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 Epinions.com 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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Duggars

Repost: “Why don’t you eat what you’ve got?”

Here’s a repost from June 12, 2012. I am sharing it because it makes a point about a much more recent situation that will be relevant to today’s fresh content.

I remember when I was a small child, my mom would fill up my plate at dinner time.  I’d eat a few bites and then want more.  My mom would look at me in disgust and say, in her most peevish tone of voice, “Why don’t you eat what you’ve got?”  Suitably chastened, I would then try to enjoy what I already had on my plate before accepting more.

Many years later, I look at super sized families like the Duggars, who are hellbent on having “blessing” after “blessing”.  To date, Michelle Duggar has had 19 pregnancies.  She’s had two sets of twins, fifteen single births, and two miscarriages.  She and her husband, JimBob, now have 19 living children, several of whom are now adults, but still sleeping in the same dormitory like bedroom as their toddler aged siblings. 

The Duggars, who once lived a very humble existence with all those kids living in a tiny house, now live in a large compound.  They have a reality television show that has allowed them to enjoy things that would have been well beyond their means had they never been discovered.  Oddly enough, the Duggars claim not to watch TV… and yet TV has afforded them a luxurious lifestyle.

The Duggars in the early days. They did not live in the Tinkertoy Mansion.

Since about 2004, this family has been on the airwaves and I have watched their ranks expand with each new pregnancy.  I’ve watched their clothing styles change from frumpy jumpers with lacy collars and polo shirts with khakis to name brand sportswear.  There are an astounding number of “blessings” in that household… and yet the Duggars still want more.

They claim that each child is a “gift” from God and they are happy to accept any “gift” God wants to send to them.  But I can’t help but think that with each new “gift”, they get the chance at another season on TV.  Last year, Michelle Duggar hoped to have her 20th “gift”, even though her 19th child was born very prematurely and has had some significant medical obstacles to overcome.  I think about the cost of that 19th child Michelle Duggar had in her 40s…  That child–Josie– no doubt generated huge medical bills.  A regular middle class couple with a child who had Josie’s medical problems, would no doubt have serious challenges taking care of that child’s needs. 

Yet the Duggar family had 18 healthy children before Josie… 18 kids who no doubt also generate expenses.  Yes, several of those kids are now legal adults who can help out, but they still live at home.  They are committed to the “family business”… JimBob’s side businesses and their TV show, which they have to keep on the air if they hope to maintain their lifestyle.   

The Duggars have become entertainers.  And they are presumably paid well to be entertainers.  Michelle Duggar’s hyperactive womb has turned them into stars just for existing and being conservative Christians. A lot of people admire them because they seem like such a nice, wholesome, loving family.  But here they are, whoring themselves on TV– a gadget they claim is too evil to use themselves– and Michelle is encouraged to risk her life to keep having “blessings” to prove to everyone just how special and blessed they are as a family.  To me, it just looks an awful lot like greed and foolishness.

I tell you what.  I cringe when I hear that family talk about how every child is a blessing from God and that each child is proof of God’s favor.  What about the many men and women who are infertile?  Does God not love them too?  I don’t have kids.  I always wanted them, but I fell in love with a man who had a vasectomy with his first wife.  A vasectomy reversal has not been effective in making us fertile… and rather than spend thousands on medical or legal remedies in order for us to become parents, we opted to stay childless.  Does that mean that God doesn’t love us?

I realize we’re pretty lucky.  The desire to have children together was not that strong for us.  There are a lot of couples out there who don’t have kids and go to great lengths to have them.  They endure expensive, painful, and invasive medical treatments or they set aside their privacy to allow social workers and lawyers to allow them to adopt.  And sometimes, those great lengths they go to aren’t enough and they end up with nothing to show for their efforts.

I look at the Duggar family and others like them and I hear my mom chastising me.  “Why don’t you eat what you’ve got?”  I want to ask Mrs. Duggar why what she has isn’t enough.  She has beautiful children, most of whom are completely normal and healthy.  It looks like even her 19th child, Josie, will overcome many of her medical challenges.  Why isn’t that enough?  What good is being a mother when your oldest daughters have to assist you in raising your children?  What good is being a mother when you can’t even tell reporters what your children’s favorite colors are or what subjects they enjoy in school?  Why can’t the Duggar family enjoy what they already share and so many people would love to have?

Just a thought that popped into my head this Sunday morning…

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careers, rants, religion, sexism

Repost: According to a Christian blogger, women are destroying the medical profession…

I just got a wild hair up my ass and decided to repost a couple of blog entries I wrote about Lori Alexander, otherwise known as The Transformed Wife. I am reposting them because sometimes it’s handy to be able to link to old posts from my original blog, particularly where Lori Alexander is concerned. This first one was originally posted May 14, 2018. It made quite a stir three years ago.

First thing’s first.  I need to state upfront that I don’t regularly follow The Transformed Wife, which is a blog written by a Christian woman named Lori Alexander.  I had never heard of this blog until I started following the Duggar Family News group on Facebook.  I did see a recent post by The Transformed Wife where I felt compelled to leave a comment, only because she’d misspelled “censorship” in her title and it was making me twitchy (sorry).  But no, I don’t regularly read her blog because I’m pretty far from being a devout Christian.  Sometimes people share her more ridiculous posts, though, and that’s usually when I take notice.

