Katherine Stone

is the founder & editor of Postpartum Progress. She was named one of the ten most influential mom bloggers of 2011, a WebMD Health Hero and one of the top 25 parent bloggers using social media for social good. She also writes the Fierce Blog, and a parenting column for Disney's Babble.com.

Cutting Teeth: Two Authors Share Stories of Postpartum Anxiety

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Cutting TeethI am so excited to share the following interview with you, between authors and fellow Warrior Moms Elizabeth Isadora Gold and Julia Ferro on the occasion of the release of Julia’s new novel, Cutting Teeth. Both had risk factors for postpartum anxiety, but were never warned or screened, and both found it difficult, as so many of you do, to find the help they needed.

I met Julia Fierro in 2009, when I was her student at one of her fiction workshops. We were both struggling writers, but Julia was also the mother of a toddler, Luca. I would sit in her kitchen, allegedly discussing a short story, but really staring at photos of her beautiful boy, wondering if I’d ever have a child. One day, towards the end of the workshop, she casually mentioned she’d had postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety after Luca’s birth. Though I’d heard of PPD, I’d had never known anyone with such a (to my mind, then) “rare” condition, and didn’t know what to say. We weren’t in touch much after the workshop – she had a second child, Cece (now four), I had my daughter, Clara (three). When I suffered my own postpartum mental illness, isolated and fearful, I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to Julia. Then, last spring I saw via facebook that Julia had sold a novel, Cutting Teeth, and she would be reading a preview at a local Brooklyn bookstore. The excerpt was hilarious: a lone stay-at-home-dad in a mommy group, admires his nursing friends’ lactating breasts. After the reading, Julia and I hugged like long-lost friends. We’d spent several years on parallel tracks, both suffering from postpartum anxiety, writing about parenthood, community, and anxiety. In a happy coincidence, we were also each writing books about mother’s groups, though hers is a novel and mine is nonfiction. As Cutting Teeth (St. Martin’s Press) approached its release date, we chatted for Postpartum Progress about writing, motherhood, and life.  ~ EIG

EIG: So we should catch each other up on what we never talked about:  I was your student when Luca was a toddler, and knew you’d been sick, but I didn’t really understand.

JF: I’ve been obsessive compulsive since I was a child. I went on medication at the end of my college senior year, because I was having debilitating panic attacks. The first twenty-five years of my life were very exhausting. Obsession, obsession, and depression. When my husband, Justin, and I started getting ready to have a baby, the psychiatrist I was seeing made me go off medication a year before we even started trying. But she was the only person I could find on my insurance within miles.

EIG: No psychiatrist takes insurance. Which is an issue, because if you can’t afford a psychiatrist who doesn’t take insurance, you get less good psychiatric care.

JF: Right. She said, “You don’t want any medication. You don’t want to hurt the baby.” I didn’t have anyone to talk to. It was hard to go off medication, but I was working from home, I didn’t have a kid yet, and the business wasn’t as big. The pregnancy was difficult – I threw up every single day.  It was a difficult birth. I was in labor for three days. On the third night, they gave me the epidural and pitocin, but it still felt like he was going to come out of my hip. The delivery room was where the insecurity and the self-doubt that would hang over me for years began. The midwife was yelling at me to push, and I was like, “I don’t know what you’re telling me!”

EIG: For so many women, the birth is the beginning of feeling like you’re doing everything wrong. I don’t know if that’s a chicken and an egg thing. Would someone who had a difficult birth but not go on to get postpartum depression or anxiety feel okay about the birth? Or should part of the diagnostic for postpartum depression or anxiety be, immediately after birth, “How do you feel about this experience?”

JF: There should be some kind of therapy. Even a social worker in the hospital to ask, “How do you feel?” Just talking for five minutes would be more than nothing. I couldn’t even get a lactation consultant to visit me.

EIG: Me neither! You know who came to my room? People wanting to take photographs that I could pay for. They came twice.

