Many fans know Andrea Barber as Kimmy Gibbler — the perky and upbeat next-door neighbor on “Full House” and its reboot, “Fuller House.”
After Barber's real-life pregnancy, however, the actress struggled. In her upcoming memoir, “Full Circle: From Hollywood to Real Life and Back,” she talks about the two decades she took off between filming the two sitcoms and her off-screen challenges.
“I actually did a lot during those 20 years, including going through some pretty significant mental health struggles with my postpartum anxiety and depression,” she told TODAY Parents.
Barber, who is a mother to two kids, Felicity, 12, and Tate, 15, writes candidly in the memoir about how she dealt with anxiety from the time she was a child, often vomiting on the set of “Full House” before filming scenes. However, when she got pregnant with her children, postpartum depression wasn’t top of mind for the actress.
“It never even crossed my mind. Postpartum depression wasn't really talked about a whole lot back then. I didn't know of anyone else who had gone through it. I eventually came across Brooke Shields’ book on postpartum depression which helped me tremendously. She's really the only person I knew at the time.”
Barber didn’t recognize the signs of PPD right away, as she didn’t experience it after the birth of her first child. She mistook the symptoms for general and seasonal anxiety, thinking it was nerves of having a newborn. It wasn’t until she was debilitated that she knew this was different than her anxiety with her firstborn.
“I knew something was significantly wrong because it started spiraling. It started with throwing up every day and not being able to sleep at night," she said. "Then I stopped eating except for maybe a banana a day and I lost a significant amount of weight. I eventually couldn't get out of bed for several weeks and I couldn't take care of my babies, which was another huge problem. That's when I knew it was really bad.”
She contacted her general physician and he prescribed her with anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication. The new mom was still breastfeeding and unsure of whether she could take the meds while nursing and called her daughter’s pediatrician for follow-up questions.
“She was the first person that really said, ‘I think you're experiencing postpartum depression. As much as I advocate for breastfeeding, your health as the mother is more important than breastfeeding. You need to you need to do what's right for you.’ And that's kind of when it clicked in my head that this is a problem that's bigger than me. I can't just shove it under the rug. It's going to affect my children as much or even more than it is affecting me. I needed to seek help. And I did.”
At the time, Barber had a newborn, a toddler, and her husband was in a brand new job at a law firm, stressed out and consumed with billable hours.
'Fuller House' star Andrea Barber on her years of playing Kimmy GibblerNov. 28, 201805:26
“My parents just took me under their wing. I called them one day at 5 in the morning and said, 'I can't stop the world from spinning, I can't get up out of bed and I don't know what to do.' They moved me, my children and my husband into their home so that they could take care of me and the children. Slowly, with that support system, plus the medication, plus finding a therapist who I really jived with, all of these things are what brought me back to optimal health so I could function again.”
In the beginning of her battle, Barber coped by keeping it a secret.
“I didn't want to talk about it. My friends noticed I kind of fell off the face of the planet and were like, ‘Are you OK? What's wrong? Why are you so silent?’”
She made excuses until she took to Facebook one day to address what she had been going through.
“Once I started talking about it, I felt this enormous weight had been lifted from my chest and I no longer had to keep it a secret. It was just a part of me and the people that love me and are close to me accept it. They don’t judge, they’re just like, 'OK you're Andrea — you’re funny, you’re sensitive, and you have anxiety.’”
The 43-year-old emphasizes the importance of reaching out to a friend or loved one you suspect is experiencing PPD and asking how you can help, from making a call to her physician to bringing over a meal.
“I think as women, we have a really strong intuition and I think you have to trust that intuition and look out for each other. When you're in the throes of a deep depression, the last thing you want to do is reach out and ask for help and admit that there's something wrong.
“Give yourself grace and don't hate yourself," Barber would like other moms to know. "I spent so long feeling like there was something shameful and wrong with me. I wish I had gone easier on myself and said, ‘You know what, this is a season. It's a really, really tough season, and it will pass as long as you reach out for support and lean on that support and trust them when they say it will get better.’”