Armed with four years of parenting experience, I thought that I was better equipped to handle life with a newborn than I had been as a new mom…
After four years, three miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy, the second baby I had yearned for entered the world. Armed with four years of parenting experience, I thought that I was better equipped to handle life with a newborn than I had been as a new mom. I had survived the sleepless nights, weathered the scary fevers that precede budding teeth and coached myself through the irrational fears that accompany caring for a completely helpless human. I had come out of the other side of postpartum depression, mastered breastfeeding (as well as someone using an intimate part of their body to feed another human can) and learned the fine art of picking and choosing which parenting advice worked best for me and what I could ignore.
When our family of three became a brood of four, I just knew I could handle it…
I didn’t wonder why health-care professionals were letting me leave the hospital with a baby. I didn’t even mind that I didn’t have a second baby shower or a second set of meals made by loving friends waiting in our fridge at home. I had been there, done that.
Eight months later, crying on a psychiatrist’s couch as I said out loud, for the first time, that I couldn’t handle being a mom of two, I was forced to realise just how wrong I had been.
I was forced to realise just how wrong I had been
“In motherhood, the second time around, friends and family alike may expect that she’s got a handle on this identity shift and therefore may be less inclined to check in, offer support or do some of the celebratory things people often do when the first baby arrives,” says Jessica Zucker, a Los Angeles psychologist specialising in women’s reproductive and maternal mental health. “Especially in situations where they perceive the mother as thriving in her newfound role the first time around, they likely assume she has this.”
With our first child, the sayings informing us about the difficulties of parenthood – “Your life is going to change” and “There’s no such thing as being ready” and even “Her life is over” – were common.
But I also had more people offering to help. If the unsaid (and sometimes said) perception of my life as a mom was, “This is going to be difficult beyond anything she can imagine and she might not be all that great at it,” the response from those who loved and supported me was, “We’re here to help, to make sure you don’t drown.”
And when having a baby didn’t break me or end life as I had known it – when, in fact, my career flourished and I moved my family to take what was at the time my dream job – the offers to help and the questions about my well-being vanished. I had grown a freelancing career into a full-time editor job while simultaneously growing, birthing and raising a child. I had written about postpartum depression and pregnancy loss and every good, bad, mundane and enthralling moment in between, while scheduling pediatrician appointments and attending pre-school family days and enjoying date nights with my partner.
On the outside, I “had it all”. What’s another kid when you’re already a thriving working mother of one?
The answer, I learned, is a wrench – a wrench you hoped for and envisioned and planned for and love – dismantling the carefully assembled machine that helped you maintain your mental health as a mom of one.
If it truly takes a village to raise one child, we must remember the importance of that village as our families grow
The heavy molasses that is postpartum depression coated me more quickly than it did with my first – or maybe I just noticed it earlier. The anxiety was more severe, threatening to crush my throat when my five-week-old was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and was admitted to the paediatric ICU. The pressure to pick up right where I left off at work was so overwhelming I would shake with panic during my morning commute. It became increasingly difficult to get out of bed, to get my oldest to pre-school on time, to remember to send that email or make that deadline, to keep the house clean, to cook a meal, to take a shower, to be the mother my boys needed.
And when I needed help the most, I found it almost impossible to ask for it.
“We expect mothers to love what they do, do it well and not necessarily ask for help or even reveal that they need it,” Zucker explains. “As such, oftentimes her community doesn’t think to ask: ‘How are you doing?’ ‘How are you feeling?’ ‘Can I do anything to support you during this transformative transition in your life?’ We would do well to offer these words and questions more often than they are currently spoken.”
In the first year of my son’s life, I had one person – another mom of two – bring my family a hot meal. I was drowning, but I was choosing to drown quietly so that I could keep up appearances – so the people who years earlier had said “her life is over” wouldn’t have been proved right. My partner, busy working 12-hour night shifts 60 hours a week, assumed I was just as tired as he was. He didn’t notice that I was dealing with more than the common exhaustion of the newborn phase, more than the necessary growing pains of the postpartum period, more than the run-of-the-mill annoyances of parenthood.
I was failing at work, I was failing at home, and after I was hospitalised for a panic attack, my partner and I both realised that if I didn’t ask for help – if I didn’t admit that I was struggling to adjust to life as a mom of two – the next tide would pull me under.
A month after my son’s first birthday, I’m finally feeling like I can breathe
It took months to find a psychologist who would take my insurance and a new patient. I continued to miss deadlines at work, and after my employer could no longer accommodate my need to work from home two days a week to watch my sons, I quit my job. I was prescribed an antidepressant, referred to a psychologist, and without a full-time job for the first time in four years, could set aside more time to focus on myself and myself only.
Health insurance, the ability to access mental health care, a supportive partner who also works, a semblance of financial stability – they’re all privileges that have made it possible to reach the life boat that’s been offered to me. A month after my son’s first birthday, I’m finally feeling like I can breathe – like my life as a mom of two isn’t the end of everything I’ve grown to know but the start of something far more fulfilling.
Us second-time moms need to remember that asking for help isn’t a mark against us
I’ve realised that it’s a two-way street: Us second-time moms need to remember that asking for help isn’t a mark against us. And those who care for us shouldn’t wait for us to admit we need help before offering support, whether it’s our first baby or our third.
If it truly takes a village to raise one child, we must remember the importance of that village as our families grow.
Article by Danielle Campoamor, first published o ‘Washington Post’.
Author: ANA Newswire