Why I Don’t Regret Taking All Those Baby Photos

Why I Don’t Regret Taking All Those Baby Photos

By Christine Organ

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I have a list of parenting regrets about a mile long. Wasting money on an expensive rocking chair and signing my three-year-old up for soccer, for instance.

But one thing I don’t regret, however, is the excessive photo taking—and photo sharing—during my son’s first year.

Though I’m no shutterbug by any means, after my son was born, I took hundreds—if not thousands—of photos and then shared a culled set with family and close friends on a regular basis. I quickly filled memory cards, and given the frequency and quantity of photos shared, I have little doubt that when my family saw an email from me with the subject line “You’re invited to view my photos,” they rolled their eyes and groaned. They may have even deleted the email without ever opening it. One could hardly blame them. I was relentless.

I was also desperate.

After my son was born, like many parents, I stumbled into the trenches of new motherhood. I was consumed by loneliness, confusion, and exhaustion that bordered on delirium. But in addition to the typical first-time parent anxiety, an inconspicuous (and untreated) case of postpartum depression pushed me further into an unrecognizable void. At the time, I knew that something wasn’t quite right, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t know why I hated being a mother, why everything was so hard, why I couldn’t shake the baby blues. All I knew was that the old me had disappeared, my joie de vivre had vanished, and every day was an uphill battle as I tried to claw my way out of the deep ravine of shame and guilt.

The abyss of postpartum depression—not to mention the resulting shame and self-loathing that this illness brings with it—is a dark place whether a woman is diagnosed or not. Most days I felt as if the lights had gone out… on everything. Living in denial about what I was feeling and experiencing, I did the only thing I thought to do at the time: I took pictures. A lot of pictures.  

Back in 2006, during the pre-smartphone era, I relied on my trusty Canon digital point-and-shoot to photograph everything from first smiles and giggles to diaper blowouts and messy faces. I took photos of my son with our dogs dressed as Santa and his reindeer. I took photos of my son wearing new clothes, and then sent a few snapshots to the giver of the outfit. I took photos of him drooling and crawling and playing with Tupperware. I uploaded the photos to my computer, spent hours editing them, and inundated my family with album after album.

The photos weren’t my only distraction, however. Along with hundreds of digital files, my computer also housed a document that I refer to simply as “The Spreadsheet.” A complex color-coded chart, The Spreadsheet documented every minute of my son’s life—the time he spent sleeping, eating, or playing—in half-hour increments. Convinced that if I could only “crack the code,” mastering the art of baby-caring would be a whole lot easier and I, in turn, would be happier (or at least less miserable).

As if that weren’t enough, next to the computer that housed the photos and The Spreadsheet was a stack of books taller than my baby about everything from sleeping training theories to post-baby marriage tips. I highlighted, tabbed, and took notes. I was convinced that locked within the pages of these books was The Answer to all of my parenting woes.

By throwing myself into the photos (the taking, editing, and sharing), meticulously maintaining The Spreadsheet, and voraciously reading parenting books, I believed that I could somehow find a way out of the darkness. Or, at a minimum, distract myself enough to make the darkness less scary and all-consuming. Distraction, it seemed, was key.

These days, however, distraction is marked as the enemy. Mindfulness, on the other hand, seems to be the holy grail of parenting. Truth be told, I am a staunch proponent of mindfulness—or paying attention, as I like to think of it—not just with respect to parenting, but with all aspects of my life. And excessive photo taking—not to mention the quest for (and obsession with) the perfect photo—is just one more way that technology runs the risk of thwarting mindfulness. When we are behind the camera we are, in essence, focusing on how we can preserve a moment, instead of paying attention to the moment itself. And as a result, the excessive photo taking, documenting, and micromanaging has the potential of distracting us from the privilege we, as parents, have to simply bear witness to our children’s lives.

