Our first daughter was due in February. I finished my master degree in December, so the timing was perfect. The flaw in the plan is that the baby comes and now I’ve gone from being intellectually stimulated to being at home with an infant. From having this purpose to being home, out of my element, bored, overwhelmed, and emotional. Her birth also felt traumatic in a couple of different ways. Number one, I don’t think anything should hurt that bad that’s not killing you. Number two, after all the pain, we got rushed off into an emergency C-section. The C-section itself didn’t bother me, but the "emergency" part of it really affected me. She was small, a teeny tiny little chicken of a baby. She wouldn’t latch and my anxiety went up about breastfeeding. Before I gave birth to her, I went into it thinking, "If it works it works. If it doesn’t it doesn’t." But it turns out it doesn’t work that way when you get there. I was overwhelmed by the entire process. I started pumping exclusively and it became this ugly obsessive game I played with myself. I was constantly trying to stay ahead of her, thinking, "Is today the day I’m going to have to give her formula?" It lasted five months. Looking back, I started feeling a lot better and much more secure in my motherhood at that five-month mark – so when I stopped. Before, I was waking up in the middle of the night, setting an alarm. I was so anxious all the time and felt out of my element about everything. I hated being alone with her and, simultaneously, I loved her so hard that I hated how vulnerable that love made me feel. If something were to happen to her I would just be broken, and that made me feel sort of angry. Like, "How dare you come into my life and make me so fragile?" I wanted to care for her and protect her, but I also wanted to run away and get my life back. This love of a mother to her kid... It’s hard, and I think it will always be hard.
At the five month mark, I also went to the support group hosted by Postpartum Support Virginia. I met women, realized that they also had struggles and that this motherhood thing was crazy. I’m in the field so I know what postpartum anxiety and depression look like. I knew I had it, although I tried to pretend it wasn’t as bad. Turned out it was awesome to hear other people’s story and to have your tricky feelings validated. That vulnerability and intensity, it’s not something you get over. When my baby turned 18 months, they asked me to come lead the support group and I've been working with them since. That’s been huge to work with other women and be now the person on the other end of the story. To turn suffering into strength, that’s the dream, right? It wasn’t my dream before I had kids. If you would have told me before, "You’re going to work with other women and it’s going to be great," I would have been "Really?" But to become a mother allowed me to fall back in love with womanhood and to rediscover my feminist side. It’s been really powerful. I was a little feminist when I was a kid and then I just went on about my life. Now there’s this new wave of feminism and I think we’ve realized, as women, that instead of competing with one another, if we help and lift each other, we’re unstoppable. Women are amazing. They have been told to be a certain way for a long time, but now we’re just like, "No, it’s time to be honest." Emotions are not weakness, they are a clue into how you’re feeling and doing. I learned that through carrying a child, birthing a child, then figuring out that it’s really hard, and then succeeding at taking care of myself in order to take care of them. I don’t pretend I succeed at everything, but that’s the goal.
I’m lucky because I am married to somebody who is very in touch with his feelings – probably more so than I am. In a way, he has taught me how to be honest with emotions. I would say he’d cried in the first five years of our relationship far more than I did. I cried over sports. When my sports teams lose I get really emotional. It was such a reverse in gender stereotypes: he would be very open and wanted to talk and I’d be, "But I need to watch football. I don’t have time for your emotions right now." Slowly, over time, it’s evened out. When we decided to get pregnant again, it worked the first month we "pulled the goalie" – that’s what we call getting off the pill, it had to be a sports metaphor... I got pregnant and sort of wrapping my head around the idea that we’re doing this again, and I don’t want to sink into the same habits. In some ways, it went by quickly because I was working and chasing this toddler around. The day our second daughter came, we went off to the hospital very calmly. Much more than the first time. We checked in. I had a choice: I could labor all day, probably need some Pitocin to get things going, or I could go ahead and have a C-section and all of this is over. I had this moment of clarity where I was like "What would be really nice is some calm; a birth I have some control over." I tried to get rid of as many "should" as I could and I picked me. So, they took me up, got me ready for the C-section, then they sent him get some food so he doesn’t pass out. But almost as soon as he left the room, the baby’s heartrate dropped. All of the sudden, what was supposed to be cool and collected became an emergency situation again. They rushed us into the OR. She had the cord wrapped around her neck. You know, another flaw into having a cord in there. If evolution could take care of that, that would be cool. Anyway, they got her out pretty quickly. She came out full head of hair, happy as it can be. She was ready to go on the breastfeeding. She literally came up the curtain and smacked her lips.
She latched immediately. I thought, "Alright, we’ll give it a shot." She was really good at latching. What she was not so great at was eating in a timely manner. I had a baby who took 45 minutes to nurse, but then wasn’t full, so needed a bottle, and I had to pump, and I have a toddler. I don’t know how people do that, but I started to feel the dreads creeping back in. Instead, we went straight to pumping again because it was a known thing. Just recently, I felt like I’ve been creeping back into that bad place of "Doing this for what?" I’m starting the cut back the process. I think what’s been better is that we’ve really been talking about it this time. Am I doing this because I should? – and the answer sometimes has been yes. It hasn’t been perfect. My community is also much stronger. I feel I got a board of director to my life: husband, awesome friends, family. We made a postpartum plan and it had a clause at the very end that read "If shit goes sideways." I think the other thing that’s been different is that I have a perspective that it gets better. The kids start talking and it’s reciprocal. The first time around, I thought "This is what motherhood is and I don’t want to do it. I tap out. This is a terrible choice for my life." Now I realize there are parts of it that are really hard and will challenge me forever, but there’re also parts of it that are beautiful and wonderful and will always be that way. My first daughter made me a mom and got the very pure emotion in every way: the pure love and the pure terror. I’ll always look at her and be: you’re the one, you made me. As for my second… she completed me. She was able to come in and got a piece of me that had a little bit more perspective, a little more tempered. She’s a beautiful soul in her own right. So chill. And in the end, to be the mother of these two girls is going to be the best, more wonderful, most trying, horrible, lovely thing I’ve ever done.