Sunshine after the Downpour; Hannah Stephenson Talks to Actress Brooke Shields about Post-Natal Depression

The Birmingham Post (England), June 11, 2005 | Go to article overview

Sunshine after the Downpour; Hannah Stephenson Talks to Actress Brooke Shields about Post-Natal Depression


Byline: Hannah Stephenson

Brooke Shields seemed to have it all. Beauty, wealth, a healthy acting career and, after six IVF treatments, a much yearned-for baby.

Her life had not been without turmoil as she endured the pressures of being a child star, cosseted by her pushy, alcoholic mother, followed by a short-lived marriage and painful divorce from tennis star Andre Agassi.

Her subsequent marriage to comedy writer Chris Henchy signalled a more settled time for Brooke, as they began trying for a family. But repeated treatment of pre-cancerous cells had led to a scarred cervix, which made it difficult for her to conceive naturally.

She finally got the pregnancy she had so wanted on their first try at IVF, only to suffer a miscarriage.

Five attempts later, she carried her baby full term and in 2003 their daughter Rowan was born. After a traumatic labour - Brooke had an emergency caesarean and suffered a herniated uterus - it seemed the family was complete.

However, Brooke did not feel the huge surge of love for her child that most mothers experience. In fact she felt completely detached from what should have been her little bundle of joy.

She felt no desire to pick Rowan up, wanted to forget she existed and yearned for life to return to the way it was. She was also jealous that her husband was so comfortable with their daughter.

In the months ahead she contemplated suicide and had horrific visions of her baby being thrown against a wall. During this time she admits she cried more than the baby and eventually was persuaded to seek therapy and a course of medication for chronic post-natal depression.

'I just felt I would never be happy again and as if I had fallen into this big black hole,' the 40-year-old recalls now. 'I thought I would never stop crying and that the world would be a better place if I just didn't exist any more.

'It wasn't, 'Oh I'm going to find a gun', I just wanted to go away permanently and I'd never felt that before.'

Brooke's account of her post-natal depression is charted in her new book, Down Came The Rain, which she has written to show other women suffering this illness they are not alone and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

'One of the interesting aspects about this illness is that it's quiet,' she says. 'It doesn't have a drama surrounding it. You look into the most extreme cases and the interesting thing to me is the level of calm, intermixed with anxiety. So you have the panic and the silent resolve that says to you everything is bad.'

Her husband, Chris, was literally left holding the baby as he tended to Rowan's needs and then had to go back to work.

Brooke admits that she took medicine reluctantly, determined to prove to everyone that it wasn't going to work.

'When my husband and my family suggested taking it, I thought, 'Oh great, now you all think I need drugs and that I'm crazy?'.'

She says now of the condition: 'It's bio-chemical. The level of hormones had twisted so dramatically because of the dramatic birth. It became one big cloud.

'It wasn't until I understood this that I started feeling less guilty, because it takes some of the responsibility away from, 'Oh you're a bad mother'.

'In the thick of it, I would be hard-pressed to see that Rowan was even there. If you were quiet enough and closed your eyes, maybe she wouldn't exist. When I started to get better, I would go out a little more and I didn't feel so self-destructive. …

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