JF: Yes!

EIG: Did you have a c-section?

JF: Yes. After that, for two days, it was great, Luca was beautiful. On the third night, they took him to get his vitals checked, and they didn’t bring him back! An intern came, stopped in our doorway, and said, “Your baby has a fever, so we took him up to the NICU.” And she just walked out! We were so exhausted, we cracked. Now, I met Justin when I was 21, so he practically raised me, getting me through my obsession, and the medications. So seeing him crumble? I actually said, “If the baby dies we can have another baby.” He just had a fever! Our family wasn’t there because they don’t live nearby. It was the worst moment. (Sighs.) I can’t believe I’m getting upset about it. It was seven years ago. His birthday is next week.

EIG: I’ve been doing interviews with moms for my book, and everyone starts crying when they talk about the birth.

JF: Luca was in the little bubble incubator, and I turned to the pediatrician – I was so out of my mind –and said, “Is he going to die?” And he was like, “No.” When they moved him to the bigger room in the NICU, and then I saw how big he was compared to the tiny preemies, that made me realize he was okay. That shaky feeling stayed with me for the next two years.

EIG: I had a very similar experience after my c-section, and I think it’s very common for women who have had surgery. I was very jealous of how Danny (my husband) was with her, how easy it seemed for him, how proud he was of her. For example, I didn’t seen Clara’s fully naked body until I was home for like a week, which was so upsetting. In my mind, I was supposed to have this experience where I would see her body come out of me, we would be naked together, and she would be on my chest. Because of the surgery, I never had that moment. As a result, for me, it took me a longer time to attach. I was like, I don’t know who this person is, this could be anybody’s baby. There was a sheet over me when I gave birth. It’s a very primal, primate-like thing when someone else touches your baby first.

JF: For me the breastfeeding was such a disaster that first time. I couldn’t breastfeed, because I was too anxious. I wish I could go back in time and fix that.

EIG: Do you wish you could go back in time and make the breastfeeding better? Or that you could get on medication, and make the feeling better? 

JF: Yes. (Laughs.) I didn’t know things like, your baby is going to want you to hold him. My babies were not the kind you could put down. They would cry endlessly. My philosophy of early parenting: do what’s easiest. That’s always going to be the right thing for you and your baby. I realized later we should have put Luca on formula, because it was so agonizing to breastfeed. Trying to nurse that first day when we were back home, I’d left the breast pump on, and I thought it was saying to me, “You can’t do this, you can’t do this.” I decided to stay off medication because I didn’t know you could go on medication and nurse. I didn’t have anyone to turn to. Our parents did this thirty years ago. They didn’t remember.

EIG: Having kids later, you don’t receive the same benefit of parental wisdom, because they don’t remember. My mom always told me, “We carried you around in a basket!” Once I had Clara, I was like, “With a pillow? Was I smothered?”

JF: Justin was back to work, and here I was with the baby who cried all day long. One weekend I panicked because I was worried about him getting dehydrated (which is why he got the fever and ended up in the NICU). He wasn’t nursing. We went to our pediatrician, who said to me, “Look at your baby, he is so healthy and fat. Do you think maybe it is your own anxiety that is causing him not to nurse?”

EIG: In that moment, he could have caught the fact that you were sick, and reframed it. He could have said, “Look at your baby. He’s healthy and fat. I’m concerned about you.”

JF: Or how about, “You’re doing a good job!” Instead, he said, “If you’re anxious, the child is going to feel that.” When a woman is feeling an uncontrollable postpartum depression or anxiety, to have someone say, “If you don’t stop feeling what you’re feeling you’re going to harm your child.” It’s so irresponsible. [Read more...]

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Warrior Moms Book Club Review: Marie Osmond’s “Behind The Smile”

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Behind the SmileThe following is a conversation between several members of the Warrior Moms Book Club after reading “Behind the Smile,” the latest in our book club’s maternal mental health-related reads.  This book was authored by Marie Osmond. You may visit the author at http://marieosmond.com.

