Grown-Up Reads

How Romance Novels Helped Lift Me Out of My Postpartum Depression

by Sherry Thomas

Photo credit: Lily Berg / EyeEm, EyeEm/Getty Images

I was 21 when I gave birth to my first child. I didn’t think motherhood would be easy, but it turned out to be a great deal tougher than I ever anticipated. Almost overnight, a despair that simmered just below the surface took over my being. I couldn’t explain why I felt as I did, I only knew that my life had turned into a long dark tunnel of hopelessness.

My husband and I both come from cultures where there weren’t a lot of discussions on this kind of unwellness. Neither of us had encountered it in our personal lives, and we were in a new city on our own, away from our families. In short, my postpartum depression was never diagnosed and never treated. And it was about two and a half years before I became myself again.

Most of my memories of those years are like sepia photographs, leached of color. But from time to time there were glorious moments of feeling alive — and quite a few of those moments came because of my love for historical romances.

One time, when my husband was on a business trip, I took my 18-month-old baby to visit my mother. One evening, after the baby fell asleep, with Mom there to keep an eye on him, I went out on my own. Since reading has always been a most reliable source of solace and pleasure, I chose to spend my precious hours of freedom at a bookstore.

I browsed the shelves and picked up a book to try, right there on the bookstore’s comfy sofa. It was a sexy adventure set during the Napoleonic Wars, featuring a beautiful young woman running off to Italy and an equally beautiful young man who owned the yacht on which she’d stowed herself. One hundred percent fantasy, one hundred percent escapism, and one hundred percent perfect for me at that precise moment in time. Reading their story got me out of the torpor and joylessness in my own head and let me experience instead the headlong rush of someone else’s life, however fictional.

There is nothing like the breathless delight of a reader in a book that has swept her away. Almost 20 years have passed and I still remember, as the store was about to close for the night, how happy I felt riding the escalator down to the check-out line, the half-finished book in my hand.

Another time, after the kiddo went to bed on a Friday night, I stayed up late on the living room couch, cradling a romance novel. It was a book that demanded to be read straight through — and so I did, finishing at about 2:30 AM in the morning, bleary-eyed and very gratified.

Reading romances didn’t singlehandedly lift me out of my PPD. The passage of time was an important factor. Just as important was that I’d found an outlet for my pent-up creativity: writing romances. But reading romances most certainly helped with their power to transport and their firm belief in a better tomorrow, raising me above the cloud of gray dreariness to remind me that it didn’t always have to be that way.

For a few hours at a time, it was the best anti-depressant I could have asked for.