Expert Comments on Brooke Shields' Openness about PPD: ‘It’s Refreshing’

Model and actor Brooke Shields has long spoken about the stigmas surrounding postpartum depression (PPD), among other health issues impacting women, and the celebrity continued her advocacy at the 2024 PHM HealthFront conference last week.

It’s been roughly 20 years since Shields first publicly shared her experiences with PDD and unintentionally became a spokesperson for the condition, bringing much-needed awareness to an affliction that was rarely spoken about at that time.

According to MM+M, Shields took the stage at the annual HealthFront conference on April 10 to further speak about the impacts of PPD, including the shame she experienced after wanting to become a mother for so long and struggling with her mental health once she finally did.

Her overarching message was straightforward: She hopes her vulnerability and willingness to share can help other women do the same, ultimately leading them to be more empowered when it comes to seeking help.

What Is PPD?

PPD refers to when a new mother experiences depression during pregnancy or following the birth of the baby. It can impact roughly one in seven women, and it can severely affect women's ability to return to normal function as well as the mother’s relationship with the infant.

Symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Crying too much
  • Difficulty bonding with your baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Loss or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Overwhelming tiredness or loss of energy
  • Less interest and pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Fear that you're not a good mother

  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Reduced ability to think clearly, concentrate or make decisions
  • Restlessness
  • Severe anxiety and panic attacks
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide

“My experience with postpartum depression is something I rarely talk about,” therapist and clinical director at Alter Behavioral Health Neha Kumar, LMFT, tells Healthnews. “As much as I would love to shout about it from the rooftop of every labor and delivery ward in the greater United States and beyond, I don’t feel people are comfortable hearing about the struggles a woman endures after becoming a mother.”

That’s precisely why Kumar says Shields’ decision to speak openly and honestly about her own experiences is impactful, courageous, and necessary.

Kumar says the dominant discourse places more of a focus on the miracle of having a baby than it does the physical and emotional toll that doing so takes on a woman — but this isn’t reflective of most people’s experiences.

After having her first daughter, Kumar polled her friends and quickly realized that every single one had gone through some variation of the baby blues or PPD. But a culture that has dictated that the postpartum period should be one of utter bliss and boundless gratitude inevitably causes most women to feel hesitant to admit that it is often actually a time fraught with fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, exhaustion, and loss.

“It’s refreshing to see public figures like Brooke Shields discuss their experiences with PPD because it normalizes and, dare I say, destigmatizes the condition,” Kumar says. “The more we can normalize the difficulties women face during such a fragile time in their lives, the better we can support them in one of their most desperate times of need.”

Ageism and the beauty industry

In addition to PPD, Shields also spoke candidly about the toxic beauty standards women face, particularly as they age, noting the self-esteem issues girls and women experience due to never feeling good enough.

“Women are taught from a young age that they have a shelf-life – that once they reach a certain point in their lives, they will no longer be considered attractive, vibrant, or appealing,” Kumar tells Healthnews. “As it is, society expects women to fit into a very specific paradigm, and the emphasis placed on their outward appearance is extreme, unfair, and a tad ridiculous.”

Acknowledging her role in perpetuating conventional beauty standards during her time as a young model, Shields said her experiences over the years have shown her how harmful these societal expectations can be, and she’s committed to trying to make things better for girls and women.

“The fact that Brooke Shields, an actress and former model, has experience with ageism in the beauty industry is a testament to just how cruel and judgmental society has become,” Kumar says. “In an age where social media filters and plastic surgery have become increasingly popular, the pressure on women to look a certain way has only intensified.”

During the event, Shields also emphasized the need to celebrate diversity in the beauty industry and said it’s time to shift the focus from external beauty to internal well-being.

Hopefully, society will evolve to the point where a woman’s experience, maturity, and wisdom are valued as much as her external appearance.

Kumar

The 'mother wound'

In a separate conversation with Oprah Winfrey for Oprah Daily’s “The Life You Want” class, Shields recently spoke about how her daughters have helped her come to terms with her childhood wounds.

She spoke about the “mother wound” and specifically outlined how her mother’s relationship with money and material things influenced her own attitude towards spending, leading to her own daughters recognizing her tendency to buy expensive items and never wear them.

According to Kumar, the “mother wound” is an attachment injury that a child sustains early in life that leaves them feeling abandoned, unworthy, and unlovable.

When an individual internalizes these feelings at a young age, they grow up having a skewed perception of both themselves and the world around them, she says. Adults who have sustained “mother wounds” are often self-loathing, distrustful of others, and have insecure attachment styles, making it difficult for them to establish and maintain meaningful relationships with others.

Shields has previously spoken about her complicated relationship with her mother — who was also her manager — divulging that it was filled with an inappropriate level of control and ownership.

“In divulging details about her complicated relationship with her mother, Brooke Shields provided an example of how one’s childhood experiences and attachment injuries can shape their perceptions and behaviors well into adulthood,” Kumar says. “In sharing her story, Shields sheds light on the importance of recognizing the long-lasting impact of childhood injuries on one’s mental health and utilizing therapy to heal and stop the cycle of intergenerational trauma.”

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