Out of the Blue - Brooke Shields (cont.)
Another risk factor for postpartum depression is a temporary upheaval, such as the death of a loved one. For Shields, this was her father, who lost his fight with prostate cancer just three weeks before his namesake was born. She was also still mourning the death of her best friend and Suddenly Susan co-star David Strickland, who committed suicide in 1999.
In addition, women who undergo other stressors, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), may also be at higher risk for postpartum depression. Shields is, as she puts it, "cervically challenged," making conception difficult. Like many women, she underwent several failed attempts at IVF before conceiving and taking a baby to term. Part of the treatment involved Henchy giving her shots of hormones in her rear end to stimulate her ovaries to produce eggs. (The first time he had to do it, she says, he almost passed out, but with practice he became "a pro.") The drugs had to be given so regularly that the couple traveled with the syringes; they feared the tabloids would find out and assume she was doing illicit drugs. Still, IVF challenges were not her only ones. Shields also says she has a short cervix due to scarring that occurred years before when she had surgery to remove precancerous cells. Factor in a highly publicized divorce, a family history of depression, a miscarriage, and no baby nurse or help, , and she was an ideal candidate.
Yet, "it was a surprise to me. How about that one?" she quips. "I think of myself as aware, and all of these things were staring me in the face," she says. But "for each individual thing, I had a justification for how I was going to get through it to make sure it didn't bring me to my knees. I just didn't assume I would be weakened to the point of being affected, and therein lies the stigma."
Now, two years later and seriously considering having more children, Shields is doing what she can to remove this stigma in her new book, Down Came the Rain, due out in May.
"There is a really unfortunate and not-so-pretty part of going through something like this, and nobody wants to admit it, so I figured let me just blow the lid off this, and hopefully it will be able to speak to somebody."
The good news is that treatment for postpartum depression is often extremely effective, says women's health expert Donnica Moore, MD, president of Sapphire Women's Health in Far Hills, N.J. "It is not like treating strep throat, where you are 50% better in 24 hours. It takes some time," she says. Treatment typically involves a combination of therapy and medication, along with plenty of rest and help from family and friends. Shields did all of the above.
"Without therapy, I wouldn't have understood as much, and I think that without medicine, I would not have been clear enough," Shields says.
"There was always a glimmer of something that kept me trying to get better," she says. "I attribute a lot to breastfeeding, because, for me, the physical connection is what I really needed, whether I enjoyed it or not. Somewhere along the line it was undeniable that she was stuck to me," she adds. "I think that was important to my recovery."
Despite all she went through, Shields considers herself lucky. "I was able to get help and I was able to have a support system and recognize [the postpartum depression] relatively early," she says.
Now, she, Rowan and Chris have settled into to a comfortable, bi-coastal routine. She just finished a run on Broadway in Wonderful Town and may do a new sitcom in the fall. And she's taking the family to London this May where she will star in Chicago as the publicity-hungry moll, Roxie Hart.
For the most part, Shields embraces her role as mother and cherishes each milestone that her strawberry-haired toddler experiences, including "cozy time" before naps, a first trip to the zoo, and graduating from a crib to a big-girl bed.
None of this is to say that motherhood is suddenly easy. "Did I want to get up at 1:30 a.m., 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. last night? No. It doesn't get easier, but you start to acclimate, and it becomes less of a burden," she admits.
"Postpartum depression takes certain truths and turns them into the worst version of the truth," she asserts with the clarity of hindsight. "The truth is, your life is changed forever when you have a child, but what you don't factor in is that it might be better and it might be more enriched."
As she forges ahead with her new life, a few scars still remain.
"The scars for me are gaining peoples' trust again, and not feeling the need to bound through my life as 'happy camper lady' to prove how I can do it all and am really happy and it was just a phase," she says. She is now weaning off her medication under a doctor's guidance, as she and Chris consider growing their family.
"I would be lying if I didn't say that I was scared," she says, nervousness apparent in her voice. "I had a bad day yesterday, and my husband looked at me and said, 'Is this because you are going off the medicine?'" Rats had infested the garage of their Los Angeles home and eaten through one of Rowan's special toys. "I had to go through a series of explanations as to why I was entitled to be upset," she says ruefully as she stretches out her long legs clad in caramel-colored corduroys.
Women with a previous history of postpartum depression have about a 50% increased risk of experiencing it again with their next child, experts say.
And this is something Shields knows all too well. "I absolutely want more children, [but] I am not going to all of a sudden become a hero again and defeat the entire purpose of what I just learned. I am a perfect candidate for [another bout with] postpartum depression, and at least I know that now," she says.
"Who knows?" she continues. "I may not feel anything after this second baby, or I may plummet even further, but I am prepared," she says, adding that she plans to find a safe medication to take during her third trimester. "I will have to go through IVF again, but hopefully another parent of mine won't have passed away, and hopefully my best friend won't have just killed himself."