Postpartum Depression Led to My Reinvention

A scary and severe bout of postpartum depression spurred Katherine Stone to openly share her experiences online in an effort to save other moms from the same fate.

by Editors
katherine stone image
Katherine Stone, 41, is on a mission to help mothers.
Photograph: Karen Walrond

MORE: We know you blog about postpartum depression, why did you start writing about that particular subject?

Katherine Stone: I suffered postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder after the birth of my first child in 2001.I was completely blindsided by it. I received very little information about postpartum depression from my OB and childbirth educators, and absolutely no one mentioned (probably because they didn't know) that there is an entire spectrum of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including everything from antenatal depression and postpartum anxiety to postpartum depression and postpartum PTSD.

I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life as I was then. Up until that point I was a happy, accomplished young woman with a great career.  Then I have my beautiful baby and suddenly I'm hysterical and can't eat or sleep. Imagine having thoughts constantly come into your head about harm coming to your child.  I lived in fear that I would drown my son in the bathtub or drop him down the stairs.  Nobody had ever told me there was such a thing as intrusive thoughts, and that they were a sign of postpartum OCD. I didn't realize I had an illness that was temporary and treatable with professional help.  I just thought I'd gone irretrievably crazy and my life was over.

After a long road of reaching out for help, receiving treatment in the form of medication and therapy, and recovering, I felt I had to do something for others who would surely go through some form of PPD as well, and since my natural inclination is to write that's what I did.

MORE: What has it been like for you to connect with your readers about PPD? Has it been rewarding?

KS: There's nothing better than getting an email from a woman who says your words convinced her to reach out for help, or made her feel she wasn't alone, or even saved her life.  It's mind-blowing to think that you can have that kind of impact on someone you've never even met.  That's one of the things I love so much about social media: it has allowed so many women to use their voices in a broader way, whether it's to affect something in their own neighborhoods or across the world. I feel like we have more power than ever to make positive change.  So, yes, it is incredibly rewarding.  When I started out I had no idea what this would become, but I kept at it for seven years and remained committed to my mission, and the results have really astounded me to be honest.

The other thing I really enjoy is watching my readers connect with each otherr. It is so important to know you are not alone when you are facing an illness that involves so much shame and guilt.  When you meet other women going through the same thing -- even online -- you realize you are not a defective, worthless human being.  

MORE: We know you just won a prestigious award, can you tell us a little bit about that?

KS:I just won a 2011 Media Award from Mental Health America, given for "outstanding coverage and portrayals of mental health issues."  I can't believe I'm going to be standing on the stage with the likes of Elizabeth Cohen of CNN. I'm always happy when my work is recognized, but it's even more exciting to have a new platform on which to promote awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

MORE: In your former professional life, you were a marketing executive at Coca-Cola Co. What inspired you to reinvent yourself?

KS: I loved working at Coke. I had a great time working with so many smart, innovative people, some of whom have become dear friends. I just felt more pulled to do this work. It kept gnawing at me that I was so lost and confused when I was sick and I didn't want other women to feel like they had nowhere to turn.  Finally, I decided to submit an essay about my experience to Newsweek and to my surprise it was published. A couple weeks later, printed in the "Letters to the Editor" section, there was a letter about my essay from Carol Blocker, whose daughter Melanie had committed suicide by jumping off of a hotel roof after a severe bout with PPD. Carol wrote that she wished Melanie had seen my essay. That hit me very deeply, and was a major inspiration for deciding to focus on doing what I could to help pregnant and new mothers.

Last year I got to take part in a celebration on Capitol Hill with Carol, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and other advocates after the passing of the Melanie Blocker Stokes Act, named after Carol's daughter, to support increased research and funding for postpartum depression. It was a very emotional day.

MORE: What's next for you?

KS: I have recently taken the leap to start a non-profit. It scares the heck out of me and is really forcing me out beyond my comfort zone, but I'm still seeing a lack of awareness and resources for pregnant and new moms who suffer. Did you know more women will suffer from mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth annually than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy?

Only 15 percent of the 1 million moms who get perinatal mood and anxiety disorders every year receive professional treatment. That's a serious public health issue, given what we know about the negative long-term effects of these illnesses on both mother and baby. Children of mothers with untreated PPD can have cognitive delays and future mental illness themselves. We can fix this, but we can only succeed if more women -- not just survivors -- recognize how important this issue is to the health of America's families and join with us to offer their support.

Katherine Stone, 41 is the founder and author of the blog, "Postpartum Progress," which is dedicated to shedding light on postpartum depression and the mental health of mothers. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, Frank, and her son, Jackson, 9, and daughter Madden, 5. Follow Katherine Stone on Twitter.

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First Published Thu, 2011-06-09 11:39

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