I had severe postpartum depression with my first kid. I was nervous going into this second pregnancy, but at the same time, I also felt more prepared: I stayed on medication, I had two therapists and one psychiatrist. I was planning to have a home birth, and my midwives were really supportive. I hired a doula. I also created a postpartum plan; it's the equivalent of the birth plan, but much more controllable. On it, I wrote the contact info of everybody I'd need in case of emergency, but also names of friends and family I could talk to, lists of what felt nice in life. I didn't dread the day-to-day of having a baby as much. There was less pressure of doing it 'the right way.' In retrospect, I had less anxiety, but I also knew that our routine would go out the window, and we'd have to do it all over again with a new and different being, on top of caring for a toddler. She finally came on her terms precisely a year ago: fast, furious, and loud. After 24 plus hours of labor, we realized her head was in the wrong position. We did a couple of maneuvers to reposition her and then broke my water. But her heart didn't like it, and we had to call the EMT as she was still high in the birth canal. I guess she didn't want to go to the hospital because she came out like a little fish halfway down the steps, caught by my midwife. My doula was supporting me, the front door was wide open, and the three EMTs watched in disbelief as I walked back up into my bedroom with my baby in my arms. It might have seemed crazy for everyone else, and it certainly was eventful, but I knew the baby was only tired from an exhausting labor. We made deliberate and informed medical decisions, and I was involved every step of the way. There's no such thing as zero-risk, hospital included. I guess I feel the need to say it because there are so many misconceptions about home-birth. After the placenta came, my midwife had to give me rectal medicine to stop the bleeding because my uterus was tired from the long labor. She kept saying, “I love you, Ariane. I love you” to try to make me laugh while she was doing it. I'm pretty sure we all had gone crazy from exhaustion by then. She also offered to give us some time to enjoy the golden hour, but all I wanted was to be stitched back and to go to bed. And yes, she used local anesthesia.
It's kind of a blur now, but I remember how nice it was to be in control of my body. I've interviewed enough women to know that traumatic births, medical complications, or a stay at the NICU can significantly affect your postpartum. It was not the case for me, so I was fortunate. It also made a tremendous difference to be in a familiar environment. I took a shower while they cleaned everything, and I got to know this new baby gently and without interruptions. We introduced Billie Rose to Lou, who had just woken up, only minutes after she was born. We took a long nap, and the midwives waited for our cues about everything, despite the fact they had been there for almost two days straight by then. That whole experience was gold, and I'm 100% certain it played a massive role in the way I handled my postpartum afterward. My husband stayed home for two weeks. He took care of our first daughter in the morning and dropped her off to her sitter. We had this fantastic neighbor who'd set up a meal train for us. I felt supported and healed so much quicker. In my case, the first two or three or months were never an issue. I was in a happy bubble, taking walks, and soaking in the exhaustion and the newborn smell. The four-month mark was another story: depressive symptoms started to creep in once again. These feelings made me super nervous, but at the same time, it didn't drain me the way it did with Lou because the “learning curve of acceptance” was not as harsh. Half of the work when you have depression or anxiety disorders is to learn how to stop feeling guilty about them. I could tell myself, 'Right, you're feeling depressed and anxious for your second kid too. Shit happens. You get help, and you stop the ball from rolling downhill. The End." Guilt is a drag. Hormones are real. Milestones and sleep regressions are a bitch. In a way, it felt comforting to know that it wasn't just 'in my head' the first time. So I went from overwhelmed with depression and anxiety to overwhelmed but medicated, and therefore being able to cope. I guess it's the difference between managing depressive symptoms and being clinically depressed. Because as much as I loved the nurses and doctors at the Perinatal Psychiatric Inpatient Unit at UNC, I didn't want to go back.
It's been a year now, so it seems easier to reflect on how I went through this, but I know there were weeks, if not months, that were truly difficult. Birdie had trouble pooping. She would go weeks without a nugget. You don't realize how vital shit is until you have kids. We also found ourselves buying our first house when she was seven months old. We had to say goodbye to the nanny share and our community. I lost the space I had to nurture Faces of Postpartum and went from part-time self worker to full time stay at home mom. I remember sobbing like crazy the first week after we moved and yelling 'I hate them! I hate that job of caring for them!' I thought I could go back to this project four months after giving birth and had to accept that it just wouldn't happen. I also did hit another wall at the nine-month mark. I added Buspirone to the antidepressant and occasional anxiolytics because the anxiety and depressive symptoms, like intense fatigue and vomiting from stress, were crippling. My excuse was always, 'It's circumstantial, push through it.' Well, news flash, your whole life is made of circumstances. To get help before they become unmanageable is vital. My husband also went through his own depressive episode, a mix of shitty situations and old anxieties. It sucked. You think to yourself, “Why can't we ALL be happy this time around?” But it doesn't work like that. I had to be there for him to the best of my abilities while learning how to care for two children. Kids are a toll on your marriage. We're still not great at it, but we love each other very much, communicate well, and sleep in two different beds. You pick your battles, the same as with kids. Like, I won't feed them Oreos all day but fruit snacks? Maybe.
When I began recording this interview, my memory was all cupcakes and rainbows, but as I went on, I realized, “Holy moly this time of our life is hard.” Having two kids brings its own set of challenges. Suddenly you find yourself singing a lullaby to your toddler while nursing a screaming infant, rocking her harder than you probably should, only to end up feeling like a total failure. It demands everything from you. If you let it, it'll devour everything you are, were, and will be. It's crazy because although I feel completely overwhelmed most days, I'm still so much more privileged than most. Privileged enough to get all the care I needed and still need. I'm an immigrant in this country with no family around to help, but I'm white, educated, about to get her citizenship after only three years, and I have money in my bank account. We got to hire a sitter, a postpartum doula, and I'm regularly seeing a therapist because we have funds in our HSA. We never wondered if we'd be able to feed our kids. They're safe, warm, and oblivious of the shittiness that is going on next door. I'm listing all those things because although perinatal care shouldn't be a privilege but a right and a societal duty, we all know it's not. Motherhood radicalized me in a way I did not expect. I'm in the trenches with the other people who raise those kids. I can go from angry feminist to wiping apple sauce on the floor in a matter of seconds, all while disserting on how fucked up it is that we don't respect and recognize something that literally keeps the species from going extinct. How parenthood isn't in the top-ten philosophical questions of all time blows my mind... And I know this all sounds overly humorous and a bit extreme. I guess it's just my imperfect way of saying that going through depression and having kids were the best things that ever happened to me. They carved me into who I am. I'm kinder and more caring and hardworking because of them. Somewhere in the past three years, I became someone I love. Some days were pure hell, others were fine, and TV was (is) my best friend. It was glorious and infernal, but I did more than survive: I also lived. And that makes me very proud.