2013 seems to have been the year to be talking about female physicians…

This morning, someone shared Lori’s thoughts on women doctors.  She writes, “women are destroying the medical profession.”  To back up her claim, she cites a five year old opinion piece done by the U.K.’s Telegraph.  That piece is about female doctors who only work part-time because they are raising families.  It’s apparently causing a problem in countries around the world because part-time doctors lead to a shortage.  The opinion piece, written by Max Pemberton, is actually pretty sensible.  He writes:

…attempts to raise these issues are routinely met with accusations of sexism. But it’s not sexist to acknowledge that women, more than men, often appear to place family life ahead of their career. Nor is it a bad thing that women want to focus on having and bringing up their children, and caring for a partner. Underlying this is a larger debate about the 24/7 working environment and lack of affordable child care that leaves so many women torn between a career and a family. This is where the real sexism lies. But until there is a shift in the way that domestic responsibilities are shared, we need to accept that most women want to work part time so they can combine a career with family life – and, in medicine at least, start preparing for it becoming the norm.

But then Lori Alexander writes:  

Men were created to be the supporters of families and women were not. Women are taking men’s positions in medical schools that should belong to men.

Hmmm… very interesting indeed.  I happen to know a couple of women doctors who are raising families.  One is a very successful trauma surgeon.  Her husband is an Episcopalian vicar and takes excellent care of their two kids while his wife works to save lives.  The other just recently had her sixth baby.  And yet, according to Lori Alexander, these women are absolutely wrong to pursue careers in medicine.  Alexander reminds readers…

Men can be doctors but they can’t be mothers. Only mothers can be mothers and NO ONE can replace a mother in a child’s life.

What exactly makes someone a mother, anyway?  Is it the simple act of giving birth?  Because if that’s the case, adoptive mothers are apparently worthless, according to Alexander.  Is it simply being female?  Are women inherently more nurturing than men are, simply because they have female parts?  What about fathers?  Can they be replaced?  Actually, Alexander would probably say fathers can’t be replaced, but apparently they aren’t as important as mothers are.  Why is that?  Is it because they aren’t nurturing?  I would challenge anyone who has ever met my husband, Bill, to compare his nurturing instincts to mine.  (ha ha ha)  But then, I know that Bill is a pretty rare individual, especially for a military veteran.  He’s unusually nurturing and kind.  He’d probably be a better mother than I would, though.  Or, at least he’d probably be more like the type of mother idealized by folks like Lori Alexander.

Lori continues with the following thoughts…

No long-term good comes out of women leaving their homes. Nothing. Satan convinced women to spend years and a lot of money getting a higher education and then a degree. When they finally have children, they still have their God-given instinct to care for their children, thus they are in conflict with what they were convinced about concerning their career and being with their children. Their children are the ones who suffer and society is suffering too.

Oh… so it’s the fault of women that society is suffering?  That sounds pretty familiar.  Women get blamed for all kinds of shit.  That’s been going on since the dawn of time.  But then Lori ends with a quote from Proverbs:

She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.  Proverbs 31:27

I wonder what she’d think of an overeducated housewife with no children whose housework skills are lacking…

In fairness to Lori Alexander, I don’t know her at all.  I have no idea what shaped her opinions about woman in the workplace, other than her obvious love for the Bible.  My guess is that she’s actually against women who work, not just women who choose to be doctors.  Somehow, her blog has attracted a lot of attention.  This particular post has been shared well over 1500 times.  Maybe I should start writing really badly written provocative stuff that causes outrage.  And… to be honest, I don’t necessarily disagree that children in the United States need more exposure to their mothers.  Actually, I’d argue that they need more exposure to BOTH parents.  

What I like about Europe is that the powers-that-be have recognized that young children need their mothers and fathers, so employers here allow them to take time off from their work to take care of their kids.  That time off is paid, and they do have jobs to go back to when their time off is finished.  But this generous leave has nothing to do with religion.  Instead, it’s a simple product of common sense.

Europe, in general, is also a bit less work happy than the United States is.  In the United States, there’s this idea that one must constantly be working in order to keep their jobs.  Plenty of folks who are lucky enough to have jobs with benefits, to include paid vacation time, are pressured not to take any leave.  Those who dare to enjoy their lives off the clock are often considered unproductive and poor performers.  They don’t tend to climb the ladder of success the way their more driven colleagues do.    

In Germany, workers get more time off and shorter work weeks, yet the German economy remains very strong and the people, by and large, seem to be a lot happier.  I think Germans tend to work smarter, too.  They focus is less on how long a person works and more on the quality of their work.  I would imagine that having time to rest allows them to work smarter.  It’s probably better for their overall health, too, including their mental health.

Let’s face it.  Living in the United States is very expensive.  A lot of families need both parents to work just to be able to pay their basic bills.  The need to work makes it harder to focus on the family. And yet, we keep voting in Republicans, who are in bed with Christians, yet seem hellbent on making money and ruining any family friendly programs that might make it more possible for one parent (not necessarily the mother) to stay home and take care of their kids.  The United States is not a community friendly country.  Many people are focused on their own needs and things that only benefit them personally, rather than society as a whole.

But… in fairness to my countrymen, I can understand where this attitude comes from.  And now that I don’t live in the United States, I can also see where people like my Italian friend, Vittorio, see the United States as a “weirdorama” country.  We have all these God fearing people who don’t seem to love their fellow man very much at all… unless, of course, their fellow man lives in a way that they claim is Biblical.  It doesn’t seem logical to me.

Anyway, allow me to go on record as saying that I think it’s great that women are following their career dreams.  I also think it’s a good thing that so many of those women are focusing on their own fulfillment.  Perhaps that means they have fewer children or none at all.  But, as Alexander points out in the comments section of her post, women doctors are here to stay.  Women will keep going to medical school.  So… I guess in her opinion, the medical profession is on its way to being well and truly fucked.  She’s entitled to her opinion.  I’m not sorry she wrote her post, even if I disagree with her.  She gave me some food for thought.

I guess we’re in the end times…

I think I need an aspirin now.       

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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.

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