But sometimes—typically in those desperate, in-the-trenches times—we need distraction for precisely the same reason. We need distraction to keep us from falling further into the abyss. The distraction—whether it’s photo taking or baby-book reading or Facebook scrolling—gives us a way to pay attention without becoming overwhelmed, a way to take it all in without losing ourselves under the weight of it all. It is mindfulness with a buffer.

I’m not sure why I took so many photos. I’m sure boredom and loneliness played a role, but perhaps the root of it went deeper than that. Maybe I subconsciously hoped that each flash of the camera would shine a light into the dark pit in which I felt I was living. Maybe I hoped that each click of the camera, each activity recorded, each page tabbed would bring me one step closer to the light. Or maybe the milestone-preservation, information-gathering, and documentation were a manifestation of my need for control during a chaotic time.

Whatever the psychological reason, however, the taking and sharing of photos—along with the spreadsheets and documentation, the book-reading and the note-taking—became my lifeline, a tool to cope with, and then recover from, postpartum depression. Not only did they distract me from the darkness in my own mind, thereby saving me from falling further into that dark pit of despair, but they created the world in which I wanted to live.

And while they may have glossed over my reality, they also blurred the harsh and jagged edges enough so that I could zoom in, using a fisheye lens to focus on the beauty that was my son.

Christine Organ is the author of Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life, which is a collection of stories about the paradoxes of parenting and the fullness of life. She writes at www.christineorgan.com, and you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: Megan Dempsey

I Survived Postpartum Depression, But it Never Left Me

I Survived Postpartum Depression, But it Never Left Me

By Lisa Romeo


I never got to be the kind of mother who doesn’t, daily, remember and fear the possibility of returning to that hole.


Survive is a terrible word to use about one’s transition to motherhood. Fulfilled. Joyful. Happy. These are the right words. But “surviving” was the word I used to label what it was like for me, from virtually the moment of my first child’s birth until he was nearly two. I survived, and eventually realized that motherhood, after all, was not going to kill me.

Having battled severe postpartum depression (PPD), however, is not the most important part of my story. It’s what came next, after I was was supposedly no longer fighting off PPD that matters. What came next—what, even now that my sons are 21 and 17, persists—are days and nights and long worrisome moments of everyday life as a mother who is indelibly marked, thoroughly different from a mother who did not have PPD.

Because here’s the truth about what comes after severe PPD goes away: the deepest, darkest clouds may wash away in a few months, or a year, or in my case, about 22 months. Your therapist may wean you off the anti-depressants which saved your sanity (and probably your marriage). You may have more good mornings, and eventually only the kind of mornings when you wake up and you are no longer already crying. You may not any longer be overcome, hourly, with feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness, and fear. All this may happen, and you may begin to enjoy your child (or children), sink into your role as their mother, relish your little family—but. That will never feel like your right or your natural state, and you may, at any given stressful mothering moment, think you certainly are going to drift away, back down that hole. The truth about having survived severe PPD is that it is incipient. It lingers. There is a legacy. Its shadow, the fact of its presence in your history, never goes away.

And you are a different person for it. You are a different mother.

You are not the mother you always thought you’d be, the one you’d planned and hoped to be, before you were even pregnant, before you gave birth, before your slippery, perfect baby was laid on your chest in the hospital and instead of feeling love and joy, you were dead and numb and ashamed. Of course, motherhood frequently does not turn out as expected for many others, mothers whose babies are born with serious medical conditions or neurological deficits or are born but never breathe. Those terrible, unexpected, difficult new-mother experiences occurred because of something that happened outside of a mother’s control. PPD feels as if it exists because of the mother, because of something that lives in her mind and body, and feels like something you—something I—must have caused. After “conquering” PPD, for me the guilt continued, and morphed. PPD’s long-term after effects hung around, its contrails crippling my ability to make confident mothering decisions as my babies turned into toddlers, and school children into adolescents and teenagers, and even college students.       

