When actress Brooke Shields decided to have a baby with her husband, Chris Henchy, she never expected it to be a long and difficult process. Finally, after numerous fertility treatments she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. But instead of feeling happy, she was faced with a crippling depression. In her new book, "Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression," she details her struggle after the birth of her child and her eventual recovery. Read an excerpt.
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Once upon a time, there was a little girl who dreamed of being a mommy. She wanted, more than anything, to have a child and knew her dream would come true one day. She would sit for hours thinking up names to call her baby.
Eventually this little girl grew up. Though she’d met and married her Prince Charming, she was having trouble conceiving. She began to realize that her dream wasn’t going to come true without a great deal of medical help.
So she went on a long journey through the world of fertility treatments. When none of them worked, she got frustrated and depressed. She felt like a failure.
And then one day, finally, she became pregnant. She was thrilled beyond belief. She had a wonderful pregnancy and a perfect baby girl. At long last, her dream of being a mommy had come true. But instead of being relieved and happy, all she could do was cry.
The Little Engine That Could
After all of the time I’ve spent in the public eye, you might think that finding out I was going to have a miscarriage moments before stepping onstage wouldn’t shake me up, but it did....
December 2001. I’m standing in the wings of the Palace Theatre in Hollywood, California, for MuppetFest, which is a tribute to Jim Henson as well as a fund-raiser for Save the Children. I’m wearing a sleeveless black sequined dress and am in full hair and makeup. There is a great deal of excitement and energy in the air, and the audience, a full house, is having difficulty staying quiet. From where I’m standing, I can see lots of grown-ups and kids milling around their seats, eating popcorn and talking.
In order not to be seen by the audience before my cue, I have to move farther backstage, to where Mr. Snuffleupagus is also waiting for his entrance. However, because he is such an oversize creature, he is too big to make room for me. I end up having to wedge myself under his chin and between his front legs. Little bits of brown fur are flying everywhere, including up my nose. It takes all my effort not to sneeze.
It won’t be long before the stage will be filled with color and sound and lots and lots of fur. So here I am, wearing a pink feather boa and long purple gloves and a huge fake diamond ring that keeps getting caught on the boa. And though it’s not yet evident, I’m pregnant. But it’s not that simple. Yesterday, after some basic blood work, I was told that for some reason, something wasn’t right with the pregnancy, and additional testing was needed. I was reassured that it was a routine precaution. So, early this morning, before coming to the theater, I went back to the clinic to have more blood drawn. And while I was rehearsing, trying not to think about it, the technicians were analyzing my blood.
Now, while I’m waiting for my cue, my cell phone rings. The news is not good. My doctor says, “I’m sorry, but the pregnancy is no longer viable.” I start to get very warm, and a huge lump forms in my throat. My doctor delicately explains that it is “nature’s way” of saying the baby isn’t strong enough to survive, and it’s better to have it happen sooner rather than later. There is a pause, and then she carefully adds that I am going to have to wait for my body to naturally expel the pregnancy or reabsorb it.
“What!” I can hardly grasp what I am hearing, and my vision begins to narrow. Just then another call comes through. It’s my husband, Chris, wanting to know if I have heard any news. Almost mechanically, I relay the information. I want to throw the phone across the stage and run out sobbing, but I am surrounded by hairy creatures and can’t leave.
At this moment I need to go onstage, decked out in a crazy costume, complete with a pig nose, à la Miss Piggy. Did I mention I am pretending to be Miss Piggy and I’m singing a duet with Kermit the Frog? As I move away from Snuffy’s legs and look up at him, he is sympathetically blinking his huge eyelashes at me. The stage manager can tell that something is wrong as I wipe tears from my face, but he has no choice other than to cue the Muppet rock band to file onto the stage and then point at me for my entrance. As they say, the show must go on.
I had always wanted to have children, and like most people, I just assumed it would happen when the time was right. My parents were divorced when I was quite young, and my mom never remarried. I was an only child in my mother’s house, and I used to beg her to adopt a baby. I desperately wanted a brother or sister to play with and take care of. My mother never did adopt a child, but my father remarried. Because my stepmother already had two children from a previous marriage, I had instant siblings. Then, luckily for me, my dad and stepmother added three wonderful daughters to the family. As a result, I was able to maintain a privileged, only-child status with my mom while enjoying being part of a larger family with my dad.
Years have a way of flying by, and before I knew it, my four years of college were over. Since I had been working basically since I was eleven months old, I significantly cut back on the number of jobs I took while I was at school. It was a much needed break. I graduated with a degree in French literature and then went back to working full-time. After a few years of living on my own in Manhattan, I met, dated, and subsequently married my first husband, Andre Agassi. We were busy with our individual careers, and our schedules often conflicted. Though we both wanted to have children, the appropriate time never seemed to present itself. Even though a great deal of love existed between the two of us, over time our lives seemed to become polarized and after two years, our marriage ended. It was a sad but amicable parting, and it was a blessing there were no children involved.
