book reviews, celebrities, healthcare, mental health

Repost: My review of Brooke Shields’ Down Came the Rain…

One last repost before I hang up my blogging efforts for the day. This is a book review I wrote for in October 2006. I am posting it as/is.

Having come of age in the 1980s, I have always been very familiar with Brooke Shields’ work as an actress. Brooke Shields has always appeared to be a woman who has it all… looks, brains, money, a successful and apparently fulfilling career, and at last, just a few years ago, she seemed to have found love in her second husband, Chris Henchy. The one thing that was missing was a baby.

Shields was having trouble getting pregnant. She had once had cervical surgery to remove precancerous cells and the surgery had left her cervix shortened and scarred. As a result, in order to have a child of their own, Shields and her husband had to undergo in vitro fertilization. Shields got pregnant, but suffered a miscarriage that was so emotionally painful that she almost decided to give up on her dream of being a mother.

But Brooke Shields found that she couldn’t forget about having a baby. She underwent IVF again and got pregnant, and this time it stuck. Nine months later in May 2003, Brooke Shields and her husband, Chris Henchy, became the proud parents of Rowan Francis. And then, Brooke Shields found herself holding a ticket into the hell of postpartum depression. That hell is what prompted her to write her 2004 book, Down Came The Rain: My Journey Through Postpartum Depression.

I read this book partly because my husband, Bill, and I have been trying to have a baby. Like Brooke Shields and her husband, we have some issues that may prevent us from conceiving naturally. I also have a strong biological history of major depression, so I may be at risk of postpartum depression if I do have a baby. Also, I found this book used and dirt cheap at Fort Belvoir’s thrift shop. I doubt I would have thought to buy this book at its full price or even borrow it at a library, but I am glad I read it. It turns out Brooke Shields is a pretty good writer and her topic is both timely and relevant to a lot of new parents.

Down Came The Rain is not an autobiography of Brooke Shields’ life, although it does include some information about her family. The information is personal, but it also has something to do with Shields’ state of mind and stress level as she embarked on her quest to become a mother. First off, Shields and her first husband, Andre Agassi, were divorced after two years of marriage. Shields doesn’t write much about their time together, except to explain that they had both wanted children, but the opportunity had never presented itself. Not long after the split with Agassi, Shields met and subsequently married Chris Henchy. Then, Shields’ father became very ill with prostate cancer. He died just three weeks before Rowan Francis was born. All the while, Shields was also dealing with insecurity about her future in show business. She had taken time off for her pregnancy and Rowan’s birth.  

Divorce, remarriage, fertility issues, childbirth, career issues, and the loss of a parent are all extremely stressful events on their own. With all of those issues combined together, it must have been almost impossible for Brooke Shields to function. Shields also had serious medical trouble during the birth of her daughter. The child had to be delivered by Cesarean section; the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. Shields’ uterus had herniated and she almost had to have a hysterectomy. Somehow, Shields and her baby survived the birthing process intact. Shields was left to recover from major surgery as she became acquainted with her baby daughter and the huge role of being a parent.

To be sure, I could empathize a bit with Brooke Shields. She’s a human being and certainly not immune to human problems like postpartum depression. Shields initially didn’t want to go on Paxil, the antidepressant that helped her get through her ordeal with postpartum depression. She didn’t like the connotations that she needed a drug to help her with her moods. I can identify with that sentiment. When I had depression, I didn’t want to take a drug to feel better, either. I liked to think I could will myself to feel normal. Once I found the right antidepressant, it became enormously clear to me that clinical depression is a very real biological problem that affects the whole body. Brooke Shields also came to that conclusion. She started to feel better and was able to function with the help of antidepressants. Like me, she became a believer in the drugs’ efficacy, despite her very famous public feud with Tom Cruise about their usefulness.  

I applaud Brooke Shields for writing this book about her very personal and painful experiences with the hell of depression and her success using antidepressants. I think it’s always helpful when people talk about personal experiences with mental illness because it helps reduce the lingering stigma. I also like the fact that Shields apparently no longer feels ashamed of her use of antidepressants. Too many people don’t seek medical help for depression because they fear becoming “hooked on happy pills”. As someone who has experienced depression and has taken antidepressants, I can affirm that the pills never made me feel “happy”. Indeed, they made me feel normal, which was a huge improvement over feeling hopeless and suicidal. 

