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How ceramist Maria White’s Mugs for Moms offers comfort to women experiencing postpartum depression

How ceramist Maria White’s Mugs for Moms offers comfort to women experiencing postpartum depression
May 2022

The nonprofit hosts its annual fundraiser this month

MUSC’s Art in Healing manager Katie Hinson Sullivan with artist Maria White at a Muddy Meet-up, where women facing maternal mood and anxiety disorders can gather, learn about resources, and shape clay.

Women suffering from postpartum depression can feel like there are cracks in the happy façade they’re expected to show the world before and after they give birth. As a potter who has been humbled by her cracked creations, as well as her experience with postpartum depression and anxiety, Maria White aims to use pottery to help new mothers seal the fissures in their mental health.

Though White’s son is now 11 and she has a nine-year-old daughter, she recalls the feeling of “tremendous guilt and shame I was drowning in.” She continues, “After the birth of my first child, I had severe depression and anxiety. I wish that when I was going to my obstetrician visits, certain questions would have been asked about my mental health or past traumas, or if certain things in my life could be triggers that your partner would know to look for. I wish I had known not to be afraid of the fact that I needed to get well and that mental health is health. You can’t take care of your baby if you’re not taking care of yourself.”

White distributed care packages to expectant and new mothers for Valentine’s Day.

In 2019, when White decided to help other women going through postpartum depression, she turned to art. White recalled the Empty Bowls movement from her time in Los Angeles, where potters created bowls sold to help support soup kitchens and combat hunger. Why not use her pottery skills to raise funds to help mothers with postpartum depression and anxiety, she thought? So she launched Mugs for Moms to raise awareness about perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. 

White hosts twice-monthly Muddy Meet-ups, when expectant mothers, those dealing with loss, or moms looking for a break can learn about mental and maternal health resources and hear from experts. “I know firsthand how healing working with your hands can be, and clay transforms right before your eyes,” White says of the gatherings where women are given a lump of clay and shown how to mold whatever they want—from plates to pinch pots to the tiny kurinuki box one mom made to keep her children’s baby teeth. 

The pottery is fired after the women leave, and White’s group delivers them later, allowing  another opportunity to meet with the mothers. “We create a safe space for them to be heard and to share,” says White.

(Left) At the annual Mugs for Moms fundraiser, supporters can bid on mugs with the money raised  helping to pay for the monthly meet-ups; (Right) Elise Hussey works with clay during a Muddy Meet-up at the Gibbes Museum of Art in March.

The meetings are free and include a meal as well as companionship, something that became more important after the isolation of COVID. When the pandemic forced the cancellation of the January and February events, White assembled care packages that included mugs and local products and delivered them to 50 new or expectant mothers and the maternity unity at MUSC, just in time for Valentine’s Day. “It had information in Spanish and English about resources. We hope they’ll meet up with us in the future,” White says. “They have a mug they can have coffee or tea in, and it can serve as a reminder that they’re not alone. The idea is we want to try to get information to moms before they deliver, so if symptoms do pop up, they know how to recognize them, that they are treatable, and there are resources out there.”

The nonprofit hosts its annual fundraiser, Mugs for Moms, on May 14 at Redux Contemporary Art Center. Potters from around the country create mugs for the cause, and ticket holders can choose their favorite mug, fill it with coffee or mimosas, munch snacks, and listen to experts in perinatal care. An online auction offers more valuable vessels, some by noted artists. Last year, the group raised almost $15,000, sharing the funds with Postpartum Support Charleston, where White is a board member, and MUSC’s recently launched Mom's IMPACTT referral program. She hopes Mugs for Moms will become a model for other cities and grows into a movement, just like Empty Bowls did. 


See Mugs for Moms founder Maria White's work as a recent visiting artist at the Gibbes Museum of Art