Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Q&A with Stephanie Sprenger

Stephanie Sprenger is the co-editor, with Jessica Smock, of the new anthology Mothering Through the Darkness: Women Open Up About the Postpartum Experience. She also has co-edited My Other Ex and The HerStories Project, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Huffington Post and Brain. She is also a certified music therapist.

Q: Why did you and Jessica Smock decide to create this book, and how did you select the authors to include?

A: This is our third anthology, and one of our contributors (whose work was in both the first and second anthology), Alexandra Rosas, actually suggested the idea to us, and we loved it.

We personally had both experienced a degree of postpartum depression, although we had never discussed it with each other prior to the inception of this book. We also know many writers and bloggers who write about postpartum depression and advocate for women who are experiencing it, and we knew there would be many talented authors who would want to write about this subject.

We were right! We received about 220 submissions for this book! We put out an open call for submissions that was advertised in various literary networks and social media communities, and the response was overwhelming.

Needless to say, the experience of selecting only 35 essays out of that mix was excruciating. We had to carefully balance the styles, stories, and subject matter of the essays so that the anthology was cohesive and worked well as a finished book.

We turned down so many absolutely gorgeous, powerful essays simply because we put so much effort into balancing the voices and styles. It was so difficult, but we were extremely pleased with the authors we selected for this book.

Each essay is unique, and yet there are common themes underlying the entire book. Their voices stand out and are authentic, and we feel the essays really complement each other.

The diversity of the women’s experiences really shows how very differently postpartum mood disorders can manifest from mother to mother. 

Q: What are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about postpartum depression?

A: There are so many myths out there that prevent women from seeking care. Here are some of the main ones we are trying to eliminate: 
They are sad every second and cry all day long.
They are likely to harm their children.
They do not have a “real” illness and do not require professional help, only a more positive attitude.
They should just wait for it to go away on its own.
They can only develop PPD during the first few months after childbirth.
They can only develop PPD if their babies are their biological children, not if their children are adopted. 
Q: How have views about postpartum depression changed in recent years, and what do you see looking ahead?

A: We have made a lot of progress as a culture with speaking out about postpartum depression, but it’s still not enough. Whenever celebrities share that they have, or are, struggling with it, there is always a lot of media attention, but it doesn’t go deep enough.

People are becoming more aware that PPD happens often to women, that it’s not something to be ashamed of, but there is still a lot of progress that needs to be made. We as a culture still have those “extreme cases,” the ones where women hurt their babies, stuck in our minds as the definition of PPD, and it’s simply not accurate. 

Our book reveals stories of medical providers and clinicians who were lifesavers to women, but there are also a number of stories in which care providers minimized or ignored the needs of these mothers. Many of the submissions we received include the experience of being dismissed or brushed off by a doctor or medical caregiver— this is just not OK.

In our preparation for the book’s release, we were overwhelmed by how many fantastic resources there are for women experiencing PPD or other perinatal mood disorders— organizations at hospitals, therapists, support groups, and we think resources like this will continue to grow in the future.

We are donating a portion of our proceeds to Postpartum Progress, an organization that has done so much to eliminate stigma and provide resources to women.

That’s a long answer, so in short: awareness and understanding has improved in recent years— in part thanks to celebrities speaking out— but we still have a ways to go.

Q: You also include a Q&A with a clinical psychologist. Why did you decide to incorporate that material into the book?

A: In addition to sharing real stories of women, we wanted to provide a clinical perspective as well, one that has a bit more of a treatment-oriented element.

Dr. Jessica Zucker is an incredible resource for postpartum women, and it’s an area she specializes in. We knew readers would benefit from her wisdom and expertise, and we wanted to take the opportunity to have a clinician share advice with women who may be struggling. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: We have already selected the essays for our fourth anthology— So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood— which will release next spring. This essay collection is based on the viral article and social media movement we launched last winter.

We are really excited about this one, and we will officially announce the contributors to this anthology soon. We think it will have tremendous appeal for mothers, particularly new mothers. We also teach online writing classes throughout the year, and we’re working on our winter 2016 course now. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: To go along with the book’s release, we are organizing a social media movement called “Shatter the Myths,” in which we are asking women who have experienced PPD, their friends and family, and clinicians, to share messages and photos with the hashtags #endPPDmyths and #motheringthrudarkness.

Messages like “You’re not alone,” and “It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help,” and other supportive statements. You can find out more about that movement and view the photo gallery here.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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