Last year, I met Kym Gowin while on the Tales from Another Mother Runner book tour, and her energy and smile lit up my memories to this day. So when one of her pals, Brandi Lee, emailed to tell us about the Healthy Mother 5K and asking if we could connect her with #BAMR tattoo designs, I wanted to know more.
Kym lost her only sister, Kristy Elmore Langdon, to postpartum depression in May of 2014. "We fought like crazy but no one could come between us," she says, "We went to college together for the first year, were in each others wedding and then we got pregnant with our first children in the same month! We got to go through pregnancy together, shop for maternity clothes and baby things, and after Avery (Kym's daughter) and Spencer (Kristy's son) were born we discussed the up and downs of motherhood."
We are sharing Kristy's story, via Kym, because running is just one piece of health, and mental health often gets swept under the rug out of fear, ignorance, or embarrassment.
Did Kristy struggle with PPD after having all her sons, or just her youngest?
Kristy struggled with PPD with all her sons. The first and third were the most severe. The first was totally unexpected. My sister was the most together, stable, responsible person you could imagine; she was a CPA which totally fit her personality! She had no history of mental illness. She met none of the key risk factors for PPD. She was happily married, had a strong support system, a good job, and was very financially stable. She and her husband waited to have children until they had paid off their home so Kristy could stay at home with them. She also had no history of or current drug or alcohol use, which is what many first think after a suicide.
How aware of the PPD were you? Did she ask for help, or was her suffering too great to be able to do that?
I was very unaware of PPD. Being a nurse, I have heard of the baby blues and thought it was really no big deal, something you just got over as your baby got older. I had no idea what PPD truly looked like.
That said, Kristy and the family knew something wasn't right after the birth of her first son, Spencer. She had classic depression signs and symptoms and wanted help. She went to her OB and they worked on it together. She continued to breastfeed; with the support of family and friends, her depression lifted about 2 months after starting treatment. The most beautiful this Kristy said about this period was that she was outside walking with Spencer one morning and the fog just lifted. The sky got bluer and she knew she was better. It was amazing to me how clear this was to her.
With her second son, Sawyer, the postpartum period went smoothly. Kristy and her OB discussed her previous PPD, had a solid plan from the start and it worked well.
With Simon (the third) everything was different. Kristy's depression started in the second trimester. Her OB that had been with her through her previous pregnancies had to have emergency surgery. The OB that took over Kristy's care did not seem as aware of the issues she had faced with PPD. He was not quick to treat her depression during pregnancy and by the time Simon was born, she was in a dark place.
This time she did not think she needed help; her brain was too sick. She did not want to go to the doctor. She was not bonding with Simon and was making frightening statements. Finally, we got her to go to the doctor about 2-3 weeks postpartum and when she told the doctor how she was feeling, she reported that he told her she needed to, "Go home and bond with her baby." Wow.
Things spiraled out of control from there. Kristy's OB came back from her medical leave about 6 weeks after Simon was born, took one look at Kristy and said, "You are beyond what I can handle. We need to get you help." Kristy had at least four suicide attempts that we know of, three admissions to different psychiatric hospitals, and she saw four outpatient psychiatric providers. Her PPD had progressed to postpartum psychosis and healthcare providers didn't see it or would or could not not addressing it aggressively enough.
I truly believe Kristy was hearing voices that scared her and were threatening to her boys. In the end I think she felt she was a danger to the boys and made the ultimate sacrifice to keep her babies safe.
Was Kristy a runner?
Yes! She liked to do local 5Ks and loved to walk and run with her boys. They were outside all the time!
Is that why you started the Healthy Mommy 5K?
After Kristy's death, her husband and I immediately discussed starting a local foundation to raise awareness of maternal mental health issues. His (and now our) ultimate goal is to build a center in Leitchfield, Kentucky for maternal mental health, which requires quite a bit of financing.
I wanted a special way for everyone who loved Kristy to remember her on the first anniversary of her death on May 30, 2015. I had been thinking about a 5K but had no idea where to start so I threw the idea out to my running tribe one morning and The Healthy Mommy 5K was born. I can take little credit for making the race happen. These ladies are amazing!
What was your race like this year, the second year?
Amazing! We work hard to ensure the HM5K is a family event, so it's stroller-, kid- and pet-friendly. We had about 175 runners this year.
Her oldest son, Spencer, is old enough to run the whole race! The two younger boys did the 5K as well. Brad (Kristy's husband) organizes the water stations. Kristy's girlfriends do the post-run snack area. My mom did registration and ran the race. My dad hung out with the little boys. Our church donates their space for pre-registration and race prep and many members volunteer. It is just amazing to see how many people love Kristy and Brad and the boys!
All proceeds will go to Maternal Mental Health Foundation, Inc; we just finished the by-laws and have started setting up at local health fairs!
Are you going to continue holding the Healthy Mommy 5K annually?
Yes! The HM5K will always be the last Saturday in May, and next year we plan to add a 10K—something that, to my knowledge, has never been done in this town.
Is there anything you want family members of women who are suffering from PPD to know?
IT IS REAL! AND VERY DANGEROUS! It happens to women who have their act together. You cannot just get over this. Health care providers don't always see the problem because those suffering are embarrassed; this is not what motherhood is 'supposed' to be like. Get treatment and don't stop until you feel someone is listening.