When postpartum depression slammed me, in 1993, the condition was not yet widely understood. It took grit to find any professionals—unlike many pediatricians and ob/gyns, including my own—who weren’t telling PPD-suffering new mothers that they were sleep-deprived, or self-centered, and either way, needed to “snap out of it.”

Eventually, after hearing all that and more (relatives loved to say things like, Stop worrying about getting back to work! Just relax! Motherhood is not easy, buck up!), I found my way to a psychotherapist who understood, who was frankly a bit astounded that I was still functioning considering the severity of my PPD. We talked, for months; she prescribed the medication that allowed me to understand it wasn’t my son, it wasn’t me, it was a disorder, a bungled chemical process in my brain and misfiring hormones in my body.       

I got better. I got well. But here is the price: I never got to be the kind of mother who doesn’t, daily, remember and fear the possibility of returning to that hole. I survived only by adopting an extreme cautiousness in my approach to mothering, an overbearing protectiveness of my children, and the admittedly irrational conviction that some way or another, I would eventually lose my children—physically, emotionally, or metaphorically—because I wasn’t, from the start, a good mother, not even a good enough mother.

With one child who is now an adult, and another on the threshold, I still feel the reach of PPD. Every day, I am still outrunning those greedy, grabby tentacles. They tug, spawning shame and guilt and fear and remembered hopelessness, stalking my every mothering decision, reaching back to when my first child was an infant and I knew, with certainty, that I was incapable of making mothering decisions because I was incapable, period.

Since I am still married to my children’s father—who, let’s face it, except for my lactating boobs, was in many ways father and mother to our first infant—I am not parenting alone, and so I often check in with him when my PPD-induced fears and insecurities are pushing me to make mothering decisions that pivot not on helping my sons to grow and flourish, but on providing too much safety and shielding my children in ridiculously overzealous ways. For nearly two decades now, he has affirmed what I already knew but couldn’t accept: that keeping my children where I can see them, or in environments I think offer safety, doesn’t make me a good mother, or expunge any damage I think I did to them in the early months when I was, empirically, not a good mother.

It’s my belief, or at least my experience, that a mother who has battled severe PPD, is a mother marked forever by its tight grip, its insistence that, devoid at first of natural parenting instincts, one is thereafter doomed to doubt every future mothering instinct. You’re never sure. Never without the worry that something’s wrong, that fundamentally, you don’t have what it takes. Even when standing before you are two pretty terrific young men.

Looking at them, I’m reminded that in the late 1990s, when working for a nonprofit that raised funds to treat children with cancer and blood disorders, I learned about the “late effects” of pediatric cancer treatments. One-time patients, in long term remission, in their late teen years and in their 20s, were surprising doctors with varied other ailments, a result of their treatments’ lingering effects.

Lingering effects from PPD however, according to experts, are rarely recorded, and usually vanish entirely in three years’ time. This obviously wasn’t my experience, and neither was it the experience of many other post-PPD mothers I’ve kept in touch with, after finally finding a PPD support group way back then. We’re wary, and we know why. The researchers need to look past toddlerhood, and study us, learn what happens after the therapy and meds and “recovery.”      

All of this doesn’t, however, make my motherhood depressing, only different. In fact, the opposite of PPD (when I didn’t want to touch, hold, or even see my baby) often prevails. I don’t think I’ve ever, outside of my bedroom with door closed, ranted in exasperation, “My kid’s driving me crazy,” because I know what real mothering-induced craziness feels like. I don’t let my sons shrug off my hugs because I remember when hugging them felt like torture. I don’t wish my children back to school before summer’s even begun, not because I’m the world’s most loving mom, but because for what felt like a very long time I wasn’t, and I’m hoping every day to use my entire second chance.   

Lisa Romeo’s work has appeared in the New York Times, O The Oprah Magazine, Inside Jersey, Babble, Hippocampus, Under the Sun, and Sweet. She has just completed a memoir about facing her father’s death while in the middle of motherhood, marriage, and midlife. You can connect with her on Twitter and at her blog.

Photo: Volkan Olmez