I’m thrilled to be able to interview PSI’s founder! Let’s start by looking back a bit further, before PSI. Your degree was in sociology in 1967. What sparked your interest in sociology?
I majored in sociology because I had an interest in neighborhoods, communities and society. There was dramatic social change occurring during my college years. I became involved with social action and advocacy through consciousness raising groups, sit-ins and marches. What I witnessed was sociology in-play.
What was your path between studying sociology and co-founding Santa Barbara’s Postpartum Education for Parents?
For my generation, getting married immediately after graduation was the norm. After my husband had completed his graduate degree and accepted his first job, we moved to Santa Barbara and bought our first (and only) home. My path to co-founding PEP was parenthood. The childbirth education movement had started but there was a need for something more beyond the delivery room. The structure and services we created provide community-based emotional support for all expectant and new parents.
Tell us about conducting “A Study of the Dynamics and Development of Postpartum Support Groups” and your move back towards research. How has your research influenced your community work and vice versa?
PEP was a success and received national attention. We responded to requests from communities wanting to start a similar program by writing a “how-to book”. There was a newly formed national family resource movement and I represented PEP at their conferences. What I discovered was the gap between bringing baby home and the prevailing child development theory. PEP’s use of the adjective “postpartum” was unique. I was motivated to explore what other communities were offering new parents. In 1980 I used a small grant to survey members of the family resource coalition. I discovered that PEP was one-of-a-kind.
Could you tell us about joining the Marcé Society in 1984?
The Marcé Society found me. A journalist interviewed me about PEP and asked how many calls our Warmline received about postpartum depression. She introduced me to Dr. James Hamilton in San Francisco who was convening a gathering of international postpartum researchers. He invited me to speak about PEP “A System of Action”. Since PEP is a non-medical, emotional social support model I had no idea how it would fit into the science of mental illness. My experience with sociology and community activism launched me on a new path influenced entirely by Dr. Hamilton and his colleagues. I presented a Santa Barbara survey of health care providers and postpartum depression at the 1986 Marcé Society conference held in England. I was introduced to social support organizations that focused exclusively on childbirth related mental illness. By this time Depression After Delivery had been founded in New Jersey and public awareness was increasing. I decided that if the world’s scientists were meeting then the social support advocates needed to gather as well.
This brings us to 1987, when you founded PSI. Founders of organizations first see a gap that needs filling, which the organization addresses. Your work has included helping bringing awareness to those needs, including helping individuals see where gaps are in their communities. Could you tell us more about how you became aware of the needs that PSI addresses, how you decided that it was time to start PSI.
PEP started on July 1, 1977. I became aware of the enormous need for community-based postpartum parent support networks in 1978. American Baby magazine published an article I had written about PEP. In response, I received hundreds of letters asking how to start PEP in one’s own community. There were national newspaper articles about PEP’s Warmline and new parent discussion groups. I was interviewed on television, radio and featured in Parents magazine. I became the spokesperson for PEP and our home telephone number and address became known. The lack of awareness, education, resources and referral networks pushed me to search for solutions. It was time to start an international social support network.
Please tell us about how you had an international vision for PSI right from the start. Who did you work with in ensuring PSI is a worldwide effort, and what was that like?
Scientific research and the human experience of any Illness have no borders or boundaries. The Marcé Society and PSI have always been international. The Pacific Post Partum Support Society (PPPSS) in Vancouver, Canada was founded in 1971 and I consider them the mothers of the maternal mental health movement. While PEP’s mission is on wellness and new parents in general, PPPSS’s focus is specific to postpartum depression. Canada and England were represented in Santa Barbara in 1987. The Australians and South Africans were forming groups during the 1980s as well.
Unfortunately, my daily life looks like I am retired. Only occasionally am I asked to speak, train or mentor so I feel underutilized. I have been busy co-authoring a new book with Dr. Dan Singley called Parental Mental Health Factoring in Fathers. We’ll be launching it for Fathers’ Day so I hope my days will get busier! The Postpartum Action Institute has been terrific. I love working with Shoshana Bennett and welcoming attendees into my home. We are hopeful that our next training dates in mid-August and early November can take place in person. If not, PAI will offer an alternative.
In your spare time… Hobbies? Favorite ways to stay active?
Before our current crisis I took weekly ice skate and flute lessons. I play(ed) in a Community Flute Ensemble. Bike riding, gardening and nature walks keep me physically fit. My husband and I are eager to resume traveling, especially to visit family and friends. I serve on two nonprofit Boards: South Coast Railroad Museum (I love trains) and the local branch of the American Association of University Women. Zoom has allowed us to continue meeting but I miss face to face human contact. Our three adult children, their spouses and their 8 children keep in touch via devices and the postal service. My one demanding and attentive constant companion is Mercedes, our black and white cat.