Feature Archive

Out of the Blue

Brooke Shields' Struggle With Postpartum Depression, from WebMD the Magazine

By Denise Mann
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Michael Smith, MD on Thursday, March 24, 2005

From WebMD the Magazine: Brooke Shields seemingly has it all -- happy marriage, celebrated beauty, critical applause, world fame. Yet, after her child was born, she fought the "mother lode" of emotional battles: a crippling bout with postpartum depression.

After giving birth two years ago, actress/model/icon Brooke Shields was not singing lullabies in the pleasing voice that has earned her rave reviews on Broadway. Nor was she learning how to swaddle her newborn girl, Rowan Francis, named for her late father, Francis Shields. Instead, suffering from postpartum depression, she found herself staring out of the window of her fourth floor Manhattan apartment, contemplating putting an end to it all.

"I really didn't want to live anymore," she admits frankly. She says that, during this time, simply seeing a window was enough to prompt her to think, "'I just want to leap out of my life,' but then the rational side of me [would say], 'You're only on the fourth floor. You'll get broken to bits and then you will be even worse.'"

From the outside looking in, the 38-year-old former Calvin Klein model has everything -- happy family, career spanning decades -- but for Shields, the painful struggle to get pregnant and the ensuing slide into postpartum depression after her labor and delivery marks the most tumultuous time in her life.

Princeton-educated and seemingly savvy about all sorts of things, she still never knew that feelings of shame, secrecy, helplessness, and despair -- the classic signs of postpartum depression -- may affect as many as one in 10 new mothers within six months of delivery, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. More incapacitating than the "baby blues," postpartum depression is marked by severe sadness or emptiness, withdrawal from family and friends, a strong sense of failure, and even thoughts of suicide. These emotions can begin two or three weeks after birth and can last up to a year or longer if untreated.

Blue Lagoon

For the six-foot natural beauty, the troubling signs of postpartum depression began almost immediately after she gave birth to her now almost 2-year-old daughter on May 15, 2003. Her husband, television writer-producer Chris Henchy, whom she married in 2001 after her tabloid-fodder split from tennis star Andre Agassi, was supportive if also terribly concerned for his wife and his baby.

"Chris would say, 'Oh, my God, she's crying,' and I would respond, 'Yeah, baby. She's crying. I wonder what she wants?'" she recalls. "It was like this weird alien overtook my body and every appropriate response was answered with the antithesis of what you would assume."

Today, Rowan can cry a mile away and Shields boasts that she can tell whether her daughter is angry, hungry, scared, sad or just looking for the family's 7-year-old American bulldog, Darla. "That's the instinct stuff that you hear about and expect to have on day one," she says.

She claims that she had no mother's intuition at all.

Friends and family were quick to dismiss her sorrow and disinterest as a case of the "baby blues" that would disappear with some much-needed rest. But her sadness escalated rapidly into postpartum depression. Shields found herself crying more than Rowan did, and she says she suffered a mini-breakdown on her first post-pregnancy job interview to do a commercial for Bright Beginnings infant formula. She was plagued by feelings of self-doubt and self-harm. And if thoughts of suicide weren't frightening enough, Shields also suffered disturbing visions of seeing her daughter flying through the air, hitting a wall and then sliding down it, although, she is quick to clarify, she was never the one throwing her.

The words "postpartum depression" didn't mean much to her at first, but they finally hit home when a virtual stranger told her about the guilt, shame, and reclusiveness that were connected to postpartum depression -- the same symptoms she had struggled with since the baby was born.

Model Candidate

Exactly which mothers will develop postpartum depression is not fully understood, but risk factors do exist. In Shields' case, these risk factors may have been red flags. They can include a complicated or difficult labor. Rowan was delivered via an emergency C-section with an umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. In addition, Shields' uterus herniated during the surgery, and she lost a lot of blood. Her doctors even considered performing a hysterectomy (the removal of a woman's uterus) if the bleeding did not stop. Fortunately, it did and her uterus was successfully repaired.