Recently, I traveled to Boston for the Warrior Mom Conference. This Postpartum Progress event, sponsored by Cotton Babies, was the very first patient centered conference about maternal mental health. I met many other amazing mothers, who, like me, had dealt with and recovered from postpartum depression or another related illness. As I spent the weekend with over 100 women from all parts of the country (And Canada and Great Britain), it struck me as ironic that an experience that felt so isolating and debilitating at the time (PPD), eventually turned into a unifying and empowering experience. I left Boston feeling educated, connected, inspired and grateful. I wasn’t surprised by any of these feelings. However, I did come to two unexpected realizations that deserve further discussion:
1. Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress, might be an ordinary person after all, but she is leading an extraordinary movement.
2. I really am okay. In fact, I am thriving! (This will be the topic of Part 2. Stay Tuned!)
*For a comprehensive understanding of this amazing conference, read Jennifer’s Marshall’s post Warrior Mom Conference Re-Cap.
People who don’t live in Blogland and don’t have an interest in maternal mental health, might not know the name Katherine Stone. However, for many women who have suffered from PPD or a related illness, she is a well-known and inspirational figure. After experiencing and recovering from PPD, Katherine realized this issue needed more attention. In 2004, she began a blog. On July 13, 2004, in a post titled And So it Begins, Katherine concludes, “I hope Postpartum Progress helps in some small way.” I keep shaking my head and rereading the last five words in that post. “Helps in some small way.” When Katherine typed those words in 2004, I don’t think she had any idea that this “weblog” would be a catalyst for change and a spark that ignited action. I don’t think she knew it would serve as the lifesaver in dark turbulent seas for so many women.
The blog eventually grew to be much more than a blog. In 2011, Katherine established Postpartum Progress, a nonprofit organization,”to give new families a stronger start by increasing awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, reducing stigma, connecting moms to professional help, and providing peer support to those with maternal mental illness.”
My descent into postpartum depression, anxiety and OCD also began in 2011, but I didn’t come across the blog or the organization until I was well-recovered from PPD. Over a year after my recovery, I began looking for answers, information and understanding about the horrific experience I had had postpartum. And when I first found the blog, I dismissed it. I barely even understood what a blog was; it sounded too informal and trendy. (Yes, I was living under a social media rock!) I was looking for something scholarly to answer my questions. (My questions by the way were, “WT$ happened to me after my son was born? I’m okay now, but was it PPD, postpartum psychosis, or just new mom jitters?” Even though I worked with a therapist and took medication for Generalized Anxiety Disorder after my son’s birth, I was never diagnosed with a specific postpartum related illness.) I didn’t look at the blog seriously because it was not endorsed by or related to a university. Yet at the same time, I was skeptical of the blog because it looked too professional. I thought blogs were like journals, but Postpartum Progress didn’t look like a journal. On top of that, there was a picture of a classy looking executive-type woman on the blog. She had postpartum depression? I thought in disbelief. There’s no way that lady had what I had. I must have had something else. I had something worse.
So with very little success, I continued to research anything related to postpartum illnesses, hoping to find out why my symptoms didn’t quite match the common descriptions of postpartum depression. Finally, I read a section from Women’s Moods by Jeanne Watson Driscoll and Deborah Sichel that I had skipped in previous readings. This section was about postpartum OCD, something I thought I didn’t have because I wasn’t clean, perfect or organized enough to have OCD. (Common misconceptions about OCD!) But when I read about postpartum OCD, I began to feel like I had found the right description of my postpartum experience. I took my new-found term, postpartum OCD, to the internet and my searches brought me back to Postpartum Progress. I started to carefully read the posts on this site. I read current posts, old posts, featured posts and comments. I realized that this was what I had been looking for the whole time. And Katherine Stone, the classy looking executive-type lady whom I doubted because she wrote a fancy blog and looked like she had it together, was completely on top of her game. She had lived through postpartum depression, AND she was really smart and her writing was well-researched, AND she wrote about the mystifying symptoms I had, AND many other women had these symptoms as well. Scary thoughts, intrusive thoughts, obsessive thoughts. There were names for theses awful occurrences that had left me feeling like a monster, a freak and the woman with the worst case of PPD ever. (Side-note: I really don’t think it is wise to diagnose oneself after reading something on the internet. But given the lack of expertise in maternal mental health in my local community, I did just that. Side-Note Tangent: If more healthcare and mental healthcare professionals were aware of the many symptoms and aspects of postpartum mood disorders, I wouldn’t have spent over a year wondering what had happened to me after my son’s birth!)
Katherine wrote about all aspects of PPD, the symptoms that are rarely emphasized in most PPD literature. She offered help, humor and knowledge in a readable format.I continued to read her blog regularly and I took part in the first Climb Out of the Darkness. (Read My Climb Post.) Overtime, I became the PPD version of a Belieber. I was a fan to say the least. (OMG! We both have red hair! We’re twinsies!)
I was even a bit star struck when I saw her at the 2014 PSI Conference in Chapel Hill, NC. Barely able to breathe while speaking to her, I managed to ask her to take a photo with me and then ran back to my table as if I had just posed with a celebrity. After all, Katherine Stone had been on CNN, she was the question to a Jeopardy answer, she won a number of awards for her blogs, and she’d been in magazines. She’s actually even cooler than a celebrity because she’s known for something so admirable. As Kate Kripke, LCSW and founder of the Postpartum Wellness Center of Boulder, said, “Her blog has saved lives.”
So how did I manage to spend the weekend at this conference without fainting from K-Stone Fever? I realized Katherine Stone is a normal person. I suppose I realized this when I saw her fidgeting before her keynote speech, when her voices turned thin and high for a moment as she referenced her postpartum experience, when she spoke vehemently about her “crippling anxiety,” when she publicly recognized that Postpartum Progress has attracted a privileged group and could find ways to welcome a more diverse community, when I overheard her comforting her daughter on her cell phone, and when she reassured us directly, “I’m a real person.”
Katherine Stone is an ordinary person. This is an important realization because Katherine Stone’s work is not about Katherine Stone. Her work is about women and families. As she stated way back in July 2004, her work is collaborative. Her work initiated a movement on which many other women have embarked. Together, we are informing families, doctors, community members and politicians. Together, we are making PROGRESS. Together, we are a battalion of ordinary women taking part in an extraordinary movement.
*Coming up soon…when I can find more hours in the day…”I’m really okay. In fact, I’m Thriving!” This post will discuss what I learned about myself during Kate Kripke’s session.