Through the Lens of “The Yellow Wallpaper”: A Photographer’s Journey Through Postpartum Depression

Mother yelling at her husband because she is going insane. Scene from The Yellow Wallpaper
Woman with yellow-streaked tears running down her face from the short story The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman Feminist
antagonist of the yellow wallpaper the husband who is the doctor

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.

What is Postpartum Depression?

Young Mother Arriving at a Country Estate Suffering from Postpartum Depression

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.

Mother of The Yellow Wallpaper Short Story Sitting on the Steps of Country Estate

What is “The Yellow Wallpaper About?”

“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.

Protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper Arriving in her Room
Mother sneaking in her journal and hiding it from view

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.

husband holding the keys to locking the woman in the yellow wallpaper in her room
Close-up of hand touching the window from the yellow wallpaper
Protagonist of The Yellow Wallpaper
Woman looking out of a window feeling trapped
the doctor locking the door in Charlotte Perkins Gilman yellow wallpaper

My Personal Experience with Becoming a Mother

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.

Artistic Portrayal of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The 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.”

Vintage room with sunlight filtering through a window onto the yellow wallpaper
A woman standing forlornly in a room with faded yellow wallpaper, reflecting the isolation felt by the story's main character
Image of a woman staring blankly into the distance in a room with yellow wallpaper
A woman looking distressed in a room with decaying yellow wallpaper

“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.

Woman sitting in the corner of a room with yellow wallpaper, mirroring the protagonist's confinement

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.

Illustration of a trapped woman behind the yellow wallpaper

A Family Betrayal

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.

usechatgpt init success
A woman lost in thought, with a room featuring yellow wallpaper in the background

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. 

A woman seemingly entrapped within the labyrinthine patterns of yellow wallpaper
woman pulling away from her husband distraught from mental illness in the yellow wallpaper

It is OK to Struggle as a New Mother

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.

Close-up of hands writing in a journal in yellow wallpaper, representing the climactic scene of the short story
woman writing in her journal blankly staring from the yellow wallpaper

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.

Husband trying to console his wife while she is going insane but he doesn't believe her
man gripping his hands on a vintage chair upset because his wife has mental illness the yellow wallpaper

Addressing the Mental Health Issues of Women

“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.

wife staring at her husband while she suffers postpartum depression
Mother yelling at her husband in the yellow wallpaper but he is not responding
woman screaming at the yellow wallpaper as she goes insane
doctor confused on how to help his wife who is his patient in the yellow wallpaper
Man looking at the yellow wallpaper trying to figure out where the trapped woman is hiding

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.

A woman yelling for help in the yellow wallpaper by gilman
distressed mother in the yellow wallpaper with the trapped women looking on
Artistic expression of woman in mental turmoil in the short story by charlotte perkins gilman the yellow wallpaper
mage showing a woman's silhouette against a backdrop of weathered yellow wallpaper
A room with yellow wallpaper, echoing the gloomy atmosphere of the story
A woman screaming in a room with faded yellow wallpaper, reflecting the isolation felt by the story's main character
Artistic rendition of a woman entangled in the design of the yellow wallpaper photograph

Crossing the Threshold and Triumph Over Postpartum Depression

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.

A torn piece of yellow wallpaper held between fingers, mirroring the protagonist's desperate attempts to free the woman behind the wallpaper
woman going insane from having postpartum depression

Discover “The Yellow Wallpaper” for Yourself

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.

“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Keep reading below to unveil the creatives behind this project.

Mother banging on the wall and tearing off the yellow wallpaper showing the atmosphere of the story
woman covering her ears lying on a bed tormented by the woman trapped behind the wall Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper
portrait of a woman in 19th century attire lying in a bed of yellow wallpaper staring blankly at the ceiling

The Artistic Minds Behind The Yellow Wallpaper Photoshoot

The artistic minds behind the crafting of this photoshoot include:

Yours Truly-Sabrina of Sabrina L. Greene Photography

Costume Design: Sybil Todd of White Knight Entertainment Company

Actress: Evelyn Ruff

Actor: Dallas Eubanks

Hair and Makeup Provided by Fab Flawless: Sheri Gaffney & Morgan Ferguson

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.

woman sneaking out of the door that was locked in the yellow wallpaper
mother staring down the hall to see if her husband is coming from the short story the yellow wallpaper
woman resting on a porch swing after recovering from post partum depression
Crossing the Threshold of the Yellow Wallpaper feminist photography
woman smiling because she beat post partum depression
woman becoming her own light at the end of charlotte perkins short story the yellow wallpaper new ending
tearing of the yellow wallpaper on top of a mountainside
tearing of the yellow wallpaper on top of a mountainside
tearing of the yellow wallpaper on top of a mountainside
tearing of the yellow wallpaper on top of a mountainside
Offering up the yellow wallpaper breaking free of post partum depression
Her writing set her free from Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper Feminist Critique
Her writing set her free from Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper
Her writing set her free from Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper
Her writing set her free from Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper
Celebrating recovery from postpartum depression yellow wallpaper photoshoot
woman showcasing the inner strength of motherhood from the perspective of the yellow wallpaper short story
Calling in your light from the short story the yellow wallpaper
Looking to the future after the yellow wallpaper room feminist retelling of the short story
Triumph over Postpartum depression feminist critique of the yellow wallpaper
Surviving postpartum depression inspired by the yellow wallpaper by charlotte perkins gilman