PITTSBURGH (AP) — The most important lead block of Alan Faneca’s life came far away the football field.
It’s the aftermath of that block that the six-time All-Pro guard is focusing on this weekend, and not whether he’ll finally reach the Hall of Fame.
Faneca’s wife Julie wasn’t herself following the birth of the couple’s youngest child. She suspected she was dealing with postpartum depression for a third time. Her physician, however, was hesitant to address it. Frustrated, Julie asked her 6-foot-5 husband to join her on the next visit.
“I brought my muscle to the follow-up appointment,” Julie Faneca said with a laugh. “He verified my symptoms.”
Alan Faneca’s support helped convince the doctor that his wife’s health concerns went beyond the usual mix of anxiety and sleeplessness that typically accompanies the joy of expanding your family.
“Julie was really honest right away in talking to me about it,” Alan Faneca said. “I could already tell. She just wasn’t acting like herself. Things were slightly off a little bit. She was a little distant.”
It’s not unusual. One in nine new mothers deal with postpartum depression, and the symptoms can begin manifesting themselves even before childbirth. The Fanecas believe spousal support is vital to making sure women can help identify the signs of PPD. Only half of the women who deal with PPD receive treatment.
“We’re trying to erase the stigma,” Alan Faneca said. “To let world know it’s a serious medical condition. It’s not something to be scared about.”
The Fanecas are teaming with Steven D’Achille to help raise postpartum depression awareness. D’Achille’s wife Alexis committed suicide in 2013 just six weeks after the birth of the couple’s daughter Adriana. Steven D’Achille established the Alexis Joy D’Achille Foundation. The foundation is designed to help women with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.
Steven D’Achille said his wife dealt with severe anxiety and sadness coupled with a lack of sleep. D’Achille believes spouses need to follow the same path the Fanecas did to receive help.
“It’s important to realize you can’t expect your doctors to know your wife as well as you do,” D’Achille said. “Most women hide this from the world, but they can’t hide it from the people that love them. I think it’s our responsibility to advocate on behalf of women because oftentimes they’re not able to.”
D’Achille and the Fanecas believe education can be a major step toward progress. Knowing the signs ahead of time can help women and their spouses get an early jump on PPD.
“Just trying to talk about it is the biggest thing,” Alan Faneca said. “Trying to put a light on the subject. So they can get people to talk about it.”
The Fanecas’ involvement is part of the couple’s long tradition of becoming involved in the community. Some of the causes are personal. Their daughter Anabelle was diagnosed with Sturge-Weber syndrome, a rare neurological disorder, as a toddler. They’re also involved with Glimmer of Hope, a Pittsburgh-based breast cancer search foundation.
“I came in the NFL, you get your feet wet and you realize you’re doing this thing with the big boys now,” Alan Faneca said. “You start to see what other guys are doing. Realize you can do things and make a difference. Julie and I started looking for avenues to find things to do. That’s where it started and it evolved.”
The charity work also gives Faneca something to focus on instead of worrying about whether he’ll reach the Hall of Fame. This marks the fifth time he’s been among the finalists. While the 43-year-old — a nine-time Pro Bowler who won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 2006 — called the waiting “an anxious time,” he’s happy to use the platform to move the attention elsewhere.
“It’s how Julie and I have always been,” Faneca said. “We want to use football for more than just on-the-field endeavors.”