The following is a conversation between several members of the Warrior Mom Book Club after reading “Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression” by Brooke Shields, the latest in our book club’s maternal mental health-related reads. You can learn more about the book on Goodreads and purchase it on Amazon.
Welcome to the Warrior Mom Book Club review of the book Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression by Brooke Shields. We appreciate those who read along with the book club, and especially those who took the time to discuss this book.
CX: : In Chapter 1 “The Little Engine that Could,” Shields writes about her difficulties in conceiving and carrying a pregnancy. It has been said that fertility treatments and miscarriages can possibly increase your risk of experiencing a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder. Do you feel that any of your difficulties or ideals when trying to conceive or carry a pregnancy contributed to your postpartum depression?
SC: I was fortunate and did not have trouble conceiving but I did have some ideas that set me up for PPD. I thought that babies who cried a lot were crying because the parent was doing something wrong. That thought was so off and so hard to shake when my son cried.
CX: I did not have experience with this but after reading Brooke’s book and having friends experience this, I can absolutely see that those experiences can contribute to PPD.
SK: I thought that conceiving would be much easier than it was in reality. I didn’t have to go through fertility treatments but it took a bit longer than I expected. I feel the reality about trying to conceive is not really talked about and is not expressed well in modern media.
CC: For me, that was the complete opposite – I had infertility with my first, and had a wonderful postpartum. I conceived on the first month with number 2, no complications, dream delivery … and had PPD. I have worked with many new moms though that hide their illness if they struggled to have a baby out of guilt or fear of judgment.
CX: Do you feel that the media’s representation of conceiving makes it more difficult for a woman to share her struggles when undergoing fertility treatment?
SK: I didn’t experience this personally but I have friends who underwent IVF and I didn’t know until much later. They had a difficult time reconciling that they couldn’t conceive the “old fashioned way” and felt it almost made them less of a woman. I think if more people were aware of others’ struggles or if there were more support groups available then maybe these women wouldn’t have as much guilt.
CX: In the chapter titled “ Fasten Your Seatbelts” Shields describes her experience with childbirth and her cesarean section. On page 46 she says, “I had always imagined that birth would be the closest thing to grace I’d ever experience, yet in reality there was nothing graceful about it.” She also describes how she felt as though she had no bond with her daughter when she was born.
What role do you feel your childbirth experience played in bonding with your child? How do you feel doctors and nurses could better assist mothers in reconciling what they imagined childbirth would be and their actual experience?
SC: I felt sad for Brooke when she didn’t feel that she bonded with her daughter after birth. I do think doctors and midwives could help women understand that their idealized birthing scenario might not happen.
SK: Luckily labor and delivery went pretty well for me, I was able to bond fairly quickly with my son. Although I do recall watching other people interact with him and trying to mimic it, because I felt that maybe I wasn’t being “loving enough” with him. I do believe that childbirth is either idealized or made to sound like an absolute horrific process, which is hard to process as a first time mommy. I think doctors and nurses could try to ensure that babies get immediate time with mommy or daddy. Also any wishes of the parents for the baby to get immediate skin to skin contact try to be honored to the best of their ability.
CX: For 24 weeks, I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum and then ended up with pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy (an itchy rash) shortly thereafter. I had no ability to ask the right questions about the birthing experience due to being so ill for most of my pregnancy. My expectations weren’t exactly for a butterfly and rainbow birthing experience, but I did not expect nearly as many complications and difficulties as I had. When I did speak up about pain, concerns, crying, etc, it was often excused as baby blues and completely normal. The pain and onset of PPD was very early and this made bonding very difficult. I clearly remember thinking that she was not my child and was better off with someone else because I felt like she didn’t love me. If I had known that complications can happen and that bonding doesn’t always happen immediately it may have helped. I felt like my MD appointments were often rushed, education was the least of their concerns, it was mostly to do weigh-ins, urine analysis, and a quick check in. Those appointments are vital for education and assessment of pregnant moms.
CX: In the chapter titled, “Why am I Crying More Than my Baby?” Shields describes her emotions in the midst of her PPD without knowing that it was postpartum depression. She talks about trying to describe her emotions while also trying to convince herself that she wasn’t too bad off and maybe she could muscle through.
What would you have wanted someone to say to you to help you seek and accept help? Is there a way to better educate family and partners so that they will better be able to recognize signs of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders in new mothers?
SK: I think that PPD was discussed more at prenatal visits and maybe if mom’s and families were given a list of possible PMAD symptoms upon being discharged from the hospital it would be so helpful. I got a lot of info on what to expect physically and for the baby but very little about possible mental issues.
CC: I think partner involvement is so important. If obstetricians would recommend the partner being present at one of the late pregnancy appointments and plan to discuss maternal mental illness, that would be a great step. If pediatricians screened would also be helpful, as I was just told last week when I met with staff at a pediatric clinic that both partners are often present at the two week appointment.
CX: Throughout chapters 4 and 5, Shields discusses her difficulties with taking an antidepressant and ceasing her dosage after she begins to feel better. Soon after, she experienced a flood of emotions and, after contacting her doctor, she restarted medication.
For anyone who has been prescribed medications for PPD, have any of you stopped medication after starting to feel better? Were you told by your prescribing physician that even if you begin to start feeling better not to stop your medications, especially without consulting your physician? What type of advice were you given when prescribed medication?
CX: I was lucky enough that my MD was very clear about not stopping medication when I started to feel better. I did feel at several points in my recovery that I could stop taking the medication, that I was back in control of my life, but I did not. My MD did a wonderful job making a plan with me for coming off the medications slowly and assessing how I was doing at each step of the way.
SK: I never stopped my medication without first discussing it with my therapist, but the first time I tried to wean off of it it did not go well. I had to go up to my original dose and try again in a much slower gradual way.
CX: On page 141 Shields states, ”When my baby was only a week old, I knew something wasn’t right because of the severity of my emotions, but I never dreamed they were due to postpartum depression. She goes on to describe how she knew it just wasn’t baby blues anymore. Shields comes to a realization that she is no longer experiencing baby blues, and was now experiencing postpartum depression. For many of us, this conclusion came at different times and in different forms.
Can you describe when you first realized you were experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety, and not the “baby blues”? Did you come to this conclusion, or did a family member, friend or physician?
BB: I feel day three postpartum but my dad noticed a change the day my baby was born. Love this book!
SK: I realized it once my medication started to work. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, even after starting to see a therapist and going on medication. Once I began to feel like myself and realize what motherhood could really be (my son was 10months old at the time) I knew what I had experienced was not just baby blues. Also reading Postpartum Depression in Plain Mama English gave me a swift kick into the realization that what I was experiencing was not normal.
CX: I was sitting in a weekly mom’s group one evening and it just hit me. Those women loved their children and their significant others, even though we all were experiencing significant sleep deprivation, stressors at home and work, and new mom worries constantly. I on the other hand, hated my life and I regretted being a mom. I actually thought about giving my child to my parents and running away. I still remember the chair I was sitting in and the moment I broke down and realized I needed help. My daughter was 5.5 months old when this realization finally occurred.
We hope you’ve found our conversation helpful. Feel free to weigh in! Have you read this book? Could you relate to Brooke’s experiences? If you’d like to join us for the next book, you can find the Warrior Mom Book Club here and request to join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/warriormombc/