Google+ An Interview with Katherine Stone: Postpartum Warrior

An Interview with Katherine Stone: Postpartum Warrior

If you happen to be a mother and have been in the blogging space for any length of time, you’re probably familiar with the most widely read blog on the internet about postpartum depression, Postpartum Progress. You are probably equally as aware of the tall, beautiful, red-headed founder, Katherine Stone, who is a tireless champion not only for those suffering from postpartum afflictions but also for programs to ensure women get the diagnosis and treatment they deserve.

What you may not know is that Katherine is also the founder of a nonprofit organization of the same name, Postpartum Progress Inc. She recently sat down for a few questions about how her personal experiences led to her blog and then to her organization.

Katherine is a personal hero of mine and I’d like to thank her for sharing her story so openly.

You’re very open about the fact that you suffered from postpartum OCD after your first pregnancy in 2001. What kind of resources were available to women like yourself back then?

You know, there really weren’t many resources at all when I became ill in the fall of 2001. I didn’t know of any blogs about it, and no one knew of any resources. There were no support groups. My doctor had never heard of postpartum OCD. I found out later that Postpartum Support International did exist at the time but I wasn’t aware of it and no one else with whom I spoke knew about it either. The one thing I can recall is that I did find a Yahoo group of moms with PPD that I joined, but it was unmonitored so, in addition to the things being posted there that were supportive and helpful, there was a lot of stuff that was incorrect and not based on any medical evidence.

How would your experience have been different if the internet back then was the internet of today?

That’s a great question. I think it would have been worlds different. While it’s my belief that we still don’t have NEARLY enough support and services for women with postpartum depression and related illnesses, we at least now have more individual women who have the courage to blog, tweet and Facebook about their experiences. This means more women are able to see that there are others like them and that they aren’t alone.

How did your experiences affect your decision to expand your family?

I did not plan to expand my family, to be perfectly honest. I just didn’t want to go through postpartum OCD and depression ever again. Period. Through a series of circumstances I imagine your readers don’t want the details of, I got pregnant again and it was a BIG surprise. At that time my husband and I just decided that we could get through it. By that time I had been doing Postpartum Progress for a while and knew a lot of the experts in the field of reproductive psychiatry, so I was able to have an amazing team of people from the Emory Women’s Mental Health Program support me through the pregnancy and postpartum period. And, by the way, I didn’t have it the second time around. Whew!

I’m so grateful for my daughter’s nearly miraculous conception, because she and my son are the best things ever to happen to me and I can’t imagine one without the other. They’re both amazing.

How has it affected you as a mother?

Certainly those first few years with my firstborn were the most impacted, because I was convinced I’d never be a good mother and I’d never get better. Even after I recovered I still had post-traumatic stress disorder over the whole devastating experience. It takes years to get over it, as moms who’ve had PPD know so well. I can’t say that it affects me much any more now that it’s been 9+ years since I had it. I have a lot of confidence now that I’m the right mother for my children. Not that I’m awesome or that I’ll do everything right every time, but that I’m a great mom and I love my babies and they love me and I’m steering them through their little lives to the best of my abilities. That’s good enough for me. It takes a lot of time to heal and get to that point, though, so I’m always exhorting moms who’ve had PPD to please be patient with themselves.

So which came first, the blog or the nonprofit?

The blog came first. I started it in July 2004. (Next month is our 8 year anniversary!) I had ZERO intention of having a nonprofit. I really didn’t have any master plans at the time I ventured out into the world with Postpartum Progress. It was more that I couldn’t stand the thought of another mother feeling as alone and ashamed as I did and I thought I’d do something about it by writing.

It turned out what I created was something that people really needed and that need helped fuel the growth and make it bigger and better each year. I went from just writing about my own experience to writing about research, creating resources, speaking out against stigma. It’s the moms who read and comment and send me emails and ask questions who have really made the site what it has become. You couldn’t do Postpartum Progress in a vacuum and do it successfully. The constant feedback and discussion among pregnant and new mothers is what keeps it going, and until we have moms who are fully educated and doctors who are fully educated and everyone who is ill is identified and offered the right kind of services we will still have stories to write.

What was the impetus to start a nonprofit? What can you tell us about its origins and how far it has come?

I’m very proud of what the blog has accomplished. We now have far and away more traffic than any other website dedicated to postpartum depression. That’s pretty cool for a site that was started for something like 25 bucks and has grown via word-of-mouth only; it means that more and more women are finding the resources we created for them. At the same time, I still hear from moms around the country (and increasingly, the world) every day who were never educated by their childbirth healthcare providers, or who were given the wrong information, or who can’t find help when they need it, or who have been stigmatized and mistreated. That’s not okay with me.

People don’t realize that nearly 1 million women every year are getting postpartum depression or a related illness and only 15% of them (!!!!!!!) ever receive treatment. They don’t know the long-term negative effects of untreated PPD on mom and baby. To me this is a major public health issue, and yet we don’t have the systems in place to identify and take care of these women. After seven years of blogging I realized I couldn’t rely on blogging alone to fix that. It meant I had to get out from behind the safety of my laptop and start a nonprofit. We received our 501c3 status last year and held our first major fundraiser last October. This is all very new to me. I’m used to being an advocate and an activist but now I’m trying to influence policy. I’m trying to create tools that women can use offline, since not everyone with PPD has a laptop or is on Twitter.  I’m trying to get people in positions of power to understand that creating maternal health programs that don’t include mental health is incredibly shortsighted. We have women suffering all over the place, and their children will suffer too, and the vicious cycle will keep on going if we don’t get our act together.

I’m excited about the possibilities … the change we can make. At the same time, as a work-at-home mom with a ten-year-old and a six-year-old, I’m keenly aware of how much help I need to make that change. Just like Postpartum Progress the blog would never have succeeded like it did if it had been a one-woman show, neither can Postpartum Progress the nonprofit. We need supporters. Fundraisers. Corporate partners. People who understand how crucial it is for a new family to start off healthy, who recognize the spiraling effect a poor start can have. The good news is that postpartum depression is an illness that is fully treatable. It’s not like we’re trying to find a cure. We just need to create the kind of tools and systems that put the women who need it together with the people who can provide it. It’s a good news story.

In terms of social media, it is bloggers who have been the biggest supporters of Postpartum Progress. The “mom blogger” world has been just amazing when it comes to spreading the word about our resources, making sure their readers know about it, submitting guest posts, promoting things we’re doing. Honestly there’s no group of people I’d need to thank more than my own social media community. If it weren’t for all of you we wouldn’t be where we are, so I’m undyingly grateful to the blogosphere. I feel like there’s nothing we can’t do.

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If Katherine’s story has inspired you to use your voice to make a change, we hope you’ll consider joining Charitable Influence as a blogger if you haven’t already. No blog is too big or too small to make a difference in the world. 

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