I am not a big celebrity person. I don’t follow celebs on Instagram, or read their tweets. This is especially true for models and other celebs who post glam shots of themselves. Yawn, seriously. So not my thing.
But Chrissy Teigen, supermodel, cookbook author, and internet personality who recently had a baby with her husband John Legend, has been the lone exception to this rule ever since she announced her pregnancy. You see, it was the very same week I announced mine.
Feeling a bit lonely, as one often does during early pregnancy, I began to follow her on social media, creating a sort of one-sided baby bump buddy with whom I could compare milestones. I texted my husband pictures of her lying on the couch with her shorts unbuckled just as mine (considerably larger in size to begin with, let’s be real) were getting too tight.
I laughed as she described her crazy cravings, her hunger and discomfort, because I related so hard. After six months of this deep and meaningful friendship on my end, we gave birth the same month and our babies grew at similar rates: eating food, sitting up, and getting more animated and lively by the minute. They even looked alike in the way that all small babies of a certain age do.
But it hasn’t all been fun for me and my secret best pregnancy bud. All through these long months, I’ve watched as she dealt with something I didn’t: an incredible amount of judgmental crap from the pregnancy police online. This regular onslaught reminded me of what others were likely thinking, but not saying, to me—proving that women’s bodies, especially pregnant ones, are still considered public property by too many people.
In some way, I felt like Teigen was taking all this crap for me, on my behalf, even though our choices and paths were often different. She got shamed for eating sugary cereal while pregnant. For talking about her IVF. For how she held her baby. For how she was planning to raise her. Over and over again, she was candid and raw and funny about the weirdness and excitement of gestating another human being. The pattern repeated: she shared something, got flooded by haters, and she clapped back in style and good humor, as a “proud shamer of mommy shamers.”
All this must have taken a toll. And yet she can’t help being herself, and being real: this week she’s chosen to extend her candor even further, with an essay in Glamour about her postpartum depression. It turns out she was experiencing something else I wasn’t, and now she’s come forward to write about it.
Her essay makes me forgive her for looking so svelte and happy postpartum, because she reminds us that there’s always more to a story than a staged Instagram post can ever capture.
“I had everything I needed to be happy. And yet, for much of the last year, I felt unhappy. What basically everyone around me—but me—knew up until December was this: I have postpartum depression. How can I feel this way when everything is so great? I’ve had a hard time coming to terms with that, and I hesitated to even talk about this, as everything becomes such a “thing.” During pregnancy, what I thought were casual comments about IVF turned into headlines about me choosing the sex of my daughter. And I can already envision what will be said about me after this admission. But it’s such a major part of my life and so, so many other women’s lives. It would feel wrong to write anything else.”
Teigen explains why it took her so long to realize she needed help–no one who had it had ever talked about it with her, and even until this year she thought it looked much worse than it felt when it manifested for her: as fatigue and pain.
“Before this, I had never, ever—in my whole entire life—had one person say to me: “I have postpartum depression.” Growing up in the nineties, I associated postpartum depression with Susan Smith [a woman now serving life in prison for killing her two sons; her lawyer argued that she suffered from a long history of depression], with people who didn’t like their babies or felt like they had to harm their children. I didn’t have anything remotely close to those feelings. I looked at Luna every day, amazed by her. So I didn’t think I had it.
I also just didn’t think it could happen to me. I have a great life. I have all the help I could need: John, my mother (who lives with us), a nanny. But postpartum does not discriminate. I couldn’t control it. And that’s part of the reason it took me so long to speak up: I felt selfish, icky, and weird saying aloud that I’m struggling. Sometimes I still do.”
More and more women are talking about their experiences with postpartum depression and anxiety, and yet it’s still a stigmatized condition because it makes sufferers feel like “bad moms,” and because society still expects women to have their shit together and be chipper all the time, even when dealing with unimaginable difficulty. Screw that. As Teigen wrote, “I wanted to write an open letter to friends and employers to explain why I had been so unhappy. The mental pain of knowing I let so many people down at once was worse than the physical pain.”
To be fully real, I wish that this weren’t the case—that women could be honest about the limitations that life hands us. It would be better if we could feel worse about, say, experiencing debilitating pain than we do about letting people down by being in pain.
But we’re not at that juncture yet, and it’s OK to admit it. By sharing her story, once again, Chrissy Teigen is taking one for moms in the goddamn patriarchy. And I’m grateful.