Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression by Brooke Shields.
Hyperion, New York, 2005.
Memoir, 226 pages.
Actress and model Brooke Shields writes a very personal story about her experiences with infertility, postpartum depression, and more.
This is not your typical celebrity memoir. The few references to famous people or media are because they are directly relevant to Shields’ life and her theme. The book actually does not start with postpartum depression. It starts with her long and difficult journey through infertility and miscarriage and her father’s death.
After chasing the dream of motherhood for so many years, Shields was originally loath to admit that anything was wrong, even as she was spiraling into darkness. She also doesn’t seem to have had the best support or encouragement from the medical team – some members were good but her birthing experience was scary and discouraging.
The process of taking her new baby home was even worse. Alone with the baby the most horrible things were flashing through her head, and she could not perform most tasks or even engage with her daughter. Her husband, exhausted and overwhelmed himself, had no idea what was wrong either and begged her to explain.
Every time I read this story it is moving. In particular I’m frequently surprised by how real and revealing it is. Celebrity memoirs are a bit like potato chips for me – a guilty but not necessarily good pleasure. Shields combines the best of both worlds, the interest of the celebrity memoir with the informative aspect of good nonfiction.
On the other hand, I can see how her writing style might not appeal to all. She does write in an engaging manner, but it’s almost conversational with occasional slips into a drier fact or statement based style. Nonfiction readers who are picky about their prose might find that her writing isn’t as engaging. For myself, it only convinced me even further that she wrote this herself.
There are a few mis-steps such as the papoose reference on page 52. However, as the majority of the book focuses on her journey, there isn’t much room for poor joking or other incorrect references. Her writing is strongest when she focuses on her own emotional journey.
Shields has received a great deal of criticism for this book. She talks very openly about her worst moments, including daydreams that her daughter would die, and people have acted like that makes her a horrible person, when it is very clear that she has a serious illness causing these thoughts. She’s also been criticized for taking medication (again, serious illness) and even just for speaking out about these issues.
Are there flaws? Some. Shields is a good writer, but she doesn’t give much thought to the emotional impact on the reader, so at points this book can wreak havoc on your feelings. Her ending is overly optimistic, and she operates from a place of privilege. Shields can afford every treatment, but even so, her getting that treatment was based on the happenstance that she knew one mom, just one in her wide network of friends, colleages, and acquaintances, who was aware of postpartum depression and pointed her towards a treatment.
That near miss is what encouraged her to come forward and speak out about her own experiences. Certainly, many mothers would struggle to finance just one of the helps Shields received (doula, psychiatrist, medicine), but before this book, there’s a good chance that they wouldn’t even be aware what was happening to them or that a treatment existed. Even today, mothers of color who struggle with postpartum disorder and other mental health issues are disproportionately affected – more likely to lose their children and less likely to receive appropriate mental health treatment.
Postpartum depression was on Oprah and all of the news channels because Brooke Shields put it there. She’s done many mothers and families an invaluable service in raising awareness, and her book is certainly informative and interesting. I’d recommend this to any adults (or even mature teens) who aren’t likely to be triggered by the subject matter or experiences she describes.