A few years ago a Maria Viner contacted me to express how one of my works had affected her. We have spoken a lot since, and she recently contacted me again with this below piece of text, asking me to publish it here. I am publishing her text entirely unedited, and I plan to publish my response to it in the coming days.
“This artwork is very meaningful to me because of the profound affect it had on my recovery from severe mental illness.
Like many other women my journey into Motherhood was not straightforward. I had a number of early miscarriages before becoming pregnant with my first son, William. I had a wonderful pregnancy with him, I felt happy and healthy, I enjoyed every minute and excitedly planned for parenthood. He was born when I was 42 week pregnant, was immediately rushed to NICU and 24 hours later he died in my arms. Despite my intense grief I found my way to cope. I could understand why I felt so low, it made sense to me, my baby was dead, I was allowed to be sad.
I was very blessed to have two further children, however I suffered from severe anxiety during my pregnancies and I experienced two other close family bereavements. The birth of my third child was extremely physically traumatic for me. Following her birth it was discovered that she had some physical problems and she underwent tests in NICU. This hit me like a brick wall. I could not look at her – if I looked at her I would love her – if I loved her she would die. I did not see a healthy baby who needed some additional support, I saw my time in NICU with my first son.
Three years after William’s birth I was lost in an illness of anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, Maternal OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder. I felt isolated and suffered with panic attacks. Every day was a struggle and there was no joy. I lost interest and enjoyment in everything. I was tearful, anxious, irritable and angry. I felt helpless, hopeless, lacking in energy and often confused. I began to have difficulties with my memory and poor concentration. I was unable to make decisions and my self- esteem was non-existent. I was troubled with obsessive thoughts, all my relationships deteriorated and I thought everyone was “against” me. The isolation and loneliness became overwhelming, like a heavy weight engulfing me, I was drowning in it, holding on by my finger tips and often I just wanted to let go and float away in the hope I could be with William again. These suicidal thoughts and idealisation plagued me.
Throughout my illness I was always searching for clarity, I had a need to understand what was happening to me. Luckily amazing friends dragged me through some very dark days and a small charity called Mothers for Mothers saved my life through peer support. On my journey towards recovery I still had one piece of the jigsaw missing. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened and my emotional responses Feeling low and depressed had made sense when William died, but the overwhelming feelings of anxiety and depression when I had two live babies to care for made no sense at all..
This is when I stumbled upon the most beautiful, intricate, clever piece of art and everything suddenly made sense.
It spoke to me on another level that made me realise I had not just been carrying around my grief for William in the tiny coffin by my side but I had also been carrying around all of my dead dreams about the amazing Mother I had thought I would be. From my expected home birth, to effortlessly feeding in a sling whilst doing lots of other wonderful things with my perfect babies and all the charming friends we would make. I had expected to slip into the perfect Mother role with ease and to enjoy every second. I had wanted my husband to be proud of me and to be undisturbed by the practicalities of night feeds and nappies. I had believed that my children would be perfectly well behaved and if they were not one glance from me and they would become little darlings again.
All these dead hopes, dreams and expectations together with my grief for William, my father –in –law and my Dad, my grief for the person I used to be who I had completely lost in the process, were all packed in this tiny coffin that never left my side. This impacted on me everyday.
I needed to say goodbye to it and to move on to the next stage of my life with my two fabulous children at my side and the memory of their brother cherished in my heart.
At last I had my clarity, my recovery was complete. Art can allow us to quickly make sense of such intense emotions that our conscious mind attempts to protect us from. The good news is it is possible to make a full recovery from a perinatal mental illness. Like many people sometimes I have moments of anxiety and sadness. Sometimes a moment of grief about what should have been with William takes me by surprise. When I look at this picture everything makes sense again. I’m very grateful to Benjamin Murphy for the part his work played in my recovery and his gift to me of this wonderful piece of art which continues to protects my mental wellbeing. I’m in awe of such a talent that can have such a profound capacity to allow people to heal.”
Maria is the Chief Executive Officer of the amazing charity Mothers For Mothers, who help mothers (and fathers) who have suffered some form of postnatal depression. You can find out more about what they do (and donate) at the link below: