A film about identity, postpartum depression —and the first year of motherhood
By Amanda Jowsey
The auditorium grew quiet. The lights dimmed.
Opening scenes of a mother and her baby in the first few days of new life appeared on the screen. Nostalgic, bittersweet music set the tone.
I immediately started to cry.
My tears didn’t stop rolling until a few minutes after the final credits did.
Erin Bagwell (mom, artist and filmmaker) gifts the audience a raw look at her postpartum journey. I call it a gift, because the courage it took for her not only to document this experience, but to strip down her soul and share it with perfect strangers in the name of clarity, self-forgiveness and healing—that is a gift which she chose to give to the community of mothers (and a few fathers) present that night.
It was a night of “connection, cocktails and conversation about maternal mental health” at the Buffalo premiere of Bagwell’s award-winning film “Year One,” a 30-minute documentary about identity, postpartum depression and the first year of motherhood.
The event was held at the Seneca One Screening Room and was sponsored by Revolution, a female-founded and -owned boutique fitness center “with a wide range of fitness offerings and amenities, strengthening each other through mind, body and community one workout at a time.”
After the film, Amanda Myers, cofounder of Revolution, led a panel discussion exploring the themes that tied the film together: grieving the loss of old identities, mom guilt and shame, isolation and a lack of community and stigma around maternal mental health.
Bagwell and Myers joined WKBW news anchor Ashley Rowe and Davina Moss (founder of Positive Direction and Associates, Inc.) to discuss their journeys through that fourth trimester and their experiences with balancing identity and career with their role as moms.
The film and these panelists were not afraid to ask the hard questions, the ones we don’t talk about for fear of being judged or misunderstood, or even worse, labeled as “ungrateful,” as Bagwell described in the film.
The night of the screening of “Year One,” one resounding theme came through for me. Why are we all trying to live our truths in secret when there is a community of people to share with? Why are we ashamed by our fear, by our weakness, by our vulnerability? The same things that eventually lead us to find our greatest strengths and the greatest truths about ourselves.
The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says that about one in eight women (with a recent live birth) experience symptoms of postpartum depression. There are incredible resources out there for help and support. Reach out.
GO Buffalo Mom, an event sponsor for the premiere, is one such resource.
One in 10 children are born prematurely in the U.S. The Erie County rate of premature birth is similar to the national rate, but higher than that of New York.
Since 2007, Erie County has had higher premature birth rates, on average, than New York. The city of Buffalo has rates of premature birth that are higher than the county, state and national average.
GO Buffalo Mom “provides local mothers with a variety of resources to help them build healthier futures for their children.” The program ensures low-income pregnant women regularly attend prenatal appointments [thereby reducing the rate of premature births] and save for economical transportation options for future doctor appointments.
Moss, one of the panelists that night, said she had never heard of postpartum depression until she experienced it firsthand. She later created Positive Direction & Associates, Inc. “with the goal to shorten hospital stays for infants exposed to medication-assisted treatment, while addressing the emotional, physical and mental health of a pregnant woman before, during and after pregnancy.”
Their mission is “to provide hope, healing and empowerment to pregnant women affected by substance use disorders, giving them comprehensive knowledge, treatment and support to ensure a healthy and successful pregnancy.”
The room buzzed all night with hope, relief, tears and laughter. Bagwell’s film gave voice to things I rarely receive the openness to express out loud. It gave voices to all mothers. I felt seen, heard and loved. This feeling of shared experience and unconditional support empowered me.
One day early in my own postpartum recovery, my aunt asked what I sometimes dreaded hearing: “Don’t you just love being a mom?”
What a loaded question.
I sleep in two-hour shifts. I feel like I’m living in some alien skin that doesn’t belong to me. All I think of is another human’s digestive cycles, endless bottle washing and laundry. I have no idea what happened to my past as I grapple with this incredible and overwhelming future. Am I supposed to love this at first? Bagwell’s film hit all these points.
“Every day it felt like I was starting over, being met with a million new questions: is it time to feed her? Where are her socks? What are my priorities now and who do I want to be?”— “Year One.”
So, after thinking with what little brain power I had left, I said… “I love her like crazy, but I don’t love being a mom.” My aunt looked refreshed and impressed by my honesty. She understood.
We all need more moments like that: when we are in the trenches of those first few days, weeks, months, even year of motherhood.
Moments where we don’t pretend like it’s all OK, where we aren’t afraid to be weak and vulnerable.
Bagwell cut herself open and let it bleed on the screen so that the rest of us could find some healing. Her courage and self-compassion inspired discussions that lead to change and facilitate growth for everyone in a similar position.
“Asking for help was the first step toward choosing myself. And in doing so, it gave me permission to redefine my relationship to motherhood. I’m not a bad mom because I have depression. I’m a great mom and I have depression.” — “Year One.”
“Year One: Surviving the First Year of Motherhood” is available on YouTube. You can also check out more of Bagwell’s work at erin-bagwell.com and subscribe to her monthly blog and newsletter where she “share[s] musings about motherhood, identity, art and spirituality.”
• WNY Postpartum Connection, Inc: A directory of mental health and support services for pregnant and postpartum families wnypostpartum.com
• Maternal Mental Health Now: supporting the well-being of growing families
• Postpartum Support International