Going to Great Lengths to Raise Awareness of Postpartum Depression

On August 15, 2012, Sara and Jeff Tow will become the first married couple to complete a 50 mile ultra-marathon swim across Lake Michigan. In doing this their mission is to improve lives and educate communities about postpartum depression and related illnesses through many different platforms. Both Sara and Jeff suffered with postpartum depression after both of their children were born; here is their story, in their words.

“It’s a story you’ve heard countless times before. Man meets woman. They fall in love. They date. They get engaged and they marry. They live together in a small home. They have a dog and good jobs. Time goes by and they move to a small midwestern town and long to have children.

A baby is born. Now that familiar story changes.

Both mom and dad slip into depression in their own way. The dad sleeps a lot and works a lot and is generally disconnected. The mom doesn’t eat like she should and loses a lot of weight. She has intrusive thoughts about the child that she shouldn’t. He takes off for a week on a motorcycle trip.

Both parents go on as if nothing is wrong, while suffering in silence – knowing that things aren’t right, but assuming that this is normal after having your first child. To some extent, things get better, and while it appears the depression is gone, it’s just been pushed to the side by day-to-day life.

Another baby is born. And it happens again.”

Through this life experience Sara and Jeff were motivated to raise awareness, in hopes that they can help others from suffering. But why swim across Lake Michigan? They explain.

“Sometimes …to get noticed, you have to make a statement. This is our statement. Between now and the event, we’ll be spreading the word and letting the world learn more about PMDs (Perinatal Mood Disorders). We’ll be teachers and we’ll be students. We’ll interact, we’ll share, and we’ll learn. We’ll focus on moms and dads and share our story so that others can get the help they need early on. What we went through was painful and looking back, having help and being able to identify what we were going through would have been very helpful. The bottom line is, we want to help others who are dealing with PMDs. By doing so, we’ll help moms and dads be happier, which in turn will raise stronger, more stable and healthier children.”

We know that 1 in 8 mothers and 1 in 10 fathers will develop postpartum depression/anxiety. Every day at Beaumont Health System, we are doing our own swim of sorts every time we hand a patient her Postpartum Adjustment Risk Assessment, every time we educate families about signs and symptoms of PPD, every time we tell them about our support groups, every time a mom receives a follow-up call, each time we do any of these things we are raising awareness and planting a seed, in hopes that if a mom or dad is suffering they will reach out for the help that is available. Every day we keep swimming.

If you would like more information about Sara and Jeff Tow, their mission, and their organization Through The Blue, visit their website. For information about our postpartum adjustment support groups, times and locations, call 248.898.3230.

—Kelly C. Ryan, LMSW, Postpartum Adjustment Coordinator at Beaumont Hospitals

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