This post is several things: an effort to raise awareness, a call to action and an opportunity to support a worthy cause. Next weekend, Saturday, October 29th, is the inaugural Shelane’s Run 5K. Coordinated by her family, friends and colleagues at Fairfax County Police Department, the walk/run 5K is a fundraiser for Postpartum Support International aimed at raising awareness about Postpartum Psychiatric Disorders.
Postpartum Psychiatric Disorders (PPD) include postpartum (or baby) blues, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. I’m grateful that in my three previous pregnancies I have not had the added struggle of postpartum depression, which affects 1 in 7 (or 15% of) women. I pray for the same good fortune at the end of my fourth pregnancy, and for the respite that those who are suffering from PPD so deserve.
Let me tell you a little bit about Shelane. I know her by two degrees of separation. We never met, that I can recall, but she was a close friend and coworker of a woman I have known since high school, and consider a dear friend. She was a Fairfax County police officer, a mother of three little girls, wife, sister, friend, daughter…and she is missed.
In the late spring of 2015, Shelane, became pregnant with her fourth child. The pregnancy was announced on Mother’s Day weekend, and everyone was excited for the addition to their family.
Then, like me and so many other women, Shelane suffered a first trimester loss. A miscarriage. In my experience, there’s nothing quite like the profound sense of loss you feel as a woman, as a mother, when you see that image on the screen during a sonogram and there is no beating heart at the center of it.
Following the miscarriage, Shelane developed a postpartum psychiatric disorder, which went undiagnosed.
Two weeks after the she learned the baby’s heart had stopped beating, Shelane killed herself.
In the wake of her death, the natural question of “why” was raised. The answer that surfaced was one no one had heard of before: postpartum psychosis. Shelane’s family learned that postpartum psychosis, which affects 1 to 2 in 1000 women carries a high risk of suicide, often develops within days of delivery (or loss) and includes early symptoms such as irritability, restlessness and insomnia. Symptoms escalate rapidly and behavior changes, becoming erratic or disorganized. Moods may shift between elation and depression, and confusion or disorientation are common.
Shelane’s family believes it was this undiagnosed condition that drove her to take her own life. She was an intelligent and vivacious woman, full of love for her family and friends. The actions that ended her life were out of character, and the symptoms she had been exhibiting in the days leading up to her death were, in hindsight, characteristic of postpartum psychosis.
Those who knew and loved Shelane want to raise awareness about Postpartum Psychiatric Disorders so that one day, no other families will suffer the way they have. Please take the time to read more about Shelane’s Run, sign up to participate in the 5K or make a donate to Postpartum Support International (PSI). Below are additional resources, including websites offering information and statistics about PPD. Please make this subject a topic of conversation. Information and knowledge are power. Share Shelane’s story and help prevent the loss of another mother.
Postpartum Support International has resources, literature and a help line. I encourage everyone to visit their website, read about their mission and share what they learn. PPD is a subject that requires discussion and information sharing. It’s hard enough to recover from the physical aspects of childbirth and miscarriage.
Massachusetts General Hospital has a great overview of baby blues, postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, including statistics for those who wish to start reading more. Other reliable resources include the American Psychiatric Association, National Institutes of Mental Health, Medline Plus (through NIH) and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Featured image (Mental Health Awareness ribbon):CC 3.0, MesserWoland