In her recent book, Rebecca Fox Starr gives a shoutout to Hayden Panettiere, who made headlines for speaking out about her experience with postpartum depression after giving birth to her daughter in 2015.
And while celebrities like Panettiere and Chrissy Teigen, who wrote a moving essay about her own struggle in 2017, coming forward about their battles does help illuminate a struggle many mothers deal with, it’s also regular women speaking out who will lessen the stigma.
Up to one in seven women experience postpartum depression, according to the American Psychological Association.
With her book Beyond the Baby Blues: Anxiety and Depression During and After Pregnancy, Starr candidly shares her struggles with anxiety and depression both during and after pregnancy — a topic not many talk openly about.
In the story — interlaced with clinical background and insights by psychologist Amy Wenzel as well as a heartwarming section with stories by five women who experienced similar struggles — Starr takes the reader through significant parts of her life, from dating her husband, getting married and having their children, Belle and Beau. There are funny, tender and heartbreaking moments that vividly illustrate her struggles.
She started a blog, Mommy, Ever After, when Belle was born to share her experiences.
“Motherhood was simultaneously the most beautiful, amazing thing and also really difficult,” she said. “I wanted to reach out and express that point of view because blogs were kind of new back then, and I didn’t see anything that was expressing that voice.”
She had the “baby blues” with Belle, a notion not uncommon among new moms, but with Beau three-and-a-half years later, she developed severe mental health issues, particularly during her pregnancy.
“Whereas I described my situation with Belle as being a lot more good than hard times,” she said, “with Beau … something just didn’t agree with me and I had more hard times than good times. … I just didn’t feel good about life anymore and that was so new to me, and I also didn’t really know to expect that because I hadn’t had it with my first pregnancy.”
She decided to blog about it and share what she was experiencing, which was scary, she noted.
“But I said, if I help one woman by sharing my story, then it’s worth it,” she said. “It’s worth all the labels I will wear the rest of my life. It’s worth all the people who attach a stigma to me and my name, because I can help.”
The growth of her blog — which boasts readers from all 50 states and 160 countries — ultimately led to a book deal, with one caveat: Her publisher wanted her to focus more on prenatal anxiety and depression and mental health struggles during pregnancy, which are much less known about and talked about.
When women are pregnant, Starr said, people can suddenly bombard the expectant mother with phrases like “Isn’t this the happiest time of your life?” or “Aren’t you so excited?”
“And when you don’t feel happy or excited or good, it is the worst feeling,” Starr said. “There’s nothing worse than people telling you you’re supposed to be happy … and yet you can’t feel it because you’re so anxious or sad or numb or angry or confused.”
Revisiting the dark periods of her life was not easy, but as she read it from the other side during the editing process, she was able to see how much she’s grown.
Underlying her story is the message of hope and finding the light.
“Despite the fact that some of those things were hard to revisit and I knew would be hard for my family, my parents, my husband, to have to read again, it was emotionally evocative for me,” she said, “but I’m in a different place now so I can say with more confidence than I thought I would be able to, that there is a hopeful story. It’s possible.”
The message of hope and new starts is one she’s found in Judaism as well. Her religion was able to help her find “that when times are really hard, I can get through it because of the faith I have in some higher power.”
The shehecheyanu prayer and emphasis on the new is an important one in her family, she added.
She hopes readers — who should not be limited to just women or moms, she noted — will be able to walk away with a sense of optimism and hope in hard times.
The success of her book, now in its second printing, has shown she is not alone — and others are not alone, either. It reached milestones on Amazon, where it quickly sold out upon its Jan. 8 release, in the postpartum and OB-GYN categories — even ahead of Brooke Shields’ book, Starr noted proudly.
As readers share pictures of the book on Instagram and her Mommy, Ever After community writes to tell her how much they’ve enjoyed it, Starr sees the book as a success in her mission.
“I did what I said in February 2014,” she said. “I helped one woman at the very least, so it’s all worth it.”