“Are you so excited?!”
That’s everyone’s first question when you tell them you’re pregnant. I’ve heard it a lot recently, as I’m expecting my second child in June. And I know the response people want: “Yes! I am thrilled! I can’t wait to do it all over again!”
Unfortunately, I’ve never been a great liar.
The truth is, I am not excited. Hopeful? Sure. Grateful? Definitely. But excited? No way. How can I feign enthusiasm about launching back into life with a newborn, when I’m still haunted by the traumatic experience of my first time at bat?
When my son was born two years ago, I felt ready to take on all the challenges of babyhood. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in my 20s and being told I might never be able to have children, I felt incredibly lucky and blessed to get to experience the joys of motherhood that I’d been yearning for.
But then he came—my perfect, healthy, handsome bundle—and there was no joy. Not even an ounce. All I felt was the crushing weight of anxiety and misery, pulling me down into a black hole in which I feared I might be stuck forever. I knew I loved my son and cared for him more than anything in the world. But at the same time, I dreaded all of my motherly duties, feeling trapped in a life that felt nothing like my own.
My son was not an “easy” baby (apparently some of them are, although I’ve personally never met one of these unicorns). He had reflux, barfed constantly, would only sleep on my or my husband’s chest, and freaked out if he wasn’t being bounced or rocked. I slogged through the days, crying while he cried, not sleeping regardless of whether or not he managed to do so, unable to eat, unable to enjoy time spent with friends and family. I counted the hours and minutes until my husband would come home, so I could pass the baby to him and sit in the bathroom and cry. When people would make comments about having another child someday, I would balk at their absurd remarks. “Ha! Yeah right!” I’d shoot back at them. There was no way I would ever willingly choose to do this again.
Three weeks in, after googling postpartum depression and checking off every box on various self-diagnosis tools, I emailed my family doctor and told her of my symptoms. She called me immediately and referred me to a perinatal mental health clinic at the hospital, where I swiftly received a diagnosis of postpartum depression and anxiety. I started seeing a psychiatrist who prescribed me medication and helped me navigate through the dark tunnel of depression, until I eventually came out on the other side. As the months went by, the fog lifted and I fell more in love with my son and being his mother every day. I ended up staying home with him for much longer than I had anticipated, as I didn’t want to be away from him. I’d managed to go from one extreme to the other and felt incredibly fortunate to have weathered the storm.
As my son’s second birthday approached and we began to talk about adding another kid into the mix, I felt an overwhelming mix of emotions. My husband and I knew we wanted a bigger family and a sibling for our son. And we knew we didn’t want to wait much longer. But I also had to weigh all the risks. I had to once again consider the risks of taking a break from the medication I take to prevent a cancer recurrence, which cannot be taken during pregnancy. I also now had to wrestle with the potential of getting hit with PPD a second time, as women are more susceptible if they’ve already experienced it in a prior pregnancy. And I had to factor in the most important person in my life, my son, and think of how all of this could affect him.
Ultimately, as I’ve had to do many times before, I decided not to let the fear of the unknown rule my decisions and determine my fate. We decided to go for it and once again, the good-fortune gods shone down on me and I was pregnant after a month. No turning back now.
In preparation for the arrival of our second son, I’ve been working with my amazing and encouraging therapist to come up with a plan that will hopefully make my experience a more positive one. In our sessions, we talk about all the things that will be different this time: I have her and a perinatal psychiatrist monitoring and supporting me; I have way more experience, which will hopefully lower my anxiety about many new-mom concerns; I have antidepressants and sleep aids at my need should I need them; I will hire a night nurse for the early sleepless nights, ask for help when I need it, and not refuse it when it’s offered; I have awesome mom friends to hang out with during maternity leave and an online community of more awesome moms to turn to for advice and solidarity. And most importantly, I have the knowledge that I survived the first time, and will survive again.
Does all of this mean that I’m not still scared, anxious and uncertain about what’s around the corner? Not at all. It’s not that simple, and mental illness isn’t something you just get over. I will forever be a work in progress. I can’t see the future and I don’t know if things will be good, bad, or somewhere in between. But I do know that my son, even with all the challenges and exhaustion that comes with having a kid, brings me more joy than I could have ever imagined. And to have the chance to feel that kind of happiness twice over? Now that’s something I can get excited about.