Ben Romo: In 2017, Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP) is celebrating its 40th anniversary. I’ve invited PEP chairwoman Ginger Ludwick to highlight the nonprofit organization’s work and the many activities they have planned for parents and community members.

Welcome! I know you have two daughters, aged 3 and 7 months. Why do you make time for PEP?

Ginger Ludwick: PEP was so important to me as a first-time parent, and it was a no-brainer to become a volunteer right away after hearing about PEP through the hospital, as well as from my WEB nurse. PEP is such a valuable resource for parents, and especially for those first-time parents trying to navigate their new life and find their new normal.

I immediately applied to be on the board of directors after my training because I wanted to be able to know the inner workings of the organization, as well as have my voice heard and help make important decisions that affect the organization now and into the future.

BR: PEP has really grown — from 1977 in the home of your founder, Jane Honikman, to the backbone community organization you are today. There are so many different directions you could take, but PEP has stayed laser-focused on three major components.

GL: PEP has never had any paid staff and has been all-volunteer run for 40 years. We’ve had to focus on our core mission to make sure we are always here to be a reliable and strong force for new parents, free from judgment, and staying true to the “no one right way to parent” philosophy.”

Soon-to-be parents learn about bathing infants in the Baby Basics class offered by PEP.
Soon-to-be parents learn about bathing infants in the Baby Basics class offered by PEP. (Postpartum Education for Parents photo)

As leaders, we are committed to our Baby Basics Class, Parent Support Groups and our 24-Hour Warmline, among others. We’re seeing our impact grow. For example, we grew 20 percent from 140 couples attending our Baby Basics class in 2015 to more than 170 in 2016.

BR: Giving that first bath is super intimidating. They’re so slippery.

GL: Bath time is a major fear for many in our Baby Basics Class, but the live bath demo is usually the favorite and most memorable component during the class. Most people also are intimidated by diapering, and we’re here to help them get hands-on practice.

BR: Little do they know they will shortly be able to diaper in their sleep. Your Parent Support Groups are critical to so many new parents navigating the changes of welcoming a child into their home.

You organize new groups on a regular basis so parents can join a cohort with children the same age as their child. What can parents expect to gain by participating?

GL: I am currently facilitating my third New Parent Group in two years! I love it that much. I consistently hear parents talking about how they appreciate making new friends with other parents of similarly aged children, sharing their highs and lows each week, hearing from various panels made up of parent volunteers. We are always happy to have First 5 to teach Infant Development, and we typically organize panels around working parents and PMAD (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders), among others.

BR: PMAD, meaning Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, encompasses anything from depression or anxiety during pregnancy to postpartum depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and the more rare postpartum psychosis.

GL: Yes. About 20 percent of women experience moderate to severe symptoms of depression or anxiety before giving birth, and about 21 percent after. Rates are particularly high among low-income women and teens — as high as 60 percent.

We also can’t forget the 10 percent of men who show signs of depression during a partner’s pregnancy or the 26 percent in the first six months of their child’s life. The best predictor of a man’s risk of experiencing depression is whether his partner is, so this really does affect both parents.

Baby Basics class attendees practice diapering an infant under the guidance of PEP volunteers.
Baby Basics class attendees practice diapering an infant under the guidance of PEP volunteers. (Postpartum Education for Parents photo)

BR: What do you wish you could tell every parent struggling with PMAD?

GL: One of PEP’s mantras regarding PMAD is that “You are not alone. It is not your fault. With help you can get better.”

We also like to let people know how common it is for both women and men to experience PMAD in one form or another. We can help.

A mom in one of our Parent Support Groups was experiencing postpartum psychosis due to sleep deprivation, and several of the volunteers were quick to rally around her and get her some much needed help. The mother was happy to report back that she was sleeping better now after working out a nighttime schedule with her partner, saw a health-care professional for further care, and was so grateful to have us there to listen to her without judgment.

BR: Your 24-Hour Warmline can be a starting place for a parent worried about PMAD symptoms or any new parent concern. What type of help can a caller expect to receive?

GL: When you call 805.564.3888, you’ll answer a few questions to gather information and you will be forwarded to a PEP parent volunteer. That volunteer will call the person back shortly after and guide them through whatever their issue or question may be.

We have calls as simple as asking when our next baby basics class is, calls about feeding, calls about people really struggling and needing some reassurance, resources and a sympathetic ear. All callers can expect to be heard, be respected and have their concerns remain confidential.

BR: What services do you offer to Spanish-speaking parents?

Touch a Truck event volunteers from PEP.
Touch a Truck event volunteers from PEP. (Postpartum Education for Parents photo)

GL: We offer a warmline service, Postpartum Outreach, PMAD support, baby basics (Primeros Pasos) and new parent groups (Primeros Años) when there is enough interest.

BR: What events do you have coming up?

GL: Our events page has full details, but I’d love to highlight a few big ones:

We’ll be having a Tree Dedication Picnic to celebrate our 40th anniversary at Tucker’s Grove Park in late May.

We’re hosting the live show Playing Monopoly with God ... And Other True Stories on June 3 at The Marjorie Luke Theatre on the campus of Santa Barbara Junior High School. It is the first stage performance in the United States based on a true and personal experience with postpartum psychosis.

Join us for Together We Heal: A Walk for Wellness with PEP on June 17 at Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara.

Kids have the opportunity to see, touch, get behind the wheel, honk horns, learn about and safely explore trucks, construction equipment and public safety vehicles at our Seventh Annual Touch-A-Truck on Sept. 24 at Santa Barbara City College.

Our annual Halloween Event will be held Oct. 29 at Oak Park in Santa Barbara.

BR: That’s a lot to put together with all volunteers and all new parents!

GL: It’s true, but it speaks to the drive and passion of our dedicated volunteers. As an all-volunteer organization, PEP faces many challenges, but I think the biggest challenge we face is volunteer longevity/high volunteer turnover rate.

Ginger Ludwick at her kindergarten graduation in Orange.
Ginger Ludwick at her kindergarten graduation in Orange. (Ludwick family photo)

Our volunteers are our biggest asset, but we find that it is hard to retain a volunteer after a certain point in time. Typically it is when the child starts preschool, or the parent goes back to work, so that only gives a volunteer about a two or three year life span with PEP.

BR: I can imagine. PEP serves a critical moment in parents’ lives, but as they grow, we tend to get involved in new activities. Speaking of growing up ... tell us about this kindergarten picture.

GL: This is my kindergarten graduation, standing next to one of my favorite teachers. I attended Prospect Elementary in Orange. I remember admiring my kindergarten teacher, and I still stay connected to many of my friends via Facebook.

Having a support network is so important, no matter who you are, but when you become a parent, it is crucial. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and PEP is honored to be that village to so many families.

— Ben Romo is executive director of First 5 Santa Barbara County. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.