On Feb 2nd, 2017, Catherine Mellinger will be partnering with amma yoga to create our first Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPMD) Awareness Day, coinciding with an exhibit of artworks in our community space created by the Postpartum Therapeutic Arts Group at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre (KDCHC). Here, Catherine tells us more about why the arts, in this case specifically collage, provides a necessary outlet for mothers experiencing PPMD.

Pieces of Me is a community embedded collage project engaging women challenged by Postpartum Depression and/or Postpartum Mood Disorders (PPD/PPMD) in partnership with the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre (KDCHC).

Offering collage as a method of artistic exploration marries beautifully with the topic of motherhood in its sheer abundantly printed form. Magazines exist to speak to us about what being a mother "should" or "could" look like. The glossy images show us mothers who are well dressed, have clear skin, clean clothes, who are smiling and happy (usually caucasian). These women are secure in their marriages (mainly heterosexual), and connected to their partners (mainly husbands). For many mothers, these images do not tell their true stories. There are little images that do. This project exists to allow women to create their own narrative of motherhood and share those narratives with the community.

Postpartum Art Therapy

When I first realized I was not well after my son Leo was born, I didn’t think I fit into the category of Postpartum Depression. I was not depressed - I was highly anxious and my daily existence was one of being terrified. I felt burdened by my son. I felt too afraid to leave him with anyone, yet I felt afraid of being left alone with him, for fear something might happen to one of us. After my husband went back to work, I made him call me every half hour to make sure I was still OK and didn’t need him to come home. The half hour became an hour and the hour became checking in at lunch, but not a day went by that I wasn’t stalling calling him to come home and be with me. I couldn’t sleep because the noises my son made echoed in my ears, and even if I put him in another room, they became louder and my fears more pronounced. What if when I finally fall asleep he stops breathing and I don’t notice? I lay awake and started making lists of people I thought I could give him to. Maybe he would be better off without me. Maybe this was all a mistake and I was never meant to be a mother. My husband felt helpless and exhausted, having himself spiralled into a depression. I didn’t share the depth of my feelings because I didn’t want to scare him. Finally, one day after noticing me struggle for nearly 5 weeks, my dear friend who served as my life line in those early days said the words I couldn’t say myself: “I think you should call your midwife, you don’t need to feel this way.” And that’s when it all clicked. This was not what motherhood was “supposed” to be like, but it was what it was like FOR ME. And there were supports out there that I needed to find to help me get through it.

Catherine Mellinger

Since gaining more insights into my own experiences through services in the Life Stages program at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto and returning to my centre - collage - I’ve begun to desire to connect further with others; not just mothers, but their partners, their families, their children - through that core of cutting and pasting. By doing so, my eyes have been opened to what a unique experience motherhood brings, as well as the mental health challenges that can come along with it. No one’s postpartum mental health struggle is the same. Yes, there are a list of core symptoms to watch for, and general consensus around when a mother needs support, what risk factors to look out for - but each women’s emotional journey is as unique as she is. Postpartum Mood Disorders comes in all shapes and colours. Depression, anxiety, birth trauma, pre-existing mental health struggles, neglect, abuse, detachment... When you sit with art supplies; scissors, glue stick and a gamut of images, you follow your instincts. It isn’t about right or wrong, it’s about what image speaks to you, and how those images help to tell your story. An ugly story, a beautiful story, a full story, a strong and powerful story. It’s about working the small and large muscles to tap into the calming effect of mobility on your nervous system. It’s about the chatting and sharing and listening and connecting that goes around the circle as magazines are passed from hand to hand, even as sometimes so are the babies.

It’s about offering. Offering an alternative to your experience. Offering another way to learn more about yourself and what you are feeling. And it’s about doing so with others.

Postpartum Art Therapy

To learn more about the Postpartum Therapeutic Arts Group, see the pieces on display and engage in a discussion about Postpartum Mental Health, please join us on Thursday Feb 2nd for one of the three classes listed below. After each class, there will be some time to see the pieces and Catherine will share some first hand information about the group. After the Mom & Baby Yoga class at 3pm, we will have time to gather and share stories, ask questions, be together. (Feel free to just come at 3pm, if you don't want to partake in the yoga.)

  • Moms & Movers 11:00am-12:00pm

  • Yoga 12:30-1:30pm

  • Mom & Baby Yoga 2:00-3:00pm

We recommend you register online for the class you’d like to attend, as some classes can fill up. Limited childcare is available - please email thea@ammayoga.ca

Bring yourself, bring your baby, your toddler, your partner, your sibling, your parents, your caregivers. All are welcome. The more we talk, the more we decrease the stigma, the more we open the circle. 

For more information on the project, you can also visit Catherine’s website: http://cargocollective.com/catherinemellinger/Pieces-of-Me

Catherine Mellinger is an artist, arts facilitator and certified Expressive Arts Therapist living in Waterloo. She has been facilitating arts groups with marginalized populations since 2007, and moved her practice to Waterloo after having her son Leo in 2013. Having experienced severe postpartum anxiety stemming from a pre-existing condition of clinical anxiety, she began the journey into finding new strategies for coping. Through clinical support and her own studio practice, she realized three years postpartum that it was time for her to extend her community and share the therapeutic benefits of the arts to other mothers who have had similar experiences. She has been facilitating the Postpartum Therapeutic Arts Group at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre (KDCHC) since September of 2016, thanks to the generous support of the Ontario Arts Council.

Postpartum Art Therapy Group