I'm sitting on my couch in my living room on a Friday afternoon thankful to have the time to squeeze an extra pumping session in (pun intended). Both of my darling children have finally given in and are napping, thank God. It's a rare occurrence that they both do it at the same time! I figured while I'm strapped to my nipple taffy-pulling machine, I might as well do something I enjoy, like blog a bit.
Being a 2nd time mom is incredible for me. I say "incredible" because the fact that I even had another child is pretty unbelievable. If you've read any of my previous posts (I'm Back!, Dear Me, Please Come Back, Love, You), I was pretty deep in the muck of postpartum depression after I had my first child, my son. I don't have any enemies that I know of, but I can tell you one thing honestly, I wouldn't wish postpartum depression on them, or any mother for that fact. I swore, with fidelity, that I would never have another child when Karl was a few weeks old when I was so lost in the haze of my postpartum depression and anxiety. In fact, I was so miserable that if a future-seer could have told me that in just 17 short months from then, I would find myself with another newborn I would have considered preventative surgery to remedy that problem.
Yet, here I am. I have a 20month old son and a 2 1/2 month old daughter and I can proclaim that I've never been happier in my entire life. "Happy" is a word I did not, could not, and would not use when I was in the midst of PPD after my son. I wasn't happy at all. I was tragic. I was pathetic. I was drowning in fear, sorrow, and obsession. I could not feel more opposite now, though, than I did in the dark days that followed my son's birth. I am a living, breathing example of proof- there really IS life after PPD. For those of you who have experienced PPD or who are experiencing it now, you know that there comes a point in the disease when you truly believe you will NEVER be happy again and that life will never be the same as it was.
I studied Biomedical Science in college. I am a science teacher. I think scientifically and therefore, I have wracked my brain since I developed PPD after my son's birth for a logical explanation as to why I experienced PPD. Why did I draw the short straw? There's got to be a reason why I was affected when so many other moms aren't. What did I do differently or wrong to cause me to have this awful problem while other moms completely avoid it? I just could not figure out the answer to that question. With hindsight now, I don't believe there really is a legitimate "why." Who knows why I was struck with PPD? I recovered from PPD with my son, but when I got pregnant with my daughter those questions haunted me all over again- this time not because I wanted an explanation but because I wanted prevention.
I was pregnant again. Did that mean I would automatically suffer the same fate as I did after I had my son? What on God's green earth could I do to prevent PPD from happening to me again? I was admittedly terrified when I first found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I had recovered from PPD with my son by that time, but the memory of how awful it was lay fresh in my mind like an open wound. Finding out I was going to have another baby was exciting but it also hurt a little too. I loved being a mommy to my son but the sacrifice my mental health made after he was born was such a scarring event in my life that I was nervous to get too excited about having a new baby, for fear that I might "jinx" myself into getting PPD again.
My treatment for PPD with my son included regular visits to a psychiatrist and therapist. It also included medication. Upon learning I was pregnant again, I made an appointment with my psychiatrist to discuss the safety of remaining on my medication during pregnancy. She assured me that it was safe. Studies and trials had been done for years on the safety of my medication during pregnancy and she advised me to stay on it. The really hard part came then- should I continue my medication while pregnant even though there was a slight risk it may affect my baby, or should I stop taking my medication while I was pregnant to prevent that slight risk?
Readers, other moms, doctors, therapists- everyone can form their own opinion as to whether my choice to stay on my medication during my pregnancy was one they themselves would have made but no one has the right to judge me for making that decision. I stayed on my meds and this is my reasoning for doing so: During my first pregnancy I was plagued by anxiety and depression (I should add that I have suffered from anxiety my whole life). I made the decision then to stop taking my medication in order to get pregnant and to avoid any risks (though they were minuscule) that the medication may have on my baby. So, I stopped my meds, I got pregnant with my son, I had my son, and then I lost my mind. If you've never experienced PPD then you don't know the true agony of trying to "mother" while you suffer. It's like trying to perform your own life saving surgery. It hurts beyond belief but you must do it to survive. Being a mommy is so difficult when you have PPD but you can't just throw your hands in the air and say "Okay, never mind. Someone can take this kid back to where it came from. I'm through!"
I did not have the option of wallowing my depression this time around. I did not have the option of fighting through it, either. I had my son who needed me. He needed a mommy who was healthy and happy, to take care of him while taking care of his new sibling. I stayed on my medication during my 2nd pregnancy for my son's sake. I knew if I went through the pain of PPD again this time that it wouldn't just hurt me and my new baby but it'd hurt my son, too and that was a price I was not willing to pay.
It turns out, viewing this pregnancy through a mental-health lens, my pregnancy with my daughter could not have gone better. I was confident, happy, excited, and energized. I made the conscious decision everyday to focus on the positives throughout my day. I had a beautiful son and I was going to have a beautiful daughter, too.
