Have you ever wished to have a different brain than your own? I definitely have. And I still do sometimes, especially as a mom. Everywhere I look I see friends, coworkers, former classmates, former coworkers, family members, & general acquaintances having their second, third, or even fourth kids. And here I am with a daughter who’s soon to be five still feeling like “Nope, I’m not ready to do that again.” When I say “that” I mean everything involved with having another baby but specifically the newborn & baby stage. As some of you may know, that was a very difficult & trying time for me. It’s really only been in the past year or so that I’ve come to fully appreciate just how bad my post partum depression really was. No, I wasn’t suicidal or psychotic, but I was far further down the rabbit hole of despair than I realized at the time. And the frustrating thing is I did so many of the “right” things that you’re supposed to do to help with PPD: I took medication (a slightly different version of what I took for anxiety prior to giving birth or even being pregnant), I went to therapy, I occasionally went to a new mom’s support group, I worked part time, I vented to friends & family. And yet I still struggled, far more than I ever let on.
The truth is part of me is angry because I feel like PPD stole things from me. I feel like I lost precious moments that I can’t get back. I also feel so guilty for complaining because I know many women have had far worse situations- but I also feel like I’ll never get past this fear if I don’t air it…. So, on that note, here we go…
Because of my pre-existing anxiety I was high risk for PPD anyway. Then throw in a jaundiced baby who had to be readmitted to the hospital after just one night at home- a miserable night that left me in tears too many times to count- & I think it was just too much for me. I know social media is always a highlight reel & most people don’t share the hard stuff, but every time I see people so excited about going home with their new babies & enjoying those early days at home, I must confess I feel a pang of jealousy. Again I know so many women who’ve endured far worse, but I just didn’t get a peaceful newborn period. Physically I recovered phenomenally well- I can’t complain there- but mentally was a whole other story.
Our first night at home I spent in anguish because I knew my baby was sick & nothing I was doing was helping. I felt helpless, terrified, & lonely. It’s not like my husband could breastfeed, you know! When we went to the pediatrician the next day, the doctor graciously helped me with breastfeeding & even taught me how to use my pump. But because it was a Saturday they couldn’t do labs there, so we had to then cart her 20 minutes across town to a hospital to get her labs checked. No sooner than we got home from that did we get a call from the doctor telling us she needed to be admitted for bili-light therapy. That required packing up & driving another 20 or 30 minutes all the way across the city to yet another hospital. So those first few weeks I spent pumping & recording the baby’s intake & output like a mad woman, meanwhile also struggling to breastfeed- which was FAR harder than I’d imagined, even though I’d taken classes & read up on it- & generally feeling like I was losing my mind. Over the weeks that turned into months, things slowly got better. We found a rhythm with breastfeeding. We finally got some decent sleep. We bonded more & more & things slowly began to feel more manageable. I slowly began feeling like less of a zombie & more of a proper human being again. But I’ve never forgotten those long nights & those incredibly dark moments of despair. And I truly think that the only real “answer” for my PPD was time- which makes the idea of potentially facing it again quite intimidating.
I’ve realized over the years that my experience is actually quite common. Yet what is less common is women being truly honest about it. There are so many legitimate reasons why we aren’t, but in the big picture staying quiet about our pain only hurts ourselves & each other. I’m writing all this to try to come to terms with my own experience in the hopes that maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to try again. I’m very encouraged by some friends who have told me that they actually fared far better with their second babies. But right now I’m still scared. I know this time I’ll have the advantage of experience, the advantage of knowing that what I thought was going to kill me didn’t- so if I can survive it once, feeling like that & having NO experience, I can definitely survive it again. Even so, with the state of the world today, it’s hard to be a parent of even one kid, much less more than one. Not that it’s ever been easy, but Covid has without doubt made parenthood FAR more complicated.
I’m also writing this in hopes that if another mom is reading this & struggling with PPD she will know she’s not alone. I’m here to say that if you don’t like the newborn or baby stage too much- because of PPD or other reasons- it’s ok. It does NOT make you a bad mom. If you have moments- maybe more than you’d care to admit- when you regret your choice to be a mom or fear you’ve made a mistake, it’s ok. You will survive, things will get better, & you are not alone. If you want to roll your eyes every time someone says “Oh, I’m so sad my baby is growing up” or “She’s getting too big, I’m not ready,” it’s ok. You can roll your eyes right along with me & silently (or not so silently) cheer every time your baby becomes more independent & learns something new. It’s ok! Some moms love the newborn, baby, & toddler stages. Some don’t. Either way is ok. We all have our own experiences & they are all valid.
Also it occurred to me last night that the fact that my kids will be at minimum 6 years apart in age- IF I ever have a second one, that is- really shouldn’t surprise me. It’s far more common to have kids 1.5-4 years apart but since when have I done things the “normal” way? I got married young (at 22) which was not unusual for my upbringing but IS unusual in the greater scheme of things these days. Furthermore I married my high school sweetheart which, while “traditional,” isn’t exactly the normal thing to do anymore. I left my hometown & never moved back which certainly isn’t unheard of but also isn’t the norm for most people from that area. I could go on & on but in many ways in life I have not done what “most” people have done, though I’ll be the first to admit I know folks who have strayed far further from the “normal” path than I have. But the point is it probably shouldn’t surprise me that I’m choosing to approach motherhood a bit differently than many others. I must also take the time to note that because we got married young I have the advantage of not HAVING to rush into motherhood because my biological clock isn’t ticking but so loudly (yet). I realize not everyone has that advantage & I am grateful that I do.
So will I ever have another kid? I have no idea at this point. Part of me feels like I just can’t go through all of that again. But part of me also feels like I’d really like another shot at it, that I’d really like to give my daughter a sibling & all the experiences that come with that, that I’d really like another baby to love & teach. But the truth is I’m just not sure I’m up to the challenge. This has been weighing heavily on my mind this year & frankly if it weren’t for Covid, I’d probably have been ready by now. But Covid makes parenting SO much harder & there is absolutely nothing I can do about that. Part of me wants to wait until the dust settles a bit more, but I also fear that may never happen & I’ll be left regretting my indecision someday.
So yes, right now I wish I had a different brain. I wish I didn’t feel the need to plan things so much. I wish I could just go off birth control casually & “see what happens,” like so many women seem to do. I wish I didn’t CARE so much about doing everything right & could just throw caution to the wind & say “Oh well, I’ll figure it out when it happens.” But my mind doesn’t work that way, it just doesn’t. And that’s all there is to it.