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Tragedy leaves legacy of support for other new moms

This story is shared in memory of Alexis Joy D’Achille.

Baby Adriana was born on August 30, 2013. Her dad Steven says his wife Alexis had the most seamless, perfect pregnancy, and always dreamed of having a little girl. But shortly after giving birth, Alexis began to struggle.

“My mother-in-law was with us for two-and-a-half weeks after Adriana was born. Everyone always says, ‘Watch out for the baby blues.’ And then as soon as my mother-in-law left, it was very apparent that this was much more severe than the baby blues. It was literally watching somebody you love just completely fall apart and unravel.”

Alexis had trouble breastfeeding, would hear phantom baby cries in the night, and was in tears every morning after long sleepless weeks. She was convinced her daughter was connecting with other people, but not with her. During delivery, the baby’s umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, a distressing situation that doctors think may have left Alexis with post-traumatic stress disorder. She worried constantly that the birth hurt the baby and swore she saw signs that it had. This depression and anxiety took its toll. Five weeks after giving birth, Alexis was ten pounds lighter than her pre-pregnancy weight. A week later, she took her own life. She was 30, and her daughter was six weeks old.

“We knew Alexis was in trouble. We went to seven different hospitals and facilities in her last 13 days. She was very, very honest with everybody, and that’s the thing that breaks my heart. At that time, help just didn’t exist. She got an appointment with a doctor, but it was a two-month wait. In that time my wife did not survive her battle with postpartum depression.”

“She was my everything. She was always so organized; she had everything in order. She lit up every room. She had the biggest smile. Everybody who knew her loved her. She was the best with her job. She was the best wife. She ran the house better than anyone could imagine. She was the life of the party. She was always so elegant and well-spoken, and she was the voice of reason, the person that everyone went to for advice. She was my biggest supporter.”

“I’m not mad at her, but my heart is broken for her. For her to feel the way she felt, and to be so honest, to be as brave as she was, to admit that she had this problem, and to seek treatment. Quite frankly, there was a long period of time where I would’ve done anything just to get my old life back. But I started the foundation, The Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation for Postpartum Depression. One thing I’ve definitely learned was that mental health does not discriminate. It doesn’t care who you are. It could be anyone. It could be any woman. We knew she was in trouble, and we begged for help. And it just wasn’t there. That’s why we’re building the new center, and that’s why we have the center right now at West Penn Hospital. Pittsburgh is becoming one of the safest places in the country to be a new mom, so that makes me proud.”

“I saw firsthand what it’s like to see the joy of having a new baby, our first child. But I also got to see what it’s like to watch somebody that I’ve never seen struggle a day in her life completely unravel to the point where she thought she was going to be a burden on us for the rest of our lives. So it’s become my mission to get involved and know what we have to do to help women, and also to make sure that nobody else has to live my reality. I’m a single dad with a beautiful four-year-old daughter, and there’s no reason why my wife shouldn’t be here.”

“Adriana definitely understands that her mother’s not here. Someday she’ll understand completely why. The older kids get, the more questions they ask. So the questions keep getting harder for me. But she looks at the sky every night. She finds the brightest star, and she waves to it, and she says, ‘Hi, mommy! I love you! I miss you!’ I really work on building a legacy for my daughter, so that she can be proud of her mom, because she’s saving lives. As long as we have the Center and we’re helping other people, I think my daughter will appreciate it, and she’ll be proud of her mom. And I’m hoping it will make this conversation with her a lot easier one day.”

The Alexis Joy Center for Women's Behavioral Health at West Penn Hospital will open its doors in Fall of 2018, the only facility of its kind in the country. The center has served as a safe place for women and their families to find the help they need.

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