SHIELDS' CANDID TALE CONVINCES READERS THAT NOT EVERYONE CRUISES THROUGH POSTPARTUM DAYS
The Buffalo News
Sometimes, it takes a beautiful woman to tell a truly ugly story.
Brooke Shields' raw tale of debilitating postpartum depression after the 2003 birth of her daughter, Rowan, exposes a secret that still has the capacity to shock a bit: Not only did Shields feel incapable of taking care of the baby, she felt no emotional bond with her.
Shields had been through a lot in the five years before her daughter's birth: She'd divorced Andre Agassi, married TV writer Chris Henchy, lost a dear friend and "Suddenly Susan" co-star to suicide, suffered a miscarriage during a taxing period of in-vitro fertilization, lost her father to cancer three weeks before Rowan was born, and had a long and traumatic labor and emergency C- section, complete with cord-wrapping and a ruptured uterus. To complicate things, Rowan had to wear a harness to help her hips develop properly and Henchy had to return to work across the country two weeks after the birth.
It's stressful just to list it all.
Although she expects to bond with her "little cashew" when she sees her, Shields writes that after an initial moment of bliss as she lies on the operating room table with her "guts spread out like a garage sale," she looks up to see Henchy holding their "perfect frowning angel baby." Rather than tenderness, she writes, "I stared at this glowing father/child image and was bombarded with feelings of jealousy, fear and rage. I wanted to be in his position right now."
When the baby cries, she feels frustrated and incompetent. The baby has a solemn, judgmental look. Shields longs to return to work. People keep assuring her that things will get better.
They're wrong. Things actually get worse until she is pulled back from the brink by medication, which she is very reluctant to take and discontinues without warning when she starts to feel better. It quickly becomes apparent that this is one of the most dangerous of the bad choices she's made in her highly volatile state. She goes back on the meds and resumes her slow but steady recovery.
While there's no guarantee she's told it all, Shields admits to so many truly aberrant emotions that it's hard to believe she held much back.
She openly discusses the most personal of issues: her incompetent cervix, her raging emotions, her bloated body, her current rueful take on the nursing scene in "Blue Lagoon," her child-bearing hips, even her occasional foot-in-mouth moment. This conversationally written, honest exploration of a dark topic could have been a second "Mommie Dearest" if written by a less sympathetic woman.
As we know, no good deed ever goes unpunished. If Shields needed a kick in the face after revealing her illness in an effort to help the estimated 10 to 20 percent of women who suffer from postpartum depression, she got it from Tom Cruise, who, as a Scientologist, opposes taking medication for psychological problems.
On "Access Hollywood," Cruise, who always came across as a fairly dull guy as long as he kept his mouth shut, opened it and opined, "These drugs are dangerous. I have actually helped people come off them. When you talk about postpartum, you can take people today, women, and what you do is you use vitamins." He added, "I care about Brooke Shields because I think she is an incredibly talented woman, but look at where her career has gone."
Shields, who is currently starring in the musical "Chicago" in London, told E! "Tom Cruise's comments are irresponsible and dangerous. Tom should stick to saving the world from aliens and let women who are experiencing postpartum depression decide what treatment options are best for them."
Shields is now weaning herself off medication in order to try for a second baby. Anyone who reads this candid and painful book will find it difficult to wish her anything but the very best.
Down Came the Rain
By Brooke Shields
226 pages, $23.95
Anne Neville is a News Life & Arts writer. e-mail: aneville at buffnews.com