On the other hand, as I was reading Down Came The Rain, it was very clear to me that Brooke Shields has advantages that most women don’t have. For one thing, she hired a baby nurse to help her as she was getting over her postpartum depression. Although Shields makes it clear that the nurse was temporary and she had no intention of handing over the job of raising Rowan to hired help, most women don’t have the financial resources to hire baby nurses when they suffer from postpartum depression. In fact, far too many women can’t even afford to take the antidepressants that Shields took as she suffered with postpartum depression. And it also occurred to me that some who read this book may even feel somewhat bitter about the fact that Shields was able to afford several rounds of IVF, too. That’s a procedure that is well beyond the budgets of many Americans.  

Clearly, with her financial resources, Brooke Shields can afford solutions that are well above the grasp of many women. I don’t mean to imply that Brooke Shields wasn’t right to use whatever means necessary to get past her postpartum depression; I just think that some women might resent the fact that they don’t have access to the resources that Shields does. Shields explains what she did to get over the depression, but she doesn’t offer solutions for ordinary women who can’t afford to hire baby nurses or seek out sophisticated medical help.  

Also, it’s important to know that Down Came The Rain is not the story of Brooke Shields’ life. This is strictly an account of her experiences with postpartum depression. She explains what the depression felt like, how it affected the people around her, and what she did to get over it, but that’s about it. If you’re looking for a whole lot of insight about Brooke Shields’ life outside of her experiences with postpartum depression, you might be left disappointed. There is no photo section, although there is a small picture of Brooke Shields and Rowan on the inside of the book cover.  

All in all, I think Down Came The Rain is a good personal account of the phenomenon of postpartum depression. And if after reading this book you’re left wanting to learn more about postpartum depression, Shields includes a reading list and addresses to reputable Web sites that offer information about the disorder. I think Brooke Shields has written a valuable book that will help a lot of people who are caught in the throes of postpartum depression, whether they be new mothers or the people who love them. What’s more, Shields’ story ultimately has a happy ending, since she has gone on to become a mother again. On April 18, 2006, Shields and Henchy became parents again to daughter, Grier Hammond… ironically, on the very same day, and in the same hospital, where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes had their baby girl, Suri.

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modern problems

Arizona Supreme Court justly rules divorced woman can’t use her frozen embryos…

Ruby Torres, 39, had always dreamt of being a mother. But in 2014, when she suffered an aggressive form of breast cancer, she was told that chemotherapy would eventually render her infertile. At that point, she knew the only way she would ever be able to get pregnant was by freezing her eggs and undergoing in-vitro fertilization.

John Terrell, Torres’ boyfriend at the time, initially declined to donate sperm, but eventually agreed. The couple signed a legal agreement stipulating that neither party would use the embryos to create a pregnancy without the express, written consent of both parties. Torres and Terrell married days after signing the agreement and immediately started IVF, resulting in seven viable embryos. But then they divorced in 2017, after just three years of marriage.

During the divorce proceedings, John Terrell asked the Maricopa County Superior Court to prevent Torres from having the embryos implanted. He stated that he no longer wanted to father children with Torres, and did not want to be financially responsible for children with her. The court initially sided with Terrell, and the embryos were ordered to be donated. Torres appealed, and the Arizona Court of Appeals sided with her, “ruling that Torres’ rights to have children prevailed over her ex-husband’s objections to becoming a parent.” Terrell did not accept that outcome and also appealed.

The couple continued to fight in court until a new law was made in 2018, allowing former spouses to use frozen embryos against their former partner’s wishes, but relieving the ex-spouse of parental responsibilities like paying child support. However, because this case predated the 2018 era law, the new law can’t be applied to Torres and Terrell. And they have finally reached the Arizona Supreme Court, which has sided with John Terrell and ruled that Ms. Torres does not have the right to use her frozen embryos after all. The embryos can now either be donated to another couple or destroyed.

