I'm a Tom Cruise fan. There. I admit it, even if it's a little unfashionable these days. I've enjoyed many of his movies, including War of the Worlds. And putting aside what I've read about some of his beliefs and past marriages, he seems like a nice, upstanding guy. That's why I take no pleasure in calling the man a poopy head.
Sure, it's a juvenile word, but the mega-superstar has lawyers, probably good ones. Besides, I don't want my children someday repeating the other words that went through my mind when Cruise made headlines last May and June by singling out Brooke Shields and declaring that women with postpartum depression shouldn't use prescription drugs. Instead, he proposed, they should exercise and take vitamins.
Cruise's comments hit home: My wife suffered severe postpartum depression after the arrival of our first baby, Isabelle. Had I possessed Tom Cruise's insight during that time, I can only imagine what the obituary writer would have come up with: Geoff Williams was torn apart by the nearest weapon Mrs. Williams could find -- her bare hands. She was pleased at first when her husband had said, "Honey, I notice you've been depressed, and I have the answer to your problems." But then, unfortunately for him, he paused and asked, "Care for a Flintstones?"
Susan -- who gave me her blessing to share this -- now takes an antidepressant, recommended by her therapist and prescribed by her doctor. But she didn't always.
For years, before Susan and I met and started a family, she lived with an undiagnosed condition often called generalized anxiety disorder. After Isabelle came into the picture, though, it was as if a tripwire had been sprung; over the course of a day, almost every negative emotion imaginable would spill out of her.
Susan would suddenly unleash withering glares and speak in these curt, clipped sentences to anyone nearby when her moods got the worst of her. Naturally, I was usually the target of her anger and frustration, but sometimes it was her mother, my parents, various friends and other family members, and occasionally, a few unsuspecting telemarketers. That was always kind of fun. I was a little sad when the national Do Not Call list was enacted.
Now, part of me can't believe I never considered postpartum depression as the culprit. But like all parents, we were sleep-deprived and consumed with our baby's health, not our own. And it's not as if Susan was never happy. Many times she was, and I knew that she loved Isabelle very much.
What I didn't know was that doubts about her self-worth as a mother plagued her, and on some dark days she had suicidal thoughts, reasoning that if she took herself out of the equation, perhaps I'd remarry and find a better mother for Isabelle. I was oblivious, too busy trying to stay out of Susan's line of fire, convincing myself that her temper and tension were probably normal for a new mother.
And yet there were tip-offs that something was seriously wrong. One afternoon, Susan brought 3-week-old Isabelle into my home office, practically in tears after an especially trying outing at a mall. She described changing a diaper in a rest room, and how Isabelle kept crying and wouldn't stop. Susan said that she had to fight off a terrible temptation to abandon her right there, knowing a sales clerk would be drawn to the crying child and care for her. I was appalled. When I sputtered out a reply, Susan was offended that I would think she would actually do such a thing. So we sort of forgot about the incident and went on with our unhappy lives.
Susan's mood did eventually lift, without medication. The dark days were farther apart, and at some point she seemed happy again. We even had our second child, Lorelei, and the depression that followed was less severe. But it still shadowed her, and one day, three months after Lorelei was born, I found a baseball-size hole in the front-hall closet door. When I asked Susan about it, she matter-of-factly explained that she was a little frustrated and had pretty much thrown our coatrack into the door. That's when I suggested she get counseling. To my astonishment, she readily agreed. She even seemed relieved.
I'm not a doctor -- my C-minus average in high-school chemistry attests to that. But from what I've seen in my own family, antidepressants can work wonders. My wife is still capable of feeling low, but she's also finally capable of seeing what an incredible mother she really is.
I know Cruise is entitled to express his opinion, but, wow, I wish he hadn't. While he may have a point that the country collectively is overmedicated, no man -- save perhaps some in the obstetrics profession -- is qualified to make a judgment call when it comes to relieving the pain of postpartum depression. After all, I'm pretty confident that Cruise will never experience the plunging post-childbirth levels of estrogen and progesterone which leave so many women susceptible to chemical imbalances that alter their mood, destroy their self-confidence, and steal away their happiness.
Thankfully, my wife was able to reclaim her confidence and sense of joy -- and that makes both of us happier than vitamins or exercise ever could.
Geoff Williams is a Babytalk contributing editor and freelance writer in Loveland, Ohio.