AKP: On pages 41 and 42 Marie discusses “not having been a stranger to depression in connection with her children” as she later realized by talking with a panel of experts on Oprah that what she had experienced was actually post-adoption depression.

Had you had any depression or anxiety with prior adoption or births that you didn’t realize was a form of PPD before you had the PPD experience that changed things or that was actually diagnosed or treated?

If so, did having that experience help you to more quickly realize it in the future or did it make it more difficult to detect?
If not, did having PPD after already having adopted or birthed at least one child and not having suffered PPD that time make it more difficult to detect? (We know that some moms do not suffer perinatal mood and anxiety disorders with first births but go on to suffer with later children.)

APR:  I experienced postpartum depression and anxiety with my first child, so I have not had this experience. I am hoping to birth a child and not suffer with this with my second (due any day now).

AKP: Speaking of giving birth, on p. 86 Osmond laments that “our current system of discharging a mother so soon after giving birth is a hazard. It may save money overall, but I have to question what the cost is to a woman’s well-being and the welfare of her infant. They are sending home an exhausted, hormonally confused, physically stressed woman with a tiny, fragile infant that needs 24 hour care. I think that alone is enough to cause depression in anyone.”
What are your thoughts about her statement and how do you think that we could best care for women in the immediate postpartum period in order to better prepare them for a healthy long-term postpartum experience mentally and physically?

SBC: I agree with Osmond’s statement. I think new mothers need community after having a child. We need friends, family members, co-workers, church members if we belong to a church, to help. So many people want to come and “hold the baby” right after birth, but it could be so helpful if these visitors also ran the dishwasher, made a meal or something. I needed this type of help and I asked for it. It was hard to ask for help, but I later realized my friends and family were so happy to help. Also, my health insurance company had something called Better Beginnings. Because I enrolled in this program, I had a free home visit with a lactation specialist, they sent me a good book and someone from the program called me just to see how I was (and they didn’t know I was having PPD). I felt pretty fortunate for this extra help.

SRK: I feel differently; I felt like the faster I could get out of the hospital the better. Maybe that was because I felt neither my husband nor I could rest comfortably in the hospital. My symptoms didn’t really start until our son was around 3 to 4 months old, so I don’t believe that being in the hospital any longer would have benefited me more. I definitely am a homebody through and through and enjoy having all the comforts of home available.

AJK: I agree.  The only benefit in my opinion to staying in the hospital longer would be IF it truly allowed the mother to rest. It wasn’t restful to me, or many others, to be there though. When/where the help and support is needed is afterwards, at home.

AKP: I wonder if there could be a middle ground on this. The hospital was awful for me, too, and my severe anxiety began there, both times — the lights, constant interruptions, lack of fresh air and access to the outside world. I watched a special on a particularly expensive Asian childbirth and postpartum care center for the wealthy about a year ago. Moms can stay up to two months postpartum and be cared for in the comfort of a medically equipped luxury hotel with round the clock care for themselves and their babies. But instead of the sterile hospital environment and being poked and prodded and fed awful food, they are pampered and nursed back to a place of recovery from birth while they are helped or taught how to care for their baby, which also boosts their confidence. If only this type of experience could be more standard, I do believe women would go into the postpartum period better equipped for a healthy experience. Nothing will fully prevent PPD, but having a full tool-box and being primed certainly would make it much less challenging to navigate and recover from.

LL: I also had a bad experience in the hospital. I was there for five days due to a failed induction and C-section and I never slept more than 45 minutes at a time. It was a teaching hospital so people were constantly in and out. Babies “roomed in” and when I asked them to take my baby for a few hours so I could sleep, they brought him back to me within thirty minutes. In addition, the nurses all gave conflicting advice to me about breastfeeding — every shift change someone would come in to “re-educate” me because apparently the nurse who had been there before had taught it to me incorrectly. While it was nerve-wracking to go home and not know how I was going to keep this child alive, I think the hospital (at least the one I was in) was not a helpful place to be. I am not going back to that hospital for my next birth, so maybe I will find a place that is more nurturing and would be beneficial like Marie states.