Let me first state that I have empathy for Ruby Torres’ situation. Not knowing anything at all about the people involved in this case, I can definitely see how this would be a heartbreaking outcome for Ms. Torres. However, having been married to a man whose ex wife has “issues”, to say the very least, I can also see John Terrell’s side. If the situation were reversed, and Mr. Terrell wanted to implant the embryos into another woman, there would likely be much outrage among the masses. Moreover, there could be a very good reason why Terrell doesn’t want to father children with his ex wife. It may not be entirely about finances, either. Given that the two were only married for three years before they split, I wonder if maybe one, or even both of them, doesn’t have significant issues. I’m not saying they definitely do have issues— only that such a short marriage makes me wonder about the stability of one or both of them.

Ms. Torres has stated that she plans to remarry and would have her new husband adopt any children resulting from the embryos. She claims she would not have required any financial support from Mr. Terrell. However, making such a statement and actually adhering to it are two different things. Even if Ms. Torres is committed to having her new partner adopt any children resulting from the frozen embryos, when it comes down to it, the new partner also has to agree. Until he signs the dotted line accepting responsibility, it’s not a done deal. Not knowing any of the parties involved in this case, but having seen my husband’s ex wife promise things and then renege, I can see why Mr. Terrell didn’t want to take the risk. It sounds like their split was not amicable, which in and of itself could present serious problems.

A lot of people might wonder why Mr. Terrell would even care about what happened to the embryos if another man was willing to adopt any live children resulting from them. Personally, I can kind of see why Terrell wouldn’t want his ex raising his biological offspring. Think about this. At the very least, Mr. Terrell would have to live with the knowledge that some of his DNA resulted in a son or daughter who was being raised by an ex spouse with someone else. I think it would probably bother me to know that some other woman was raising any child of mine, with my DNA, against my wishes, whether or not I knew her. I don’t think I would ever be able to give up a child for adoption. Maybe Mr. Terrell feels the same way, or perhaps, for whatever reason, Terrell specifically doesn’t want his ex wife raising his child, even if he’s okay with strangers parenting his offspring. Since they had a legal agreement in writing, he has the right to withhold his permission for her to use the embryos his DNA helped make, regardless of the reason.

Again… I’ve actually seen my husband in this situation. He raised another man’s child for about ten years, then saw his own children raised by a different man. It was upsetting for Bill to be in that situation, so I can see why it might be problematic for Mr. Terrell. Add in the fact that Terrell hadn’t even wanted to donate sperm in the first place, and you could easily make the case that he never wanted to be a father– even one who is basically just a sperm donor. Since I don’t support forcing women to give birth; I also don’t support forcing men to father children.

Thinking about this situation reminds me of an 80s era episode of the classic sitcom, One Day At A Time. At the time, artificial insemination was a very new concept, so this episode was particularly groundbreaking when it aired in January 1981. An infertile couple, dying to have children but in need of a sperm donor, went to Pat Harrison’s character, Dwayne Schneider, for help. Schneider was almost talked into donating sperm, until he started talking enthusiastically about being involved in the child’s life. The infertile couple then made it clear that beyond donating sperm, Schneider would have no part in the child’s life. In fact, they said they hadn’t decided that they hadn’t decided if they would tell the child the circumstances of his or her birth (many years before home DNA tests, obviously). I remember very clearly what Schneider said in a very sorrowful tone of voice. It was, “I don’t think I can hack that.” Maybe that’s the case for Mr. Terrell, too. Or maybe he’s just a selfish, spiteful jerk, in which case, perhaps it’s better that he doesn’t pass along his genes. Not knowing anything about either party, it’s hard to tell where the truth lies in this case.

Schneider is asked to donate sperm to an infertile couple. In the end, he can’t hack it.

As it was pointed out to me last week when I was dismayed about the fifteen year old boy being evicted from his grandparents’ house after he was orphaned, there was a legal contract in this case. Legal contracts must be binding; otherwise, they do no good. It does seem crazy that another couple could birth and raise children resulting in a pregnancy created by the embryos made by Torres and Terrell. I’m sure it’s heartbreaking to think about it. But this is just one of the many issues that come up when people make babies in an unconventional way. It’s definitely a cautionary tale for those who sign legal contracts. Be sure to consider what could happen, worst case scenario, and make sure the language provides for those situations.

The funny thing is, I’m pretty sure the people who argued with me about the justification of enforcing the legal contract in the case of the teenaged boy would be squarely on Ms. Torres’ side in this case. Both people are pro-life, and Ms. Torres did have pro-life lobbyists at The Center for Arizona Policy working on her behalf to prevail in this case. But then, I tend to be more concerned about the welfare of people who have actually been born than embryos.

