When Jessica Porten went viral for her experience of having the cops called on her when she sought help for symptoms of postpartum depression, there were a lot of things she could have done with all of the attention.
She could have shut down all of her social media completely and went into hiding, never to see a negative a comment ever again.
She could have taken up with a network marketing company and made a few dollars with all of her newfound fame.
Heck, she could have gotten herself an agent, maybe even landed on The Ellen Show.
But instead, the 27-year-old married mother of two from California decided to use her five minutes of fame to raise awareness of an issue that she believes is bigger than herself: the inequality in maternal mental health care.
“When I first started going viral, I immediately knew that I wanted to crowdsource solutions rather than feed into the sensational aspect of it,” Porten explains. “It was my moral obligation to use the platform [responsibly].”
Speaking to Babble via text message from her home, Porten relays how she felt that she needed to use her rather shocking story as a way to shed light on the greater issues that women, especially marginalized women, face in healthcare. She explains that inequality in healthcare, especially for mothers of color and LGBTQ individuals, are her number one priority right now.
“Black women are 3 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women,” she says. “There is no biological reason for that. There are laws in place that forbid discrimination in the medical field. So why are our black mothers dying? It gets me fired up, and we have to put a stop to it.”
Since Porten’s story went viral, she has become an activist for women’s maternal and mental health, spreading awareness on her Facebook page, posting information about ways to get involved, and sharing facts about inequality in health care. Although she explains that she wasn’t really involved in advocacy for women before, she has now been working to translate all of the media attention she has received into action and change in women’s healthcare. For example, Porten has been working with 2020 Mom, a national advocacy organization that works on closing gaps in maternal mental care.
Porten believes so strongly in the cause of improving maternal mental health that she even traveled to Capitol Hill earlier this week to speak at a rally held by 2020 Moms. The rally was a way to raise awareness and urge assemblymen and women to help co-author bills related to maternal mental healthcare. The bills would be a start to what Porten hopes will be a larger shift in the country’s healthcare systems to help marginalized communities in general, which would also encompass maternal mental healthcare.
While at the rally, Porten also was photographed breastfeeding her 4-month-old daughter Kira on the steps of Capitol Hill, exemplifying her belief in bodily autonomy. And in a move that probably won’t surprise anyone, considering how Porten is making a name for herself for supporting all women equally, she is quick to add that “normalizing breastfeeding” has a different meaning to her. Although Porten is a proud nursing mother herself and has had what she calls a “stellar” breastfeeding experience, Porten is not about shaming anyone for their feeding choices or for pitting breastfeeding moms against bottle-feeding moms — she’s just about supporting moms, period.
“Women should be able to feed their baby, anywhere, anyway, without judgment,” she notes.
In addition to her work on the three issues that she feels most passionate about: maternal mental health care, single payer healthcare in California, and closing the disparity in healthcare that marginalized communities receive, Porten also assures us that she is doing well and finally receiving treatment that she initially sought for herself. She admits that she did have some pretty strong emotions against how the office and nurse practitioner treated her at first (understandable), but is now working to see how she was treated through the larger lens of a lack of policies for mothers’ mental care. She is even working with a pilot program for maternal mental healthcare that she hopes will eventually partner with Capitol OB/GYN, the office that called the police on her.
“Now that I’ve taken a step back from my emotions and looked at [it] objectively, no one did anything wrong,” she explains. “We don’t have adequate systems in place, and I’m going to change that.”
And as she continues her own postpartum mental health journey, the dedicated mom has no plans to stop her activism anytime soon. With her crash course into advocacy, Porten notes that she has a lot to learn about making a difference.
“I honestly don’t think I’ve done enough work yet to be considered ‘involved,’” she adds. “But I’m going to change that.”
So, who knows? Maybe we will be seeing her on The Ellen Show after all.