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From out of the blue …

Currently hanging in the children’s section at Masterton District Library is a series of eye-catching, pop art-style portraits – recognisable for their striking flat colour stories, graphic lines, and soothing fuchsia backgrounds.

Behind the bright hues and animated faces are stories of anxiety, loneliness, and extreme upheaval … as well as survival and hope.

The artworks are part of the travelling exhibition “The Blue Stories Project”, brought to Masterton in a collaboration between the library, “Blue Stories” creator Karolina Gorton, and perinatal support organisation The Ruth Project Wairarapa [TRPW].

The exhibition, which opened on Monday, is the handiwork of Nelson-based artist and mother Gorton, created initially in 2022 as a poster campaign to “shine a light” on perinatal depression. It has since been displayed in venues nationwide, aiming to normalise perinatal mental distress, experienced globally by around 20 per cent of new mothers, and 1 in 10 new fathers, and often, Gorton said, “[carrying] with it a stigma that is unhelpful and unjustified.”

“The Blue Stories Project” features images of and stories from parents throughout Aotearoa New Zealand – sharing their experiences of post-partum depression and anxiety, as well as child loss, infertility, pregnancy complications and birth trauma.

When contributing their tales, parents were asked to share the one thing that helped them through the tough times: From receiving professional help, to chatting with friends over coffee, to trying pottery, to the power of positive self-talk.

The Wellington leg of the exhibition, organised with support from TRPW and Hutt-based organised Greenstone Doors, was first displayed at Johnsonville Library early last year, and will be showing in Masterton until March 22.

TRPW co-founder Abby Hollingsworth, whose story features in the exhibition, was hopeful “Blue Stories” would bring encouragement to new parents and remind them that there is, in fact, life after perinatal mental ill health.

“Karolina hoped that parents who were struggling would see the artworks, read the stories, and think, ‘wow – this person got through it and came out the other side. And so can I.’

“I’m grateful that my own story can provide inspiration and motivation. If one new parent can see it, and feel like it’s possible to survive, then my story of pain and hardship hasn’t gone to waste.

“We hope people can see that these mums and dads have, after going through some of the worst times in their life, are now being celebrated and uplifted all over the country. Knowing that, you can’t help but feel encouraged.”

The “Blue Stories” exhibition incorporates parents of various walks of life: Including those who, like Hollingsworth, were inspired by their experience to work for or start their own charitable organisations supporting new parents on their journey.

Hollingsworth, who struggled with severe post-partum depression after her youngest was born, founded TRPW in 2019 — which now provides in-home practical care, food deliveries, and connection via peer support groups for whanau experiencing perinatal mental health challenges.

For Hollingsworth, it was connection that most helped with her recovery — being able to share honest thoughts and feelings with genuine and non-judgmental friends and supporters.

“I found real healing when I found people who were able just to listen and understand, without needing to fix anything or give advice.

“I was able to process what I was going through, and figure out that the intrusive thoughts I was experiencing weren’t actually a helpful or reasonable way of thinking. It made a real difference being able to say things out loud.”

Several fathers have also shards their stories, including Wairarapa youth worker Luke Tiller, who experienced a bout of depression after leaving work to become a stay-at-home-parent.

Displayed alongside the “Blue Stories” portraits at the library are art boards created by students of Puawānanga Wairarapa Young Parents – the region’s teen parent unit – which capture their own journeys navigating new motherhood and mental health.

“It’s beautiful artwork,” Hollingsworth said.

“We’re hopeful the students feel encouraged to be included and having their work on show for the community. Teenagers in our society still get a lot of criticism when they become parents. Why not lift them up instead?”

Hollingsworth hoped the exhibition would also encourage people to look out for the new parents in their life – and give them “some tips on what to do” to help lighten the load.

More information about the Blue Stories exhibition is available on the Ruth Project Wairarapa Facebook page. To find out more about the Blue Stories Project, go to bluestoriesproject.com helped them through the tough times: From receiving professional help, to chatting with friends over coffee, to trying pottery, to the power of positive self-talk.

The Wellington leg of the exhibition, organised with support from TRPW and Hutt-based organised Greenstone Doors, was first displayed at Johnsonville Library early last year, and will be showing in Masterton until March 22.

TRPW co-founder Abby Hollingsworth, whose story features in the exhibition, was hopeful “Blue Stories” would bring encouragement to new parents and remind them that there is, in fact, life after perinatal mental ill health.

“Karolina hoped that parents who were struggling would see the artworks, read the stories, and think, ‘wow – this person got through it and came out the other side. And so can I.’