BR: I remember shortly after returning home from the hospital, wishing I was back there. I had a mixed experience during my hospital stay (which was just shy of 48 hours). It was scary, as my daughter had to go through some tests that we weren’t expecting. But I felt secure being surrounded by the medical staff, who coached us through learning those early tasks of caring for a newborn and I knew if anything went wrong they would be there to provide immediate care. I think being in the hospital also validated that something significant had just happened, and that it was okay for me to get extra care. When we got home I felt like it shifted to being all about caring for my daughter, which was exacerbated by my extreme anxiety about my ability to care for a newborn and intrusive thoughts about SIDS that kicked off my PPD. Every mother will have her own distinct needs following giving birth, but in my experience I think I could have benefited from a longer hospital stay to feel stronger and more competent about my new role as a mother.

APR: I gave birth to my first child in a free standing birth center, partially because I didn’t feel like I wanted to be in a hospital postpartum. I felt like I’d be comfortable at home. But, I should have arranged more help for myself postpartum and made it more clear to visitors and well-wishers how they could help. It was overwhelming to go home three hours after the birth and to have so many people coming over to the house the same day because everything seemed fine. With this next birth I am putting so much more emphasis on postpartum support, hiring a postpartum doula, using babysitters for my older daughter, taking a friend up on her offer to arrange a meal train, and putting limits on the amount of visitors. I think Marie is on to something that postpartum support for women is sorely lacking in our culture, since extended families are separated and work often doesn’t even allow spouses to help moms much. The hospital is better than nothing I suppose, for women who have no support at all and who will go right back to their family or work obligations directly after coming home from the hospital, but it’s definitely not ideal.

AKP: Related to support, Marie talks about one of her mother’s moments of wisdom when she said, “You have to be as gracious in the receiving as you are in the giving. If you’re not, you deny the other person the blessing of giving.” How were you at accepting help/giving before PPD? Did having a maternal mental illness change that?

SBC: That statement is so true. When I was really struggling, I called my midwives’ office and a nice nurse said that exact thing to me. She said “Give your family the gift of allowing them to help you.” It was hard because before the PPD I had thought of myself as completely self-reliant, a leader and the type of person who helped others. But I had to let go of this self perception. It helped me to think about it the other way around. If I had a friend or family member in need as I was, I would want to help them.

SRK: No one really ever mentioned to me that I needed to accept help from my family and friends. Before PPD I tried not to need much help and was a lot less willing to ask for help. After PPD I am much more aware of when I need help and willing to ask for help. I have accepted that it is okay to need help, whereas before I would try everything I could to do it all on my own. I feel that I am a better mother and wife for accepting help when necessary and using my support structure when available has kept me from digressing back into my depression.

AKP: My faith has helped me to accept this. I do believe that God’s grace is the perfect example. He doesn’t require our prayers, thanks, and worship, but he accepts it and offers his grace freely. I try to think of this example in that he was us to offer grace and generosity to others and to accept it ourselves, whether we “deserve” or need it ourselves. I realize not everyone sees through this particular lens, but regardless of religion, like SC and SK, I also took this important lesson away from my PPD experience…surprisingly one of the many positives.

LL: I personally have never been good at accepting help from others but always felt that I should be able to handle things on my own. Having PPD was the first time where I had to admit that I was helpless and needed support from others. People from church brought me meals for weeks, my friend came and cleaned my filthy kitchen, and while at first all of this embarrassed me I later realized that people weren’t helping because they felt obligated — after all, I could hardly bring myself to ask. They were helping because they wanted to. Since things have become easier for me with PPD (I wouldn’t say I’ve totally recovered, but I’ve gone into remission so to speak) I have tried to make it my mission to help other new moms, and it is such a help to me now that I know it must have blessed the lives of the women helping me when I was struggling myself. I think it is all a cycle.