I have a few theories as to why I haven't had PPD this time around. As any scientist will tell you, though, you can not be certain of an explanation if you haven't tested just one variable at a time. So much was and is different this time around. For one thing, I stayed on my medication while I was pregnant this time. I'm still on it. I think this is the biggest contributer to my current state of mental health.
This time around I had a girl, whereas I had a boy before and had PPD. Maybe hormones are to blame? My labor and delivery scenario was completely different this time around. With Karl, I was induced and I was given an epidural at the hospital. I had SO much anxiety from that procedure alone that I could probably consider it a catalyst for my postpartum anxiety. This time around I went into labor on my own and I delivered my daughter naturally with no pain meds what-so-ever. Maybe the slurry of medication that was pumped into me when I had my son negatively affected me?
I was so clueless when I brought my son home. My anxiety was heightened because I didn't know what I was doing. My tiny screaming little boy required all of my attention. He screamed and cried for no reason at all. Breastfeeding was new and daunting. I was up all night long and all day long, too just trying to feed my son. I didn't know if he cried because he was hungry or if he was cold, if his tummy hurt or he had gas. I remember very vividly a horrific nightmare I had shortly after I had my son. I dreamed I was in a plane crash in the ocean and that I survived along with him, though, we were stuck in the water and I had to tread to stay afloat while holding on to him. I struggled so intensely in my dream to keep my head above the water and my baby's head, too, until he slipped out of my arms. I watched him slowly sink into the inky blackness of the ocean in my dream, unable to swim to him to save him. It is unbelievable how well my subconscious mind played out my conscious feelings in that dream. I literally felt like I was drowning, day in and day out. I just couldn't keep up, didn't know what to do, and everything I did felt like a mistake that would permanently and negatively alter my son's life.
Having my daughter is different. She's a much easier baby. She doesn't scream and cry. She only fusses when she gets hungry and when she gets tired. She's happy and healthy and gorgeous. It's not that my son wasn't healthy and gorgeous too, but he sure didn't seem happy to me, and that certainly affected my PPD. Maybe moms who have baby boys are more likely to have PPD? Maybe moms who have difficult babies are more likely to have PPD? Who knows??? I do know that this time I feel like I know what I'm doing because I've been there and done it before. The element of the unknown is not present this time because I've already had a newborn to contend with and learn from. Maybe I got PPD because I was so clueless after I had my son?
My point is- who the hell knows why I got PPD to begin with. Who knows why any mom ever suffers with it? I honestly don't know why and I am okay with that. I have accepted the fact that I had it, I had to deal with it and that it robbed me of some beautiful and precious moments with my son when he was still a new baby. I know I missed out and that hurts. I feel torn between feeling grateful and blessed to enjoy my special moments with my daughter and resentful and broken hearted that I missed out on those moments with my baby boy. I really was so sick in the head that I couldn't enjoy the chaos. I couldn't shirk it off like most moms do. I couldn't laugh when my son pooped through his outfit.
I could dwell on the fact that I was so miserable and I did not get to soak up those little moments with my little boy but what good would that do me? It would make me angry. It would depress me. It would rob me of the precious time I have with my son now. It would rob me of the precious time I have with my daughter. I will not let that happen. I've been down that road before and it is miserable. Instead, with the help of clarity of mind from my medication and the wisdom I gained from having lived through the PPD before, I can move on.
What I do know now is just how breathtaking being a mommy can be. I know how deep true love is. I understand unconditional love in a way I could not before. My children are the most beautiful aspect of my life. I know that having babies doesn't equal misery as I thought it did before. All I knew of becoming a new mommy was painted in the ugly, dingy film of anxiety and depression. My perspective of parenting a newborn was so skewed and bent to the shape of my illness that I didn't know how enjoyable it could be. My daughter is tiny and precious and ooey-gooey yummy and I can't get enough of my time with her. I spend the extra moments holding onto her at night before I lay her down to sleep because I know now how to savor them and I know how few opportunities left I have to hold her. I love snuggling with her and I feel connected to her in the way I feel connected to my son, only I've felt that connection since her birth the way every mom should. Postpartum depression keeps moms from feeling that connection and it's a dirty, rotten, disgusting shame.
For all the moms out there who experienced PPD and are scared to death to even think about having another child for fear that you will have to endure the treachery of PPD again, please know that you don't have to. Having another baby does not equal misery all over again. Life with a baby really can be beautiful and it should be beautiful. You've got to have the confidence in yourself to know that you can have what other moms have- a happy life with your new baby. I said "happy" and not perfect for a reason. My life is not perfect by any means now. I have mornings when my son wakes up screaming just to hear his own voice and my daughter is crying to eat and the dogs are barking and wining to go outside and I haven't even had a chance to pee let alone sip a cup of hot coffee and that's OK. I can handle it. I can stop in the middle of the insanity and giggle at the moment and say to myself that I'll miss days like this when my kids are grown up. My life is not perfect, but it sure is happy. That's all any mom could ever ask for!