Down Came the Rain
Though she was forced to grow up in the public eye, Shields has always impressed as that rare creature – a former child star who managed to become an emotionally healthy adult. In 2005, with the release of her memoir, Down Came The Rain – My Journey Through Postpartum Depression, the actress took the courageous step of publicly exposing her real struggle with postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter, Rowan. Brooke Shields’ postpartum depression was a profoundly difficult experience that changed her life.
And That is Where My Troubles Began
As she tells it, Shields came to the decision to try for a baby after she fell in love with her second husband, comedy writer Chris Henchy, who she met after divorcing tennis star Andre Agassi. What she thought would be an easy and normal route to motherhood instead was a harrowing journey that involved a heart breaking miscarriage. The experience lead Shields and Henchy to seek help from a fertility specialist, who performed an in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure to help Shields (who had suffered injury to her uterus years earlier from surgery) conceive a baby. Shields miscarried again. More fertility treatments followed, and finally, after a successful pregnancy, Shields gave birth to little Rowan.
And, as the old saying goes, “…that is where my troubles began…”
Joy and Sadness
In Brooke Shields’ case, the joyful delivery of her healthy baby girl didn’t result in an experience of spontaneous love for the child or any feeling of bonding. With great honesty, Shields describes returning home with the baby feeling like a stranger to herself, and having little or no feeling for the squirming little child she was holding. Though she at first attributed the lack of connection to the baby as exhaustion, as the days went on, Shields continued to experience an emotional deadness and feeling of loss. The initial joy was replaced by days on end of exhaustion and hopelessness. Brooke Shields was experiencing a severe case of postpartum depression.
A “Guttural Wail”
With no letup in the feelings of depression, Shields was finally encouraged by her husband and close friends to seek medical attention. She is honest enough in the book to say that she continually refused to admit she needed help, until the day came when she realized she was completely at sea. Shields writes, “Instead of the nervous anxiety that often accompanies panic, a feeling of devastation overcame me….I let out a deep, slow, guttural wail. I wasn’t simply emotional or weepy…this was something quite different. This was sadness of a shockingly different magnitude.”
The Little Pink Pill
With the encouragement of her doctor, Shields finally agreed to take an antidepressant, Paxil, which she refers to as the “little pink pill.” (She later switched to Wellbutrin). Slowly, her mood improved and she began to bond with the baby. She also started to accept the help of baby nurse at home, so she could catch up on rest. As Shields describes it, the effect of the medication was so subtle, she assumed she was feeling better on her own. She temporarily went off the medication but suffered a panicky relapse. Following another meeting with her doctor, she resumed treatment, and later began a course of talk therapy to work through complicated feelings about motherhood, her own relationship with her mother, and the loss of her father.
A Plea for Mothers to Seek Help
Down Came The Rain is significant for the emotional honesty Shields conveys about the devastating impact postpartum depression can have on a mother and her family. She ends the book with a plea for any woman who is suffering from the symptoms of this kind of depression to seek medical help immediately, and she includes a listing of books that can help a mother find the emotional support she needs.
Down Came the Rain is an important book for its forthrightness about the seriousness of Brooke Shields’ postpartum depression, and for the willingness of its beautiful author to expose herself at her most vulnerable.
Shields, Brooke, Down Came The Rain, Hyperion Books, 2005