Chrissy Teigen, 31, is many things: a Sports Illustrated cover girl, a New York Times best-selling cookbook author, a host of the Emmy-nominated TV series Lip Sync Battle and the soon-to-be designer of a fashion line with Revolve. But she’s best known for what her husband, John Legend, calls her “smart mouth.” She opines on everything from politics to stretch marks, 140 characters a time on Twitter. And her commentary is often so “you took the words out of my mouth!” that all you have to do is hit RT and add the word “PREACH.”
What women love about Teigen is that she is, as she admits, “an open book.” She will show off a perfect seared duck breast—and tell you she accidentally sliced off her fingertip on a mandoline. Ask her about the wildest place she’s had sex? She’ll answer. (An airplane.) She approaches any topic with that same raw, real candor.
But there’s one thing she hasn’t shared yet: After giving birth to her daughter, Luna, last April, Teigen developed postpartum depression, a condition affecting one in nine women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In this exclusive essay for Glamour, she talks about her experience, why she kept it private, and how she’s doing now. And she is as raw and real as ever. Over to you, Chrissy.
. . .
When Glamour first told me I was going to be on the cover, I was freaking thrilled. Seriously. As a longtime reader, I couldn’t believe it. I’d always assumed that wearing swimsuits (or half a swimsuit) or having the occasional nip slip (or bit slip) wouldn’t make me the go-to choice for a women’s magazine I not only love but respect.
Yet here I am! Next they asked me to write an essay. I was super into it, but then cringed every time I opened my laptop. Topics? I quickly realized I have truly talked about everything possible. I guess that’s the dilemma one faces when they…well…can’t shut up. I’ve been a chronic oversharer since birth. So I decided I’d talk about something no one really knows about me, mainly because I just learned about it myself. What is it? I’ll get there.
Let me start here: To a lot of you, I think, I seem like the happiest person on the planet. I have an incredible husband—John and I have been together for over 10 years. He has seen my successes and failures; I’ve seen his. He has seen me at my worst, but I will say I don’t think I have ever seen him at his. He’s exactly as compassionate, patient, loving, and understanding as he seems. And I hate it. OK, I don’t hate it. But it can certainly drive you nuts sometimes when you’re as cynical as I am. If I weren’t me, I would politely excuse myself to make the most epic eye roll of all time if a woman talked to me about her significant other the way I just did to you.
When John and I got together, I found my love for cooking. On one of our earliest dates, I took him to Daniel (four dollar signs on Yelp, ahhh!). I drank a $40 margarita, ate salmon rillettes (fancy salmon spread), and prayed my card wouldn’t be declined. I couldn’t afford to take him out to more dinners like that, so I started cooking more and more at home for us. I started with my own version of that salmon spread, then roasted whole branzino, osso buco, chipotle BBQ chicken. When my first cookbook came out, I finally felt proud of my work. I feel that same pride in Lip Sync Battle, where I get to work with LL Cool J and watch Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan go head-to-head as Beyoncé and motherf-cking Paula Abdul. My job, essentially, is to have the best time humanly possible.
And a year ago, in April, John and I started our family together. We had our daughter, Luna, who is perfect. She is somehow exactly me, exactly John, and exactly herself. I adore her.
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. So here goes.
I had such a wonderful, energetic pregnancy. Luna sat inside me like a little cross-legged Buddha facing toward my back for nine months. I never saw her face in a sonogram, just her butt or the back of her feet. Every time we kinnnnd of saw a nose, she would quickly dodge, and I was left guessing again. John, my mom, and my sister were all in the delivery room. John was DJ-ing. Luna, fittingly, popped out to the song “Superfly.” The first lyric is “Darkest of night. With the moon shining bright.” I immediately put her on my chest. And she had a face! I was so happy. And exhausted.
After I had Luna, our home was under construction, so we lived in a rental home, then a hotel, and I blamed whatever stress or detachment or sadness I was feeling at that time on the fact that there were so many odd circumstances. I remember thinking: “Maybe I’ll feel better when we have a home.”
I went back to work on Lip Sync Battle in August, when Luna was four months. The show treated me incredibly well—they put a nursery in my dressing room and blew up photos of Luna and John and my family for my wall. When Luna was on set, they lowered the noise levels. They turned down the air so she wouldn’t be cold. Only the most gentle knocking on the door. Pump breaks. I mean, there was no better place to get to go back to work to.
But I was different than before. Getting out of bed to get to set on time was painful. My lower back throbbed; my shoulders—even my wrists—hurt. I didn’t have an appetite. I would go two days without a bite of food, and you know how big of a deal food is for me. One thing that really got me was just how short I was with people.
I would be in my dressing room, sitting in a robe, getting hair and makeup done, and a crew member would knock on the door and ask: “Chrissy, do you know the lyrics to this song?” And I would lose it. Or “Chrissy, do you like these cat ears, or these panda hands?” And I’d be like: “Whatever you want. I don’t care.” They would leave. My eyes would well up and I would burst into tears. My makeup artist would pat them dry and give me a few minutes.
I couldn’t figure out why I was so unhappy. I blamed it on being tired and possibly growing out of the role: “Maybe I’m just not a goofy person anymore. Maybe I’m just supposed to be a mom.”
When I wasn’t in the studio, I never left the house. I mean, never. Not even a tiptoe outside. I’d ask people who came inside why they were wet. Was it raining? How would I know—I had every shade closed. Most days were spent on the exact same spot on the couch and rarely would I muster up the energy to make it upstairs for bed. John would sleep on the couch with me, sometimes four nights in a row. I started keeping robes and comfy clothes in the pantry so I wouldn’t have to go upstairs when John went to work. There was a lot of spontaneous crying.
