At her lowest point, Brooke Shields wanted to give up. Suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of daughter Rowan, her first child with husband Chris Henchy, in '03, "I was beginning to seriously plan ways I could disappear quietly but permanently," the actress said at a news conference in Washington, D.C., May 11. Speaking in support of the MOTHERS Act—a bill sponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez that supports research funding and screening for PPD during the first year of postnatal visits—a serious Shields, 41, recounted the horror she experienced.

"I was incapable of holding or looking at or kissing or smelling my perfect tiny little baby," said the mom of two, whose doctor initially dismissed her symptoms as passing baby blues. "I'd hide in the shower in a fetal position—and put the hot water on and hope it would melt me away." Her behavior, she recalled, confounded Henchy. "He came up to me one day and said, 'Why don't you sing to her? Why don't you smile at her?'"

Eventually Shields' doctor diagnosed PPD, and she went on the antidepressant Paxil and began to recover. (The actress, who detailed her battle in her book Down Came the Rain, had no problems with PPD when daughter Grier was born last year.) "This is a biochemical disease," said the star. "We want to inform people and offer treatment." Experts agree. Affecting roughly 10 percent of new moms, postpartum depression "is considered the most common complication of childbirth," says Susan Benjamin Feingold, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the illness. "A law like this will save lives."

Shields, for one, is happy that the darkness has lifted. In Manhattan May 14 to promote her show Lipstick Jungle, premiering next January, she gushed about being a mom. "I got to sleep in on Mother's Day!" she told PEOPLE. "We had brunch, went shopping and saw Shrek. My babies were all around me. It was great."

  • Contributors:
  • With Susan Mandel,
  • Mark Dagostino.