BR: I think I have always felt confident about asking for help when I need it. However, one feature of my PPD/anxiety was thinking I should be capable of doing it all, and the fact that I needed help not only caring for my daughter but caring for myself as well as well influenced a strong sense of failure. It took support from my family to encourage me to really communicate what I needed so that I could get the treatment I needed and be the healthy Mom I so wanted to be.

AJK: It was very difficult for me to accept help. Or rather, I think it was for me, to GIVE UP even more CONTROL and have others do things I “should be” doing and do things FOR ME. It was ultimately a GOOD THING but very difficult really for me.

APR: I was not good at asking for help and my husband is practically allergic to it. After our experience with postpartum depression and anxiety and now a difficult pregnancy, we know we’ve got to ask for help when we need it or things get so much worse. We’ve also become much less reserved in paying for help, because it pays off big time in the long run. [Read more...]

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Grab Your Big Girl Panties and Ass-Kickin’ Boots

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Boot heels all in a rowGreetings Warrior Moms and all my fellow Climbers,

Katherine and more than 100 amazing Climb Out of the Darkness leaders have been working furiously behind the scenes to get ready for 2014’s Climb out of the Darkness.  Many people are asking what we plan to do with the funds we raise and what we did with the money we raised last year.  Great questions.  And they are easy enough to answer with a list of specific projects that I’ll set out in a minute.  But here’s the thing.  What we, and by we I mean all of us volunteers, supporters and lovers of Postpartum Progress, need to get our head around is this—what we are setting out to do is much bigger than this list of projects.  We are raising money so we can put on our big girl panties and our ass-kickin’ boots to become an even bigger force for awareness and support for moms with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

This, my friends, is no small feat.  And while keeping the proverbial lights on at the blog and creating great new educational tools for moms and their health care providers are really important and critical projects, they aren’t enough. They aren’t enough to end the suffering of women who struggle with maternal mental illness without knowing they have a treatable disease.  They aren’t enough to ensure that there will be comprehensive and quality medical care for all these women.  They aren’t enough to halt the generations of women who suffered in silence or who were shunned for their illness.  They aren’t enough to stop the damage being done to the families caught in this cycle.

I am going to stand on a mountain top on June 21st and scream ENOUGH!! —Enough. With. The. Darkness.

Yes, my big girl panties are on. And, for the record, they have gotten just a wee bit bigger during motherhood.  But so has my ass-kickin’ strength, thanks in large part to overcoming my postpartum OCD.  And we are going to do our very best here at Postpartum Progress to create a world-class non-profit that has the staff to maintain our existing programs and to grow our delivery capabilities so we can double the awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders around the world in the next five years.  And to do this, we need to free up Katherine’s time to focus on leadership and strategy, like going after grants with foundations and corporate sponsorships so we can create even more powerful programs reaching even more women.  With a powerful organization behind us with significant funds to invest, we can start to launch a major global awareness campaign.  And we know we can succeed because we are powered by you — Warrior Moms. Our strength and unique knowledge comes from the fact that we serve a motivated community of survivors who engage with us in a variety of ways to help our community heal.  And we know how to connect with families struggling with maternal mental illness with inspirational, hip, and evidence-based information.

Back to the question at hand.  We can say to potential donors that a $10 donation, for example, will keep the lights on for our blog for a day. For $50, donors can help us educate and support more than 20,000 moms for just one week of the year.  Last year, Climb Out of the Darkness raised $42,000 last year and with that money we:

  • Developed and will soon distribute an important infographic that shows the downstream effects on mothers, families and societies from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders
  • Updated our non-profit website (the .org) and thus tripled its traffic, reaching even more women with the message that perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are temporary and treatable
  • Launched a private forum for women struggling with maternal mental illness that now supports more than 340 moms across the country
  • Continued to run and grow the most widely read blog in the world on maternal mental illness, with 1.1 million pageviews last year
  • And we still had enough funding leftover to continue our project to develop educational materials for moms and their healthcare providers.

