When the telephone rings at the Postpartum Depression Project, the mothers at the other end of the line respond quickly.
“We’ll have the phone calls forwarded to one of our phones at all times,” said Kim Manfredi, co-founder of the nonprofit organization, a peer support group for women experiencing postpartum depression.
Manfredi and co-founder Jatnely Gonzalez know first-hand the struggles the women who contact them are experiencing.
Both suffered from postpartum depression, and decided to use their personal struggles to help others. In 2016, the pair launched Postpartum Depression Project, which offers a safe place for mothers to talk with others who have recovered or are currently going through a perinatal mood disorder.
PPD Project also provides new mothers with information to find the help they need, and refer them to local therapists, counselors, pediatricians and other resources.
Their message to mothers with PPD: You are not alone.
In fact, one in seven women experiences postpartum depression.
“We are willing to hold their hand. If they need to go to the emergency room, we are willing to hold their hand and get them there,” said Manfredi. “We will physically be there for those mothers who need us because we know that pain and how scary it is, and how hard it is, and how others can’t truly understand what they’re experiencing.”
Manfredi and Gonzalez also are working to reduce the stigma associated with PPD.
Gonzalez, a mother of two daughters, recalled the sadness she felt in 2010 when she held her oldest daughter for the first time.
“Instead of feeling joy, all I felt was this deep sadness that consumed me. “I’m a horrible mother,” I thought. I was scared and embarrassed to tell anyone how I was feeling,” said Gonzalez. “I chose to pretend everything was OK, but deep down, I felt like I was drowning.”
Her obstetrician prescribed medication, but Gonzalez was breast-feeding and opted not to take it.
Women who have experienced PPD are 50 percent more likely to experience the disorder in a subsequent pregnancy, and Gonzalez’s second bout was more severe than her first.
Three-and-a-half years later, when her second child was born, Gonzalez’s physician prescribed medication before she left the hospital, and she began seeing a counselor upon discharge. But, she cried constantly, and couldn’t eat or sleep. She considered taking all of the pills her doctor prescribed for her.
“Thankfully, my husband was there and talked me out of it,” she said.
PPD Project hosts a peer support group at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays at Washington Health System’s Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center.
There are days when nobody attends, but Manfredi and Gonzalez show up anyway.
Stephanie Wier, a mental health specialist for the Alliance for Infants and Toddlers Inc., said PPD Project, the only organization dedicated solely to perinatal mood disorders, is needed in Washington County.
“The organization is about hope, and it provides awareness. The more (PPD) is talked about and the more advocacy that (Manfredi and Gonzalez) do, the more women will know of the service and they’ll be comfortable going.”
Manfredi and Gonzalez, who are certified through Postpartum Depression International, also offer a mom awareness and after birth plan, and upon request meets with physicians to discuss treatment for patients with PPD.
PPD Project is a labor of love for Gonzalez and Manfredi – a mother of four who returned to work after 20 years to help cover the costs involved with running the organization. The nonprofit’s only sources of income are occasional donations.
On May 2, Manfredi and Gonzalez traveled to Harrisburg to voice their support for Senate Bill and House Bill 200, introduced by Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R- Carroll, and Rep. Tarah Toohill, R-Luzerne, which would add PPD as a qualifying condition to facilitate access to early intervention programs.
Studies show that children of mothers with PPD are more likely to have developmental, emotional and behavioral problems. Many of those problems can be mitigated with early identification and treatment.
Early intervention also breaks down barriers to conversation and helps remove the stigma around PPD.
Manfredi and Gonzalez also are seeking to have the month of May recognized as Postpartum Depression Awareness Month. May is already designated as Mental Health Awareness Month.
“I can’t yell loud enough: Education, treatment and recovery,” said Manfredi. “I want these women to know this is more common than they are led to believe. I want them to know we are here for them and I want them to know there is recovery. Because you don’t believe that when you’re there. I want them to know there is treatment, there is recovery and there is happiness.”
For information about Postpartum Depression Project, visit www.ppdproject.com, or call 724-705-7993.