Woman's Death Prompts Special Clinic For Moms

UCSD's Maternal Mental Health Clinic Came As A Result Of Annie Spangler's Death

A local woman's tragic death leads to help for San Diego women suffering from postpartum depression.

From birth, 7-year-old Johnathan Spangler was often called a "miracle baby" as his parents tried for nearly 10 years to have a child.

Annie Spangler endured a miscarriage, in vitro fertilization and massive hormone treatments until she finally got pregnant and gave birth to Johnathan on February 10, 2004. Annie was 46 years old at the time.

"She was just … when he was born, I'd never seen her that happy," said Michael Spangler.

Annie, a doctor of pharmacy, seemed to take to motherhood. However, a conversation she had with Michael three months after giving birth revealed the true darkness consuming her.

"That's when she picked me up from the airport and [that's] when she started talking about suicide," said Michael.

Michael suggested they go to the hospital, but Annie refused. She instead agreed to therapy.

As a precaution, he separated the ammunition from the 9mm gun he kept in his home.

The next morning, Michael recalled playing with Jonathan as Annie left for the grocery store.

"She looked at us just before she walked out and said, 'You two will be great together,'" said Michael.

Michael raced to a Vons store in North Park after discovering his gun and the ammunition were missing.

"[I] followed the fire truck to the parking lot there … she was [lying] outside the car," said Michael.

While postpartum depression has gotten more attention over the years, doctors say the vast majority of women suffering from it do not seek help.

Of the 45,000 babies born in San Diego County in 2011, as much as 10 percent of their mothers will have a severe form of postpartum depression, according to medical experts.

"I think that women and men are really scared of mental health problems and the stigma in society," said Dr. Katie Hirst, who runs UCSD's Maternal Mental Health Clinic.

The now four-year-old clinic specializes in mental health disorders effecting new mothers. It came as a direct result of Annie's death.

"After she committed suicide, an obstetrician Dr. Jessica Kingston realized that we were not doing anything to address mental health issues during pregnancy or postpartum," said Hirst.

The clinic receives about 2,000 referrals a year.

Hirst said some women are predisposed to postpartum depression, including those with a family history. Doctors also believe there is a possible link between the disorder and infertility treatments.

"So often times women who are in their 30s and 40s going through infertility treatments, we do see a higher risk of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders in those women," said Hirst.

Michael has since re-married and has a new addition to his family -- which is his life. His passion is now educating others about postpartum depression.

"Other than taking care of my wife, my son and my daughter, this is the most important thing in my life. More important than the military, more important than anything else," said Michael, who speaks regularly at support groups.

Postpartum depression resources:

  • Postpartum Health Alliance: (619) 254-0023 or postpartumhealthalliance.org
  • UCSD Maternal Mental Health Clinic: psychiatry.ucsd.edu/maternalmentalhealth.html
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