"People think of me as a mannequin, all show and no substance."
In July of 2005, the American Actress, model and former child star; Brooke Shields published this essay (below) entitled ‘War of Words’ , defending herself and her choice to seek medical attention for her postpatrum depression after the birth of her first child in 2003. Shields bravely addressed Tom Cruise’s prior criticism concerning her use of antidepressants, after he publicly called her actions “irresponsible” and “dangerous”. In this insightful and truly inspirational essay, she sums up how the ignorant movie star should “stick to fighting aliens” (a reference to to Cruise’s starring role in ‘War of the Worlds’ as well as some of the more exotic aspects of Scientology), “and let mothers decide the best way to treat postpartum depression.” Honest and brave, as well as well-written, I think it is safe to say that no one could accuse this intelligent and kind actress, of being just a “mannequin” with “no substance”.
War of Words
By Brooke Shields July 1, 2005
I WAS hoping that it wouldn’t come to this, but after Tom Cruise’s interview with Matt Lauer on the NBC show “Today” last week, I feel compelled to speak not just for myself but also for hundreds of thousands of women who have suffered from postpartum depression. While Mr Cruise says that Mr Laurer and I do not “understand the history of psychiatry”, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that Mr Cruise has never suffered from postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression is caused by the hormonal shifts that occur after childbirth. During pregnancy, a woman’s level of estrogen and progesterone greatly increases; then, in the first 24 hours after childbirth, the amount of these hormones rapidly drops to normal, nonpregnant level. This change in hormonal levels can lead to reactions that range from restlessness and irritability to feelings of sadness and hopelessness. I never thought that I would have postpartum depression. After two years of trying to conceive and several attempts at in-vitro fertilization, I thought I would be overjoyed when my daughter, Rowan Francis, was born in the spring of 2003. But instead I felt completely overwhelmed. This baby was a stranger to me. I didn’t know what to do with her. I didn’t feel at all joyful. I attributed feelings of doom to simple fatigue and figured that they would eventually go away. But they didn’t; in fact they got worse.
I couldn’t bear the sound of Rowan crying, and I dreaded the moments my husband would bring her to me. I wanted her to disappear. I wanted to disappear. At my lowest points, I thought of swallowing a bottle of pills or jumping out of the window of my apartment. I couldn’t believe it when my doctor told me that I was suffering from postartum depression and gave me a prescription for the antidepressant Paxil. I wasn’t thrilled to be taking drugs. In fact, I prematurely stopped taking them and had a relapse that almost led me to drive my car into a wall with Rowan in the back-seat. But the drugs and my weekly therapy sessions are what saved me–and my family. Since writing about my problem with the disease, I have been approached by many women who have told me their stories and thanked me for opening up about a topic that is often not discussed because of fear, shame or lack of support and information. Experts estimate that one in 10 women suffer, usually in silence, with this treatable disease. We are living in an era of so-called family values, yet because almost all of postnatal focus is on the baby, mothers are overlooked and left behind to endure what can be very dark times. And comments like those made by Mr Cruise are a disservice to mothers everywhere. To suggest that I was wronged to take drugs to deal with my depression, and that instead I should have taken vitamins and exercised shows an utter lack of understanding about postpatrum depression and childbirth in general. If anything good can come of Mr Cruise’s ridiculous rant, let’s hope that is gives much-needed attention to a serious disease. Perhaps now is the time to call on doctors, particularly obstetricians and paediatricians, to screen to postpatrum depression. After all, for the first three months after childbirth, you see a paediatrician at least three times. While paediatricians are trained to take care of children, it would make sense for them to talk to new mothers, ask questions and inform them of the symptoms and treatment should they show signs of postpatrum depression.
In a strange way it was comforting to me when my obstetrician told me my feelings of extreme despair and my suicidal thoughts were directly tied to a biochemical shift in my body. Once we admit that postpatrum is a serious medical condition, then the treatment becomes more available and socially acceptable. With the doctor’s care, I have since tapered off the medication, but without it, I wouldn’t have become the loving parent that I am today. So, there you have it. It’s not the history of psychiatry, but it is my history, personal and real.