In sharing her experience of postpartum depression Rachel Papo allows others to do the same

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Through images and text, Papo’s new photobook confronts the lonely realities of the condition — her own and those of the other mothers she collaborated with on the project

When Rachel Papo gave birth to her second child in 2013, her world turned dark. Instead of the anticipated joy new mothers are expected to feel, she experienced the reverse: severe anxiety and suffocating fear. Papo recognised her postpartum symptoms immediately because she’d been there before, following the birth of her first child in 2010. “Postpartum depression, for me at least, was a state of complete helplessness, a steady psychological and physical decline and an identity crisis,” reflects Papo. While often shrugged off as ‘baby blues’, postpartum depression is a serious condition. It is estimated to affect at least one in seven new mothers. Yet despite its prevalence, the illness still carries a stigma.

In 2015, almost two years after her son was born, Papo explored the idea of creating a project about her postpartum experience, hoping to shed light on this deeply misunderstood issue. Initially, she returned to the reservoir of text messages and emails she’d sent during that period, along with the photographs she made on her phone. But her focus soon shifted outward as she thought about other mothers who have gone through – or were going through – a similar experience. Living in Berlin at the time, Papo posted an ad on a Facebook group for ex-pats inviting mothers to partake in the project; to her surprise, women began responding immediately. 

© Rachel Papo.

It’s Been Pouring—The Dark Secret of the First Year of Motherhood is the result of this collaboration: a merging of Papo’s experiences with those of other mothers through a sensitive dialogue between image and text. Rather than capturing portraits of the women, Papo explains that she was “primarily interested in photographing objects and places that embodied their experience”. She spoke to mothers about everything from their birth experiences and reflections on the image of motherhood in society to musings over a changing identity, realising that many of them shared a common thread. For the mothers, it was a relief to share their experiences after so long keeping them inside.“Some broke down and cried because many of them had never opened up about it to anyone, not even their own family members or closest friends,” recalls Papo. For her, these stories were often painful to listen to, but the belief that the project might help other mothers gave Papo an incentive to continue. 

To bring the book to life, Papo worked with award-winning Dutch designer Hans Gremmen, compiling six years’ worth of material and incorporating the main themes into the book’s physical structure. Ultimately, Papo hopes the project will dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding postpartum depression and give new mothers comfort in knowing they are not alone. Says Papo: “I want people to realise that this is not just an issue mothers have to deal with – the repercussions of it affect us all in one way or another.” 

It’s Been Pouring—The Dark Secret of the First Year of Motherhood is published by Kehrer Verlag