This year our goal for Climb Out of the Darkness is to raise $100,000, and as of today — the first day of Maternal Mental Health Awareness month — we have already met nearly 30% of that goal thanks to the tireless survivors and current sufferers of these illnesses who believe in us and are standing up and speaking out on our behalf. But let’s also say that even $100k isn’t going to allow us to accomplish our biggest objectives. It takes $3 million dollars to launch a real, multi-pronged, effective public awareness campaign to forever change the course of women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. We’re excited about all we have the opportunity to accomplish, but we’ll never be able to do it without you. If you feel Postpartum Progress made a significant impact on your recovery, or even helped save your life, we need you. Stand proud with us as we tell our friends, families and neighbors that we have big goals. Join us in the Climb. And, in the meantime, you can tell everyone you know that Postpartum Progress will be launching some pretty amazing stuff in the next 24 months, including updating and expanding our blog including a Spanish language version, creating a video PSA, and starting the development of a mobile app that supports moms through PPD and related illnesses.

Join me in kickin’ ass and thinkin’ big!


Deborah Rimmler, Board of Directors, Postpartum Progress


photo credit: © Kevin Largent – Fotolia.com

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Big News!!! Announcing the 2015 Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference

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In 2004 came Postpartum Progress the blog.

In 2011 came Postpartum Progress the nonprofit.

In 2013 came Postpartum Progress’ Climb Out of the Darkness, the world’s largest event raising awareness of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

And in 2015 …

Warrior Mom ConferenceANNOUNCING THE FIRST-EVER WARRIOR MOM CONFERENCE, a patient-centered, community-focused conference for survivors of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and those still working toward full recovery. There are several great conferences focused on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders mainly aimed at clinicians and organizations in the maternal mental health field, but this, my dear Warrior Moms, is for us!!! Get ready to get together in Boston next year!

The Postpartum Progress Warrior Mom Conference will be a time for us to do three things together: CELEBRATE recovery, BUILD community, and DEVELOP powerful skills for raising awareness and advocacy to help our fellow Warrior Moms around the world.  We will offer self-care workshops, Q&A sessions with top experts in reproductive psychiatry, keynotes and panel discussions, a live PPDchat with its creator Lauren Hale, and so much more we can’t wait to tell you about! The conference will allow us to gather together to share stories and information in a caring and supportive environment.

Here’s what you need to know now:

  • The conference is July 11-12, 2015 (SAVE THE DATE!!), in beautiful Boston, Massachusetts. We’ll be taking over Boston’s beautiful Back Bay at the St. Botolph’s Club – a historic brownstone on Commonwealth Avenue that is the perfect setting for our powerful yet intimate gathering.
  • Early Bird registration is $125 until June 1, 2014, wherein the registration fee will go up to $150. Registration will be capped at the first 125 tickets sold, so you’ll want to register as soon as possible to avoid missing out on all we have planned for that weekend!
  • We are working with area hotels to provide attendees with great rates on lodging — that information will be forthcoming.

This conference wouldn’t be possible without the work of three very special Warrior Moms: Susan Petcher, A’Driane Nieves and Miranda Wicker. Together with the help of other volunteers they have worked their butts off to make this happen, and I am forever grateful to them for their dedication, leadership and hard work.  They are leading the charge on making this an amazing event, and I cannot WAIT!

Spots to attend this conference are limited, so if you want to be the first to know when registration opens up (soon!), sign up for our email alert by clicking the button below and filling out the super short form. Don’t miss it! We want to see you in Boston!

Be the first to know!

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