Christina Riley

Christina Riley is a Canadian photographer based in California. Previously we interviewed Christina about her book Back To Me. Here Christina shares works from her new book, Born, exploring her relationship to childbirth and her experience with postpartum depression.

Can you say a bit about the impact that becoming a mother had on your mental health?

Becoming a mother was really tough. It impacted my mental health with postpartum anxiety and depression. The weight of responsibility to keep the baby safe and healthy was intense. I worried non stop, because so much was out of my hands. Out of control. At times I felt so disconnected from her, but felt the deepest love for her as well. It was quite confusing, especially because I was never told that those feelings can be very normal. I felt very alone and overwhelmed. Throughout the pregnancy, I stayed on my medication for bipolar disorder, because the risk to me was considered higher than risks for the baby. I am so happy I did because I think I would have been in much worse condition after birth if not.

Is documenting the every day a usual practice for you, or did Born prompt you into documenting your new life as a mother?

I am constantly documenting myself and my life. It is part of who I am. I knew ahead of time that I wanted to photograph my daughter’s life, as a gift to her, for her future. I believe it’s very important to have pictures of your childhood since a lot of that time is lost. So by obsessively taking pictures of her, I was able to document myself, and my emotions as well.

Postpartum depression is still something that’s very difficult for parents to talk about. Why was it important for you to create this work and secondly to share it with the world?

By sharing my experience in an honest way, I’m able to connect with people who have gone through a similar struggle. My hope is that the work could help others feel less isolated in their experience, and that it will open the minds of people who haven’t been through it. I think there is an expectation people have about becoming parents – they expect for everything to be beautiful and for love to take over completely. When things don’t turn out that way and postpartum hits, it’s easy to feel like a failure – to feel guilt and shame. It’s important for people to know that their experience, however mild or extreme, is very normal.

What prompted you to produce the work as a book?

I knew that I wanted to do something with the pictures I took. It felt like an important and interesting story to share. Getting feedback from others really does help me feel connected in my experiences. It’s important for me to have the closure of a final physical product of my work. It allows me to start a fresh chapter. My close friend/mentor, Tony Fouhse, sort of got me on the path of making books when his company Straylight Press published my first book, Back To Me. He has been very helpful and encouraging.

In contrast to your previous book Back To Me all of born is shot in b&w. Was this a conscious decision when making the work and why?

Back to me was all shot on super high iso, with a ton of grain, so the images had a strange color cast, and felt more dreamlike. The decision to make Born black and white was done more instinctively, but since the subject matter is so “traditional” – birth, baby, motherhood – it worked perfectly. I wanted the book to look kind of traditional, even though the photos are not.

What would you say creating the work has achieved for you in terms of reconciling the difficulties and pleasures of becoming a mother?

By documenting my life through that time, I was able to reflect on the pictures and could see things how they were, and in the end where it all led me. I went from feeling like the worst mom, a stranger to myself, with a new stranger in my house (the baby), to seeing myself as a great mom to my daughter. It was a very emotional trip. I did not expect it to be as unsettling as it was, but it was worth the struggle.

Born is available for $30 through Christina’s website.

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