In a new Vanity Fair cover story, singer Adele discusses fame and also opens up about her struggles with postpartum depression, a disorder that strikes hundreds of thousands of women each year.
“I was obsessed with my child. I felt very inadequate; I felt like I’d made the worst decision of my life,” the star said of the birth of her son, Angelo, now 4.
Born Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, the 28-year-old has won 10 Grammys as well as an Oscar for the title song from the James Bond film “Skyfall.”
“You can’t talk about the downside of fame, because people have hope, and they cling to the hope of what it would be like to be famous, to be adored, to be able to create and do nice things,” she told Vanity Fair.
The singer and Angelo’s dad, Simon Konecki, her boyfriend of the past five years, also co-parent his daughter from a previous marriage.
Inadequacy following birth
“My knowledge of postpartum — or post-natal, as we call it in England — is that you don’t want to be with your child,” Adele tells Vanity Fair. “You’re worried you might hurt your child; you’re worried you weren’t doing a good job.”
According to the magazine, she struggled with these feelings of inadequacy for a time after giving birth to Angelo.
“I had really bad postpartum depression after I had my son, and it frightened me,” she said. “I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I was very reluctant.”
Though Konecki suggested she confide in other women, Adele initially refused. Still, she found herself “gravitating towards pregnant women and other women with children, because I found they’re a bit more patient.”
She did not take antidepressants for her condition, instead finding help by talking about her feelings with other women. “Four of my friends felt the same way I did, and everyone was too embarrassed to talk about it.”
“Eventually, I just said, I’m going to give myself an afternoon a week, just to do whatever the f**k I want without my baby,” Adele said. Though questioned by her friends, she did it anyway.
“They thought everyone would think they were a bad mom, and it’s not the case. It makes you a better mom if you give yourself a better time.”
Adele also acknowledges that she’s “very available to depression” and can slip in and out of the dark mood quite easily.
“The music I’ve always been drawn to is sad. I’ve always been pretty melancholy. Obviously not as much in my real life as the songs are, but I have a very dark side,” she told Vanity Fair. “It started when my granddad died, when I was about 10, and while I never had a suicidal thought, I have been in therapy, lots.
“One day I said to a friend, ‘I f**kin’ hate this,’ and she just burst into tears and said, ‘I f**kin’ hate this, too.’ And it was done. It lifted,” Adele said, adding that she hasn’t felt so poorly since she “snapped out of” her postpartum depression.
Perinatal depression and anxiety disorder
Among professionals, the term for Adele’s experience is “perinatal mood disorder” or “perinatal depression and anxiety disorders.”
“Perinatal” means “during pregnancy,” explained Susan Feingold, a Chicago-based psychologist who specializes in postpartum depression and women’s issues. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 800,000 to 950,000 women experience perinatal depression and anxiety disorder each year: about one in seven mothers.
Not all women feel depressed, and for some patients, the condition begins during pregnancy, not after birth.
“It presents as a very anxious depression, and some women don’t get depressed, so they don’t get red-flagged as having the problem,” said Feingold, author of “Happy Endings, New Beginnings,” a book about the topic.
Experts are quick to point out that perinatal mood disorders are different from “baby blues.”
“Eighty percent of all women have the baby blues,” said Ann Smith, president of Postpartum Support International, a nonprofit that connects women with those who can help.
The birth of a baby, Smith explained, is a very emotional time, and a mother may feel up and down, with “completely unstable” emotions. This can go on for the first two weeks after birth. But the definition of it is that “it goes away,” she said.
Unlike the baby blues, a perinatal depression and anxiety disorder “not only doesn’t go away, it probably gets worse,” Smith said, adding that the mom begins to “really have trouble getting from day to day.”
Symptoms can fall into four clusters, or subtypes, according to Feingold. One subtype is depression, which includes the loss of joy, and “life feels flat and gray and dark,” she said. Another subtype is anxiety and symptoms including irritability and anger. A third involves panic attacks, which may include difficulty breathing and feeling disconnected.
The fourth subtype is obsessive-compulsive disorder, which comes with horrible thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere, according to Feingold. In some cases, a mother might imagine she is going to stab her baby. Suffering mothers might have such sudden thoughts and then feel very distressed.
“It’s a good sign they’re distressed,” she said, adding that this distress means they are not suffering from postpartum psychosis, a different and very rare condition.
Still, the mother who develops obsessive-compulsive disorder may distance herself from her baby to protect the child.
“They think they’re going crazy,” Feingold said, adding that women are also afraid that if they talk to someone about it, their baby might be taken away. “It’s a very secretive piece, and it can go along with depression and anxiety, but it’s not so uncommon.”
Origins and treatment
According to Smith, the cause of perinatal mood disorders is believed to be “something to do with the upheaval of hormones that take place during pregnancy and immediately after birth that throw off the neurotransmitters in the brain.”
Yet, there’s hopeful news, Smith said: “Everybody can get better. … This is not a death sentence or life sentence to mental illness or feeling terrible.”
According to Feingold, the “sooner you’re treated, the better.” She compared it to a bad virus that needs to be taken care of right away.
“I set up an individual plan for each woman,” Feingold said. The plan usually includes individual therapy, support groups and sometimes medication. Often, family support is needed as well.
According to the American Psychological Association, postpartum depression can strike any woman, whether she is a first-time mother or the mom of three, whether she is married or not, no matter her race, religion, ethnicity, income or age.
Even superstars like Adele, who is not only feeling better, she’s hopeful for the future.
“You’re constantly trying to make up for stuff when you’re a mom,” she told Vanity Fair. “I don’t mind, because of the love I feel for him. … I don’t care if I don’t ever get to do anything for myself again.”