“I’m grateful that my own story can provide inspiration and motivation. If one new parent can see it, and feel like it’s possible to survive, then my story of pain and hardship hasn’t gone to waste.

“We hope people can see that these mums and dads, after going through some of the worst times in their life, are now being celebrated and uplifted all over the country. Knowing that, you can’t help but feel encouraged.”

The “Blue Stories” exhibition incorporates parents of various walks of life, including those who, like Hollingsworth, were inspired by their experience to work for or start their own charitable organisations supporting new parents on their journey.

Hollingsworth, who struggled with severe post-partum depression after her youngest was born, founded TRPW in 2019 — which now provides in-home practical care, food deliveries, and connection via peer support groups for whanau experiencing perinatal mental health challenges.

For Hollingsworth, it was connection that most helped with her recovery — being able to share honest thoughts and feelings with genuine and non-judgmental friends and supporters.

“I found real healing when I found people who were able just to listen and understand, without needing to fix anything or give advice.

“I was able to process what I was going through, and figure out that the intrusive thoughts I was experiencing weren’t actually a helpful or reasonable way of thinking. It made a real difference being able to say things out loud.”

Several fathers have also shared their stories, including Wairarapa youth worker Luke Tiller, who experienced a bout of depression after leaving work to become a stay-at-home-parent.

Displayed alongside the “Blue Stories” portraits at the library are art boards created by students of Puawānanga Wairarapa Young Parents – the region’s teen parent unit – which capture their own journeys navigating new motherhood and mental health.

“It’s beautiful artwork,” Hollingsworth said.

“We’re hopeful the students feel encouraged to be included and having their work on show for the community. Teenagers in our society still get a lot of criticism when they become parents. Why not lift them up instead?”

Hollingsworth hoped the exhibition would also encourage people to look out for the new parents in their life – and give them “some tips on what to do” to help lighten the load.

More information about the Blue Stories exhibition is available on the Ruth Project Wairarapa Facebook page. To find out more about the Blue Stories Project, go to bluestoriesproject.com helped them through the tough times: From receiving professional help, to chatting with friends over coffee, to trying pottery, to the power of positive self-talk.

The Wellington leg of the exhibition, organised with support from TRPW and Hutt-based organised Greenstone Doors, was first displayed at Johnsonville Library early last year, and will be showing in Masterton until March 22.

TRPW co-founder Abby Hollingsworth, whose story features in the exhibition, was hopeful “Blue Stories” would bring encouragement to new parents and remind them that there is, in fact, life after perinatal mental ill health.

“Karolina hoped that parents who were struggling would see the artworks, read the stories, and think, ‘wow – this person got through it and came out the other side. And so can I.’

“I’m grateful that my own story can provide inspiration and motivation. If one new parent can see it, and feel like it’s possible to survive, then my story of pain and hardship hasn’t gone to waste.

“We hope people can see that these mums and dads, after going through some of the worst times in their life, are now being celebrated and uplifted all over the country. Knowing that, you can’t help but feel encouraged.”

The “Blue Stories” exhibition incorporates parents of various walks of life, including those who, like Hollingsworth, were inspired by their experience to work for or start their own charitable organisations supporting new parents on their journey.

Hollingsworth, who struggled with severe post-partum depression after her youngest was born, founded TRPW in 2019 — which now provides in-home practical care, food deliveries, and connection via peer support groups for whanau experiencing perinatal mental health challenges.

For Hollingsworth, it was connection that most helped with her recovery — being able to share honest thoughts and feelings with genuine and non-judgmental friends and supporters.

“I found real healing when I found people who were able just to listen and understand, without needing to fix anything or give advice.

“I was able to process what I was going through, and figure out that the intrusive thoughts I was experiencing weren’t actually a helpful or reasonable way of thinking. It made a real difference being able to say things out loud.”

Several fathers have also shared their stories, including Wairarapa youth worker Luke Tiller, who experienced a bout of depression after leaving work to become a stay-at-home-parent.

Displayed alongside the “Blue Stories” portraits at the library are art boards created by students of Puawānanga Wairarapa Young Parents – the region’s teen parent unit – which capture their own journeys navigating new motherhood and mental health.

“It’s beautiful artwork,” Hollingsworth said.

“We’re hopeful the students feel encouraged to be included and having their work on show for the community. Teenagers in our society still get a lot of criticism when they become parents. Why not lift them up instead?”

Hollingsworth hoped the exhibition would also encourage people to look out for the new parents in their life – and give them “some tips on what to do” to help lighten the load.

More information about the Blue Stories exhibition is available on the Ruth Project Wairarapa Facebook page. To find out more about the Blue Stories Project, go to bluestoriesproject.com

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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