In 2008 and 2009, my life mirrored a century-old narrative – “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. As a story of a woman’s descent into madness, it didn’t seem like an apt comparison for a new mother’s life. However, it became a haunting reflection of my own experience with postpartum depression. And just like the protagonist of this tale, I, too, found myself under the scrutiny of a society that dismissed my struggles as mere whims.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is a serious, often overlooked condition affecting many new mothers. It’s not simply the “baby blues” – it’s a profound sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion that can make it challenging for mothers to complete daily care activities for themselves or others.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a remarkable story that resonates with the experiences of many mothers. In the tale, the protagonist is prescribed rest as a cure for her “nervous condition” following childbirth, mirroring the often dismissive attitudes towards women’s mental health in the 19th century. Similarly, mothers today experiencing PPD frequently confront a society that expects them to instantly adapt to their new roles, denying the complex emotional challenges they may be facing.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper” as a poignant short story depicting the mental deterioration of a woman confined to a room by her husband for the sake of her health. The story unfolds through the woman’s journal entries, revealing her growing obsession with the room’s yellow wallpaper. Her fixation escalates into hallucinations of a woman trapped behind the wallpaper, a metaphor for her own feelings of confinement and repression. The story culminates in her complete mental breakdown, symbolically tearing down the wallpaper in a desperate attempt to free the trapped woman, reflecting Gilman’s critique of the patriarchal society and its detrimental impact on women’s mental health in the 19th century.
As a new mother, I was overjoyed to welcome my little bundle of joy into the world. However, amidst the congratulations and shared joy, I was fighting a battle within myself. In my arms, I held the most precious little boy in existence, but I was struggling with overwhelming feelings of sadness, anxiety, and fatigue. The world seemed to shrink around me, much like the room in Gilman’s narrative, and the expectations of motherhood began to feel like the oppressive yellow wallpaper.
Without pinpointing individuals, I must share that numerous voices from family and the wider community advised me to pull myself together and move forward. One person even said, “I was on pills for a little bit during my divorce. It is your job to snap out of it; there is no excuse.”
“Snap out of it,” they’d say. “It’s just the baby blues,” they’d dismiss. But the reality was far from it. The crying, the sleepless nights, the worry, the fatigue, all contributed to an emotional turmoil that seemed endless. And just like the protagonist in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” I too felt confined by the walls of societal expectations and misunderstood by those around me.
As a young woman fresh out of college from the previous December, navigating my way through life’s uncertainties, I discovered I was expecting a baby. The prospect of motherhood petrified me, casting long shadows on my hopes of pursuing a career. I was still on a quest to find my own identity. Yet, now I was suddenly entrusted with the immense responsibility of nourishing and cherishing a new life, even as I grappled with learning to care for myself.
Yet, the situation was even more disheartening. One of my then husband’s relatives accused me of infidelity and insisted he seek a paternity test to confirm the child’s lineage. Furthermore, this individual insinuated that the complications I was enduring from preeclampsia, as well as the distress of my body initiating labor every two weeks for a span of four months, might be a part of God’s will, suggesting that it was meant to occur. Although they apologized to my husband, I never received one myself.
For a grueling four-month period, I was confined to bed rest in an attempt to keep my body from initiating labor. This forced immobility wreaked havoc on my spirit and overall health. The isolation and constant fatigue were profoundly draining.
Being a mother is not just about birthing a child; it’s a radical transformation of one’s identity, and not everyone can effortlessly glide through this metamorphosis. Sometimes, the weight of this new role, coupled with hormonal shifts, can plunge a woman into the abyss of postpartum depression.
Yet, I want you to know – it’s OK to struggle. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. It’s OK to ask for help. Don’t let anyone tell you to just “snap out of it.” Your feelings are valid, and what you’re experiencing is real.
Thankfully, unlike the woman in Gilman’s narrative, we live in a time when help is available. Reach out to mental health professionals if you’re struggling. Seek support from positive friends and family. Join a support group. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a stark reminder of the need to seriously acknowledge and address women’s mental health issues. As we continue to shed light on postpartum depression, we must strive to support and uplift each other, acknowledging that every mother’s journey is unique and that it’s OK to ask for help.
As I pen down my experiences, I hope to inspire other mothers to break free from their own “yellow wallpapers,” seek help, and speak openly about their experiences. Remember, in the face of postpartum depression, you are not alone, and just like the room in the story, the gloom does have a door, and it is OK to step out and seek the help you need.
This is why my artistically inclined friends and I decided to bring a unique conclusion to this photo project. We aspired to illustrate to other mothers that triumph over postpartum depression is possible. You can become a beacon of hope for yourself, but simply “snapping out of it” is not the solution. What you need is gentle, compassionate support, not forceful directives. You can learn the art of self-care. Accept the tempest swirling around you, harness its energy, and ascend like the dawn, reborn and renewed.
Continue to the end of this page to see our protagonist’s transformation.
Discover “The Yellow Wallpaper” for Yourself
I warmly invite you to delve into the captivating world of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This timeless piece of literature offers a profound exploration of mental health issues and societal pressures that resonate even today. Through its riveting narrative and rich symbolism, it sparks conversations around these critical topics. So, find a quiet corner, grab a cup of your favorite beverage, and immerse yourself in this remarkable journey. Happy reading!
Here’s the link to embark on the journey of reading this story on your own.
Keep reading below to unveil the creatives behind this project.
The artistic minds behind the crafting of this photoshoot include:
Yours Truly-Sabrina of Sabrina L. Greene Photography
Actress: Evelyn Ruff
Actor: Dallas Eubanks
Set Design: Debbie Whichard
Location: Private Residence
I invite you to view more creative photos inspired by “The Yellow Wallpaper” below or to view more creative personal projects here.