Sarah Baker has four children under the age of six and with each pregnancy she suffered some kind of anxiety and depression. The fourth time around, while based in Hong Kong, she began reflecting on her work as a makeup artist and what she could do with more purpose.
“I love working with women and helping people feel good about themselves” says Baker. “I had this idea of doing a photo shoot and bringing women together—anyone who’s really struggled with postpartum depression. We talk about it to each other sometimes, but it can be a really taboo subject; no one wants to be considered the crazy one.”
She saw the potential to raise awareness by showcasing the stories of individual women and building a sense of community that could help other women to heal and find support. In bringing mental health out of the darkness, she wanted the campaign to have a feel-good element and celebrate the mothers, which sparked her idea for the name.
“Once you have children, it often becomes just about them (or at least it feels that way), and so I wanted this project to be just about the mothers—the participants—making it just ‘For You’.”
Baker teamed up with photographer Matt Jacob and creative director Ann Tsang and they pulled off the shoots over three days in February 2022, just as Hong Kong was starting to shut down in response to the fifth wave of Covid-19.
“Every photo shoot that we did, every woman spent about two hours with us, and they left almost a different person,” says Jacob. “We just had a small studio but we got creative with how we posed and styled them; we wanted their personalities to come through in the photos, and all of them are portrait style with a little twist.”
Read more: This Photographer Isn't Afraid to Confront Body Image and Loneliness
Shahana Hoque-Ali, a project manager and functional medicine practitioner, is one of the women to participate in the For You campaign so far. “I felt so supported and that brought a lot of emotions to the surface; feelings that I hadn't had an opportunity to offload since, as a mum, you have to try to keep it all together,” she says. “Since then, I feel liberated, free and acknowledged and am grateful for such a worthy project.”
While she admits to being “a nervous wreck” beforehand, ultimately it was also an empowering experience for yoga teacher Anna Little, who continues to manage her anxiety and depression five years after giving birth. “When I think about the campaign and about the courage it took on my part, I can say I'm proud of myself and it's OK to say that—and I never say that!” says Little. "I really do think that this was a big step in my journey of healing.”
Below we've excerpted highlights from the postpartum depression experiences of Shahana, Anna, Min, Nav and María. More stories and resources are available on the campaign website—and this is only the first chapter. Baker, who just relocated to the UK, aims to spread the For You campaign to more women globally.
“Others managed, so why was I so tired and not enjoying this time?”
Shahana Hoque-Ali, mom of 3; project manager; functional medicine practitioner at Origin Health
“The joy of having a baby and the delivery made me feel elated. However, as the weeks went by, I felt more and more depleted and the days started to merge into one. I wanted to do fun things with my babies, but it was all so hard, unlike others who seemed to post beautiful pictures and be happy.
I began to notice my skin starting to change colour and soon the light patches were spreading and becoming large. I realised that I had developed multiple autoimmune diseases, however it wasn’t that straightforward. I was told that I had the baby blues and I was just tired from having a new baby, sleepless nights, and every other explanation, which made me begin to think that maybe I was just being lazy.
No doctor knew what the problem was. In fact, they didn’t think there even was an issue, until I saw various holistic therapists. I took the advice from each doctor, therapist and naturopath and started to piece together the puzzle. I felt like I had to become the project manager of my own health.
Fortunately, I had a medical and scientific background, so I enrolled in a functional medicine course and an energy healing course. Slowly I realised that the mind, emotional and physical self are all connected. I had to address the different pieces to eventually find the right doctor to diagnose me and I started my healing journey—a mixture of mental healing, medical interventions and diet and lifestyle changes.
Neurological studies show there are two times in a woman’s life when grey matter is actually reduced: post pregnancy and menopause, so it’s not in our imagination nor is it simply a mental or emotional issue, it’s a physiological issue. We need support and kindness for ourselves as our biology is telling us to slow down.”