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Actress, Princeton Graduate Brooke Shields Talks on Depression

Candace Braun

Actress, former model, and 1987 Princeton graduate Brooke Shields came to town last week to discuss her book, Down Came the Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression.

Ms. Shields, 39, spoke to a standing-room only crowd of more than 400 at Barnes & Noble Princeton last Wednesday as part of her book tour.

The book, which shows a profile of the former model on the cover, describes her battle with depression following the birth two years ago of her daughter, Rowan Francis.

Confronting a condition that affects one in 10 mothers, Ms. Shields tells readers how the illness changed her life. She discusses her difficulties getting pregnant, the high expectations she had for herself as a new mom, and the role her friends and family (including her husband, writer and producer Chris Henchy) played in her life as she battled her illness. Time, talk therapy, and medication were what finally helped the actress win the battle, she said.

Ms. Shields told her audience that she decided not to have a ghost writer for her book. "I wanted to tell my story as honestly, openly, and nakedly as possible," she said, attributing her writing background to her education at Princeton University.

Facing difficulties with pregnancy, Ms. Shields said she had to have in-vitro-fertilization seven times and suffered a miscarriage before she was able to become pregnant.

"The anticipation was extreme," she said of her experiences prior to birth.

Once she gave birth to a healthy baby, the struggle wasn't over, however: "It was as if a black cloud had come over my head and wasn't leaving."

The actress said that she was unable to form a bond with her child, and her frustration soon turned to depression. She said she would have visions of her daughter dying, and other dark feelings she had never experienced before. With no prior history of depression in her family, she was unable to understand why she was having these thoughts.

"I was angry when I had to take medication," she said, adding that once she felt better she would cease to take the pills, thinking that it wasn't the medicine that was making her feel better.

After facing her fears and admitting she had a problem that needed to be addressed, she felt that writing her story would help her in the healing process. However, when she began to research the illness and tried to talk to other mothers who had gone through the same ordeal, many were closed-mouthed.

"Nobody wanted to admit that they didn't immediately bond with their child... I felt like a freak," she said. "I thought there was something wrong with me and I was the only one."

Having later discovered that many women have "suffered in silence," she said, she hoped that by writing a book she would be able to speak to those mothers and help them to cope with the issues that she herself has had to face: "I want women to know they're not alone. It feels terrible, but it can get better."

When asked if she plans to have more children, Ms. Shields said she would like to try: "I'm less afraid now than I was before."

Remembering A Star

Ms. Shields attended Dwight Englewood High School in Englewood, after which she attended Princeton University. It was there she met her college sweetheart, actor Dean Cain. Both belonged to the Cap and Gown eating club.

While at Princeton, Ms. Shields acted in several Triangle Club shows, including Star Spangled Banner in 1986.

Beginning her career at 14 as a model, Ms. Shields has eared five People's Choice Awards for her work, including one for her starring role in Suddenly Susan, which also earned her a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy. More recently she has had leads in Broadway shows such as Cabaret and Wonderful Town.

Following her talk, Ms. Shields said she would be continuing her book tour, after which she would be taking her daughter to Europe with her.

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