A midwife and illustrator that used her art to get through postnatal depression

The  illustrations of Emma Flynn have a vibrancy of colour and use a technically beautiful style. The images that she presents are bold in their delicacy. She draws about her reality of motherhood which is tough but has moments of mundane triumph that her many fans can relate to. She is an artist, a midwife and a mother. It’s this unique trinity that gives her an original pregnancy perspective.

Reawakening her artistic sell

 

“I was really lucky to be in a financial position to have the opportunity to stay at home with our first baby, yet I was really lost. My pre-mum identity disappeared. I started to draw to express the things I’d experienced in the first year of motherhood.” Emma is very honest about the quality of what she produced, “it was really bad at first, my skill level was really low but I just kept going. There’s an artist I follow online who was just like, just draw everyday and your style will emerge.”

There is a frankness to her illustrations that connects with her fans. “I think that’s for a few reasons. One of the main reasons is when it’s an illustration, and there’s not a face of an identifiable human, you can put yourself in that picture a lot more. Even if one of the mummy bloggers exposes something personal and says, ‘I’m having a really hard day,’ you’re still like, ‘oh, but she’s so much more beautiful than I am, and she still has a nicer house than I have.’

“It’s a universal truth amongst mothers about what’s hard and what’s not. For me it’s just about being more open and being more honest. I don’t feel any vulnerability in exposing those things. It doesn’t make me feel in any way nervous or embarrassed. I think when more people see you acting that way, it sort of breaks down any idea that they have to live up to some sort of standard.”

 

Post-natal depression

 

For Emma’s first child, Jack, the pregnancy was physically tough but mentally it became very difficult both during the pregnancy and after it. “I was very sick until twenty-two weeks. I had a few other random complaints like bad palpitations, migraines and vision loss… basically a lot of crap! But the worst thing I felt was the fear because of all I’d seen in my time as a midwife. I couldn’t fathom how I would have a healthy delivery of a healthy baby. I literally couldn’t fathom it. When you’ve held a newborn baby that has died within an hour, you don’t forget it.”

Emma was consumed with thoughts of things going wrong, “It didn’t feel like something that just may happen, it felt extremely real. I would say I wasn’t mentally well during my pregnancy with Jack, so as much as anybody would say to me, ‘you know, realistically the odds of that happening to you is really small’. It was so unhelpful. All my mind could see was this burning fire of doom and pending.”

She delivered a healthy baby boy and was physically in good shape but she still was vulnerable mentally. A perfect storm came together that would test anyone who had a good head space. “My husband went back to work after five days and I was living in an area where I knew no one and didn’t drive. I was suddenly very isolated, really tired, feeling really sick and I just totally lost any sense of who I was. I got really bad postnatal depression and anxiety. I had OCD that manifested itself in ways that I never anticipated.” Some of the illustrations that Emma drew during this time showed her despair at being left alone with the baby when Mondays would roll around and her husband would have to go to work. There is a poignant photo of her with her baby in a bath, “Instead of uploading a drawing today I wanted to share a photo of one of the scariest but perhaps bravest moments of my life… My OCD started to manifest around Jack and water. The thoughts became obsessive. I had flashing images of him drowning, struggling and me just watching on. The images took over my mind and I’d shudder awake with them in the middle of the night – screaming, wailing and fearing his safety around water and me. Things got bad enough that my husband needed to take time off work to care for Jack and I.”

Getting better

 

“It took me a minimum of five months to start to feel safe in myself every day, to not feel like I might die or that I might kill myself or that I might do all these scary things. Then the last six months have been about building back into recognizing myself. I presume I will probably never be the same again, and that’s okay too. But at least I can recognize elements of a person I know and move her into the next stage.

“I went to a wonderful therapist who saved my life. I definitely felt like I wanted an outlet for all that had happened, and words were not it for me. I used to keep diaries but I would hate, even now, to read back on the words of all the awful thoughts I had at that time. A picture that expressed a feeling became a safer outlet for me.”

 

Looking forward

 

Emma is pregnant again with baby number two. “I’ve seen 90% more healthy live deliveries than traumatic scary ones. With this pregnancy I definitely don’t have that fear. I feel much more like it worked out beautifully for me last time, and it absolutely may not on my second pregnancy. I’m more accepting of that being totally out of my hands. I’m not wasting the days I have dress rehearsing the tragedy that I may have someday.”

Emma loves being a midwife, “I get the most satisfaction out of human connection.” But she is grateful for her art, “I love that I can connect with people through art now, but it still doesn’t fill me up the way that the face to face connection with another person does. I feel like it’s a great thing that I can do it for now as it allows me to be with my family, it’s something I want to continue as well. But there’s something about the privilege of being there at the most vulnerable important moments of someone’s life when they are having a baby. Knowing and trusting yourself that you can take the weight, and show up for them exactly as they need you to. That just really lights a fire in my belly.”

She is a warm soul that can’t but be honest and we all benefit from that wonderful quality. Through her art she connects with so many people that need to feel less alone. “My husband is so supportive, same with all my colleagues. They get on board, leave comments and supportive messages that aren’t even in a professional capacity. They’re responding as mothers themselves which is really nice.”

Her successful Instagram page

 

“I remember I got twenty-five followers and I was like, I know that is probably small, but if you picture twenty-five people are willing to show up to a room to see you, that’s pretty cool. At the time my ego would’ve loved for it to get to 1,000, now it’s over 5,000*! I’ve never asked people to share it, I’ve just let it develop. I have no ambition with that at all. I’m just showing up and doing what feels natural and letting it unfold as it unfolds.” What Emma has created from her dark times is something that is extremely important and poignant. In a social media world of fakeness and vanity, there is a need for what she has created. Parenthood is individual but at the same time ubiquitous. It’s tough but also joyful. It’s full of contradictions and that is something that Emma has embraced in a skillful way.

 

*It’s over 8,000 at the time of writing this article.

 

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