Anyway, I feel empathy for Ms. Torres, even though I think the Arizona Supreme Court ruled properly in this case. It’s too bad she didn’t also freeze some of her unfertilized eggs. I hope she’s able to find a way to move past this setback. At least her case has resulted in a new law, which may prevent this from happening in the future… in Arizona, anyway.

book reviews

A review of Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn’t Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift

Imagine being a woman struggling with infertility, and longing earnestly for a child. You spend thousands of dollars and many hours pursuing fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. You get pregnant, but before you have a chance to really rejoice in the news, you’re told the developing fetus in your womb is biologically not yours. A medical mistake was made, and you are pregnant with another couple’s baby. What do you do?

That is the horrifying scenario Carolyn Savage, and her husband, Sean, faced in 2009. The Savages had two sons who were much older than their toddler aged daughter, Mary Kate, and they wanted to give Mary Kate a sibling closer to her age. Carolyn Savage could not get pregnant without medical help. She and her husband turned to a fertility clinic, just as they had for their daughter’s birth. Their physician, who had performed a “miracle” the last time, sure enough, managed to get Carolyn pregnant. But a the doctor mistakenly implanted Shannon and Paul Morrell’s embryo into Carolyn’s womb. Shannon Morrell’s maiden name was Savage, and someone goofed up storage of the embryos.

The doctor who performed the IVF was extremely contrite. He also strongly encouraged Carolyn Savage to have an abortion. The Savages are devout Catholics and they are strongly opposed to abortion. Although they knew they would have to give up the baby once it was born, the Savages decided to continue the pregnancy. Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn’t Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift, published in 2011, is their story.

Most people who read this blog regularly probably know that I am pro choice. If I were in a situation like this one, I think I would probably opt to terminate the pregnancy. However, I don’t know for sure that I would. I have never been pregnant, and it’s possible that I might have a different opinion about what to do if I ever had been. Reading about this situation makes me glad that I never considered IVF. Not only wasn’t it affordable for us, but I also have personal objections to it. I certainly don’t mind it for other people, but it’s definitely not for me.

As I read the Savages’ story, I couldn’t help but feel admiration for them, particularly Carolyn, who endured everything that comes with being pregnant, along with the knowledge that once the baby was born, she would have to say goodbye. I respect that the Savages were committed to their pro life views, even though it would mean a substantial loss to them personally. Not only did Carolyn have to deal with the discomforts and inconveniences of pregnancy, knowing it was her last chance to be pregnant, but she also makes it clear that she didn’t think the Morrells were very sensitive about the situation she and Sean were in. If it really happened the way she describes it, I would agree with her that she showed remarkable restraint in dealing with the other couple, particularly Shannon Morrell, who complained about what her friends and family would think when she showed up with a baby after not having been pregnant. The Morrells were evidently more concerned about their image than the fact that this stranger was giving them the gift of a child. Of course, at this point, I haven’t read the Morells’ side of the story.

The Savages still wanted another child, so they contacted a surrogate while Carolyn was visibly pregnant. It was interesting to read about how the surrogate mother reacted to the predicament in which the Savages found themselves. Also, they had to explain to their children that the baby boy Carolyn was carrying would have to go to another family. The Morrells already had twin girls, and baby Logan would join them on September 25, 2009.

The Morrells also wrote a book about this catastrophe. I’m not sure I’ll read it, because the reviews make it sound like I would probably get pissed off at them for being so insensitive to the Savages. On the other hand, Carolyn did write that the Morrells eventually showed them some consideration. Logan’s middle name is Savage, which is both Carolyn’s married name and Shannon’s maiden name. And the Morells did visit the Savages a few months after Logan was born. I’m not sure if they are still in contact, but I looked up the Savages and I see that they’ve since added several more children to their brood with the help of a surrogate. Word to the wise: do not click the Web site link on the Savage family’s Facebook page; it will take you to a porn site.

Carolyn and Sean Savage take turns writing passages in their own words. I appreciated that, since it presented their own unique, individual perspectives. I particularly liked that Sean Savage wrote about his side as the father. A lot of people would have focused only on Carolyn’s story as the person carrying the baby. I think Inconceivable is an interesting, well-written book. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in this subject, as well as those who are considering going the IVF route.

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