Kate Rope decided shortly after graduating from college that she wanted to be a journalist. But it was only after ten years of actively pursuing a writing career, and then battling postpartum anxiety, that she found her true calling. Now, the author of Strong as a Mother: How to Stay Happy, Healthy, and (Most Importantly) Sane from Pregnancy to Parenthood focuses on supporting parents and families – especially moms – to take care of themselves and each other.
It was her grandfather’s death that spurred Rope’s desire to be a writer. He had given her a subscription to The New Yorker in college and would write periodically asking her opinion of particular articles. But she didn’t read them. She stacked the issues in the bathroom and browsed the cartoons on the toilet. Then, he suffered a stroke. Rope called him in the hospital and fessed up that she owed him a letter. “Yes. . . you. . . do,” he replied in a slow, slurry voice. That was the last time she spoke with him. At his funeral, she delivered a eulogy in the form of the letter she owed him. Then she began a “guilt-ridden campaign” to read all those New Yorkers cover to cover. In the middle of an article on mad cow disease—in which she found herself learning about agriculture, trade policy, neuroscience, and meat rendering—she looked out the window of the commuter train she was riding and decided, “I want to be a writer.”
Within a month, Rope had an internship at Mother Jones magazine. But she worked for the next ten years as a journalist before finding her voice as a writer. “That was a gift from my first daughter,” Rope explains. “As soon as she was born, motherhood filled me with a purpose and direction that journalism had not. Just when I was content to let ambition take a backseat to motherhood, motherhood gave birth to my career.”
During her pregnancy, Rope experienced a crippling pain around her heart that stumped doctors even after relentless testing. It turned out she had a harmless, but very painful, condition called pericarditis, in which the sac that held her heart periodically became inflamed. She had to take steroids to keep it at bay and get weekly ultrasounds to make sure the meds weren’t stopping her daughter from growing. Luckily, they didn’t, and she gave birth to a healthy girl. But then Rope began a months-long descent into postpartum anxiety. She couldn’t sleep. She vomited before work. She became “a hollow-eyed, scared shell of myself.”
Eventually, Rope reached out to a psychiatrist, began taking an anti-depressant and, with the help of weekly sessions with a psychotherapist, she started to sleep, eat, and live life normally again. When the birth of her second daughter brought another acute episode of postpartum anxiety, Rope knew what to do and recovered much more quickly.
Her experience spurred Rope to begin writing about maternal mental health. Soon, she was recruited to be editorial director of the Seleni Institute, a reproductive mental health nonprofit, where she wrote, assigned, and edited stories on the emotional impact of miscarriage, stillbirth, infertility, and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. “These are struggles so many people face—but so few talk about,” Rope emphasizes.
As she began to write about her own emotional challenges and maternal mental health in general, Rope realized that her purpose is to share the story of struggle. And from that purpose has flowed her authentic voice, which she describes as “open, nonjudgmental, brutally honest, occasionally funny, and always focused on lifting people up.” She wrote the book Strong as a Mother to let others know they are not alone, that there is a way forward when they just want a way out.
Rope knows that it is very hard, if not impossible, to support a family as a freelance writer. She is grateful to her husband, David Allan, for having a steady office job that provides a regular paycheck and health insurance. She is further motivated by the knowledge that her work is making the world a better place by having a concrete impact on her readers. She says, “I have received many emails over the years from women or their partners, who tell me something I wrote gave them hope, made them realize they were not ‘crazy,’ prompted them to call that therapist, talk to that friend, tell their partner, find a psychiatrist, and move forward with greater strength. I have also heard from people in crisis and been able to immediately connect them to expert support in their area. “
To those looking to find a career aligned with their life purpose, Rope says, “I don’t want to be a Pollyanna. The bottom line for many people is that they need to pay the bills and the dream career doesn’t always align with that. But if you can keep asking the questions that interest you, listening to the answers, and following them, I believe that for many people, over time, your career can begin to reflect and match your personal experiences and preferences. When you are drawn toward something, explore it. If something is hard, ask yourself why and what you want to do about it. Seeking out those solutions and following those paths can’t help but lead to a more fulfilling life, and, possibly, your dream career.”