. Although that season of her life has passed, she’s using her experience to help other moms, including Kimberly Couey.

Couey booked a family session with Cheney last year for her holiday cards. As the date approached, it just didn’t feel right. Couey had recently given birth to her fourth child and wasn’t feeling her normal, happy self. She didn’t want to fake a smile for those photos, so she cancelled the shoot.

“I just didn’t feel right putting out this beautiful perfect image, sharing it with all my family when I just didn’t feel in alignment with where I was at personally,” Couey said.

Eventually Couey opened up to her husband about what was going on. And then she talked to Cheney, knowing she had her own postpartum struggles. It was hard to talk about.

“I didn’t want the sadness to label me. I didn’t want to be the sad mom who couldn’t handle it,” Couey said.

The two came up with an idea for a photo shoot with other local moms that would ‘honestly’ showcase the pain of depression many women experience during pregnancy and after they give birth.

“We were able to come together, share our stories, hug, cry. All of these are real emotions you see,” Couey said. “They’re beautiful pictures, but they’re full of emotion and depth and hurt and anger. All the things that you feel.”

Both Couey and Cheney said it’s hard to look at the photos now. It instantly takes them back to a very emotional time in their lives.

“You can see their hands grip, their heads down, hurting. They’re hurting,” Cheney said. “It is hard to look through them. It is overwhelming to look through them.”

The series has already impacted people in the community. Emily Tellvik is a mother to a 15-year-old and 9-year-old. She said it is refreshing to see this conversation spread.

“No one was talking about it [postpartum depression] 15 years ago,” Tellvik said.

Tellvik said her life might have been different had there been supportive women near her having these tough conversations when she was a young mom. She saw depression as a thief of so many important parts of life.

“It’s a thief of surety, of confidence. It’s a thief of the soft bubble you should have and the joy you should have in bringing new life into the world,” Tellvik said.

Sometimes it just takes a little extra support to get through tough times.

“You don’t have to be alone in that darkness,” Couey said.

That’s the message Couey wanted to share through the photos she posed for. With Cheney behind the camera, they redefined a picture perfect moment. They hope through this series and an upcoming panel on postpartum depression, more moms will know they are not alone in their fight.

“It’s always been about the one mom that really needs to hear this, that really needs to know she’s not alone, that may be on the verge of something she can’t come back from,” Cheney said. “But, we are out here saying, we are here.”

You can purchase tickets to the Tuesday panel and photograph exhibition here.