Lutherville event raises awareness of postpartum mood disorders

The anxiety began hours after Laurie Bardon Syphard gave birth to her daughter and grew as the weeks ticked by. Was the baby sleeping enough? Was she malnourished? Dehydrated?

Syphard became obsessed with the cleanliness of her daughter's baby bottles, cycling through them in a rigid rotation. She worried that a catastrophe would occur each time they left the house.

"I would pack and repack the diaper bag eight times and then never leave," she said. The anxiety was so overwhelming that Syphard sometimes struggled to get out of bed.

Syphard, 34, knew that her symptoms were more than the typical jitters of a new parent. Eventually, she found help and a diagnosis: postpartum anxiety and postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Syphard, her husband and 3-year-old daughter joined three dozen other families to raise awareness of postpartum mood disorders Saturday at a Lutherville park. The event was one of 200 held across the country as part of a campaign called "Climb Out of the Darkness."

The local team, organized by Syphard and Samantha Zipp Dowd, raised more than $15,000 for Postpartum Progress, a group that works to spread the word about postpartum mood disorders.

Mothers, fathers and a few grandparents walked a 1.5 mile loop through Meadowood Regional Park carrying infants strapped to their chests and pushing strollers. Older children ran through the grass and zipped by on scooters.

Sara Daly, a clinical social worker at Sinai Hospital, said studies show that one in seven women suffers from a postpartum mood disorder, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and, the most severe, postpartum psychosis.

The hormonal flucuations, sleep deprivation and major life adjustments that follow the birth of a child can all be contributing factors, she said. Symptoms can begin during pregnancy, immediately after birth or as much as a year later.

Daly is about to start a free support group that will be open to all mothers with postpartum mood disorders — not just those who deliver at Sinai. She screens new mothers at the hospital and helps connect them with services.

Tim Taormino, 44, of Overlea, said that postpartum mood disorders can be hard on fathers, too. His wife dealt with postpartum anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder after the birth of their son two years ago.

"It was very much an experience for both of us," said Taormino, a cartographer. Now, he and his wife have learned skills to help them cope with anxiety.

"We've gotten so much better at handling it," he said, watching his son dart between picnic tables at a park pavilion.

Syphard, an educational contractor from Bel Air, said her daughter's pediatrician helped her get into treatment. The doctor said, "Your daughter looks great, but you need help," she recalled.

Syphard began working with a cognitive-behavioral therapist and sought support online from Postpartum Progress. Within a month or two, her anxiety subsided.

Mothers at Saturday's event said therapy, support groups, medication, yoga and massage helped alleviate their symptoms. Many said they had not been aware of postpartum mood disorders before they gave birth.

"You feel like you're the only one going through it," said Dowd, 33, who struggled after the birth of her son nearly two years ago. "There's a certain amount of worrying that comes with being a new mom, but this was more than that."

She suffered her first panic attack after her son briefly stopped breathing when he was four months old.

Soon the Rodgers Forge resident was having panic attacks frequently and was terrified to be alone with her son if her husband left the house in the evening. Minor difficulties, such as her son catching a cold, sent her into a spiral of anxiety.

After seeing several doctors and making seven trips to the emergency room in a week, Dowd was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. Within about six weeks of treatment, "the good moments began outnumbering the bad," she said. A few months later, she was almost completely back to her old self.

"It was tough on the whole family," husband Mark Dowd said of her struggles. "We weren't prepared for it. It's not one of the things they cover in birthing classes."

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