Anytime I was seen out, it was because I had already had work or a work event that day. Meaning I wouldn’t have to muster up the energy to take a shower, because it was already done. It became the same story every day: Unless I had work, John knew there was not a chance in hell we were going on a date, going to the store, going anywhere. I didn’t have the energy.
Before, when I entered a room I had a presence: head high, shoulders back, big smile. Suddenly I had become this person whose shoulders would cower underneath her chin. I would keep my hands on my belly and try to make myself as small as possible.
During that time my bones hurt to the core. I had to go to the hospital; the back pain was so overwhelming. I felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy: These kids were around me, asking questions. Maybe it was a kidney infection? No one could figure it out. I saw rheumatoid doctors for the wrist pain; we thought it might be rheumatoid arthritis. I felt nauseated all the time, so I saw a GI doctor. I wondered: Am I making this all up? Is this pain even real anymore?
By December I had started my second cookbook. With the first, I was in the kitchen the whole time. I stirred every pot, tasted everything. Had genuine excitement for Every. Single. Recipe. This one came at the height of my losing my appetite, and the idea of having to test and taste recipes actually made me vomit. I was still on the couch a lot.
Before the holidays I went to my GP for a physical. John sat next to me. I looked at my doctor, and my eyes welled up because I was so tired of being in pain. Of sleeping on the couch. Of waking up throughout the night. Of throwing up. Of taking things out on the wrong people. Of not enjoying life. Of not seeing my friends. Of not having the energy to take my baby for a stroll. My doctor pulled out a book and started listing symptoms. And I was like, “Yep, yep, yep.” I got my diagnosis: postpartum depression and anxiety. (The anxiety explains some of my physical symptoms.)
I remember being so exhausted but happy to know that we could finally get on the path of getting better. John had that same excitement. I started taking an antidepressant, which helped. And I started sharing the news with friends and family—I felt like everyone deserved an explanation, and I didn’t know how else to say it other than the only way I know: just saying it. It got easier and easier to say it aloud every time. (I still don’t really like to say, “I have postpartum depression,” because the word depression scares a lot of people. I often just call it “postpartum.” Maybe I should say it, though. Maybe it will lessen the stigma a bit.)
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 have people that you respect, who are the best in the business, witness you at your worst is tough. Even though this was something I shouldn’t have to apologize for, I did want to apologize. Because on a set, people depend on you. A lot of people are coming together and all you have to do, Christine, is put on a unicorn head and shoot a money gun. Editors are wondering what the f-ck happened to the girl they gave a book deal to. This shit was flying through my head and I felt horrible.
I actually did write my executive producer on Lip Sync Battle, Casey Patterson. She is one of the most amazing women in this universe and I never doubted she would understand. She told me she had noticed and was always here for me. I had to postpone my second cookbook, but my editor, Francis Lam, and publisher couldn’t have been more understanding. To go from discussing layouts and recipes and shoot days to a complete “off” switch was, I’m sure, not a great thing to hear. But, again, I cannot overstate how lucky I am to work with these people.
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.
I know I might sound like a whiny, entitled girl. Plenty of people around the world in my situation have no help, no family, no access to medical care. I can’t imagine not being able to go to the doctors that I need. It’s hurtful to me to know that we have a president who wants to rip health care away from women. I look around every day and I don’t know how people do it. I’ve never had more respect for mothers, especially mothers with postpartum depression.
I’m speaking up now because I want people to know it can happen to anybody and I don’t want people who have it to feel embarrassed or to feel alone. I also don’t want to pretend like I know everything about postpartum depression, because it can be different for everybody. But one thing I do know is that—for me—just merely being open about it helps. This has become my open letter.
As I’m writing this, in February, I am a much different human than I was even just in December. I’m over a month into taking my antidepressant, and I just got the name of a therapist who I am planning to start seeing. Let’s be honest though—I probably needed therapy way before Luna!
Like anyone, with PPD or without, I have really good days and bad days. I will say, though, right now, all of the really bad days—the days that used to be all my days—are gone.
There are weeks when I still don’t leave the house for days; then I’m randomly at the Super Bowl or Grammys. (This is cringeworthily unrelatable, and I am very aware of that—it’s giving me anxiety.) Physically, I still don’t have energy for a lot of things, but a lot of new moms deal with this. Just crawling around with Luna can be hard. My back pain has gotten better, but my hands and wrists still hurt. And it can still be tough for me to stomach food some days. But I’m dealing.
I’m grateful for the people around me. John has been incredible over the last nine months, bringing me my medicine and watching horrible reality TV with me. He is not the goofiest guy, but he has gone out of his way to indulge my sense of humor. When I was having a good day, he would go to Medieval Times with me and put on the crazy period hat! He sees how much my eyes light up when he does that stuff, and he knows that’s what I need. I know he must look over at times and think: My God, get it together. But he has never made me feel that way. He wants me to be happy, silly, and energetic again, but he’s not making me feel bad when I’m not in that place. I love John and Luna more than I can imagine loving anything, and John and I still hope to give Luna a few siblings. Postpartum hasn’t changed that.
More than anything, I always want to have enough energy for Luna—to run up the stairs with her, to have tea parties with her. As she gets older, she’s becoming more and more fun. Her eyes are getting so wide, and I want to be there for those wide eyes. And I will be.
Phew! I’ve hated hiding this from you.
Postpartum depression is a common medical condition and, as Chrissy notes, symptoms can vary. Click here for information on diagnosis and treatment. To read more stories from women who have struggled with postpartum depression, click here.
By: Chrissy Teigan, Glamour Magazine