The real blessing, however, was that I was able to meet and fall in love with Chris Henchy, a comedy writer. To this day I believe that I fell in love with Chris the day we met, in 1999, but I would never tell him that! I had just gotten an American bulldog, Darla, and I brought her to meet friends of mine in the gym on the Warner Bros. lot. While there, the dog wandered off, and Chris brought her back. He was writing for a show filmed on the lot and loved dogs. We chatted and he made me laugh. I left without even knowing his full name, but he made such a strong impression that I called up a friend and told her I had found a guy I thought she should go out with. She told me she had starting seeing someone else. Because I had recently gotten divorced, I wasn’t even considering dating. Three weeks later, I was hosting a show in Washington, D.C., for which Chris was the writer, and we started spending time together and became friends. I was struck by how thoughtful and funny he was. Because he knew my situation, there was no pressure, and we were just friends for quite some time. Finally, though, I had to admit that there was something between us that I could no longer ignore, and we started dating. Although we were each consumed by our individual jobs, he with writing and I with the last season of "Suddenly Susan," we were both also quite ready to start a family.
Chris and I dated for two years and then became engaged. I was so clear about wanting to have children with this man that I would’ve gladly adjusted our plans if it happened before we were married. Though we didn’t specifically try to have a baby, I chose to go off the pill. As the wedding approached, however, I wasn’t getting pregnant. It crossed our minds that there might be something wrong. Wanting everything to be in order before we got married, we decided to see a fertility specialist in Los Angeles named Dr. Joyce Vargyas. She performed several tests and an examination, determining that changes in my cervix were probably the reason I wasn’t getting pregnant. Several years before, I’d had cervical surgery to remove precancerous cells, resulting in scarring that caused my cervix to be tight and significantly shortened.
As a result, the entrance to my uterus had become severely impeded, making it very difficult for me to get pregnant. In the process of removing the precancerous cells, the surgery also removed the cervical glands that secrete the mucus necessary to transport the sperm. Without this bodily fluid, the “little spermies,” as one of the nurses affectionately called them, couldn’t swim upstream. I said, “No wonder it hasn’t been working—not only is the door closed, but the poor guys have been jumping into a pool with no water!” Dr. Vargyas reassured us that this was one of the easiest fertility issues to overcome, though she did mention the possibility of my cervix becoming incompetent during pregnancy and prematurely opening up. After hearing the word “incompetent,” I couldn’t help feeling like damaged goods. With a very serious expression, Chris said to my physician, “Please, Doctor, we don’t like to use the word ‘incompetent’ in our house. Could you just say she has a ‘special’ cervix, or that she is simply ‘cervically challenged’?”
Anxious to get started, we decided to try artificial insemination. In this procedure, which is done at the time of ovulation, the doctor inserts a catheter into the vagina, bypassing the scarred and narrowed tissue and putting the sperm directly into the uterus. Medically, it wasn’t any different from having sex—at least from the sperm and egg’s point of view (Chris begged to differ). After a couple of attempts, I still wasn’t “knocked up.” The doctor kept saying that it was the scarring on my cervix that was creating the difficulty and repeatedly making insemination unsuccessful. My eggs themselves, according to more ultrasounds, were looking very young and healthy. I was a fertile female. But it was suggested that even the thinnest catheter could not place the “stuff” where it needed to be. I tried to find comfort in the fact that at least my eggs were in good shape.
Soon Chris and I were given some additional surprising news. My doctor indicated that because of my age, I didn’t have the luxury of time. She tactfully said that my biological clock was ticking and that it not only took time to have children, but if we wanted more than one, we needed to think about a more aggressive approach. The next step should be an in vitro fertilization procedure.
“IVF?” I blurted out. “Isn’t that for older women? I’m only thirty-six. You said I was fertile and healthy!”
I admit, it was strange being informed that I was almost too old for something when I was in good shape and felt like a spring chicken. Undergoing IVF would mean enduring an involved and arduous series of procedures. It entailed drugs, shots, and surgery. This was quite upsetting to us, but it looked like we didn’t have a choice. Chris and I figured that if this was indeed the path we needed to take, then we would have to mentally and physically prepare for it. We spent a lot of time educating ourselves about the entire process.
At first I shared this news only with a friend who had gone through IVF herself and was currently pregnant. She was so positive about the whole thing that we were encouraged. Soon we told our parents that we were availing ourselves of modern medicine and that they would get a grandchild out of it. Meanwhile, Dr. Vargyas was convinced that we would have our baby in no time.
From "Down Came the Rain," by Brooke Shields. Copyright 2005. Reprinted by permission of Hyperion. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.