Reactions to Pregnancy After PPDA

I’m lucky to have amazing friends and family, people who do not accept the stigma of mental illness. And I haven’t had anyone question my choice to get pregnant again after my frightening postpartum period last time. I’ve received mainly two reactions to this pregnancy from friends and family, and while I understand both reactions, I want to push my friends and family to fall into Option 2.

  1. Some friends and family completely ignore my past experience and assume this postpartum period will go just fine. I think they assume this because  I am aware of the issue and knowledgeable, I can stop it from happening. I hear comments like “It will be so different this time!” Yes, I hope it will be, but we can’t know that. I’m an advocate for women, so I should have all the tools, right? If you’ve gone through a postpartum mood disorder, at least in my experience, you felt completely out of control. There was little you could do. I know this feeling, and I know I will do all that I can to prevent it, but I also know women with the best of circumstances (money, support, “good” babies), and they still experience a postpartum mood disorder. Biology is a strong factor. I often make the comparison of if I’d had a debilitating heart issue after giving birth, wouldn’t most of my friends and family be concerned about my health? Wouldn’t they assume that it could happen again even if we take all the necessary precautions? I think it’s a fine line and people aren’t sure how much is too much in terms of their involvement. I understand that we still don’t know how to talk about mental health. But when people try to ignore my past experience or brush it off, it frustrates me and makes me feel alone in my current experience. I want people to ask me how they can help. I want people to ask me how I am feeling. #askher I’m open about my postpartum anxiety, and I give my friends and family permission to be the same way.
  2. Others have definitely stepped up in terms of asking how they can be part of our postpartum plan and helping us out more. I have a co-worker who I am close with and I know experiences his own anxiety. He asked outright and with concern, “How is your anxiety?” He asked me the same way you would ask “How is your knee?” if you had an injury. I appreciate this concern and honesty. I think the response I’m looking for is someone to acknowledge that I was taken to the edge of insanity last time, and that we can’t ignore that this time, so we might as well talk about it. And we must accept what we can control and what we can’t. I think if anyone knows me well, they know I value authenticity and honesty. I think that’s what I want in people’s responses to this pregnancy and postpartum period.

A Letter to My Son or Pregnancy in 2016

The same week Trump was elected, a man in Georgia was executed, and two weeks before our dog died, and a month before that my dad was hospitalized for the third time for mental health issues unknown, and this is also the year Prince died.

It’s been a shit year.

Except, we are having a son.

What do I know?

I will love you, fiercely.

Your father will too. And I can only hope you are as kind and thoughtful as he is.

I know you have a smart and funny sister.

And that you will still be given more opportunities than her. You may look in the mirror one day and think “person,” but she will almost always think “girl,” which means “other,” which is the way most will see her even when they try not to. This is our country’s way.

When you take off your shirt on a hot North Carolina August afternoon, without a second thought, to run around our large back yard, she may look at me for permission. Not from anything I’ve told her, but she will ask me with her eyes for permission because of what the world is teaching her.

There is so much I can’t control.

Still, I call my father once a week to check on him, even though the conversation will suck me into a dry, tired heap of a person.

And I keep showing up to teach, chipping away at my students’ privilege and my other students without any privilege, who have been taught to demand nothing of me, to ask for nothing, to take scraps of education, and I must not let them accept so little. I must show up every day to show them what they deserve, and it will leave me tired and weary and inspired.

And I will tell your sister that she is brave and smart and strong. That we don’t strive for pretty, but beautiful. Pretty is the surface; beauty is all the layers of us, inside and out, and when we look deep enough, we can find beauty in everything.

And I will tell you—what will I tell you? That all of these issues are not your sister’s problems or your mother’s or your friend’s problems. They are yours, just as much if not more. They are yours, whether you asked for them or not.And I will help you navigate this world the best I can, but I’m still figuring it out myself.

Thoughts on Having a White Son 

White privilege is constantly on my mind after the election. I am more aware of my race on a daily basis than ever before. Because it is my privilege as a white woman, to not have to think about my race as I navigate the world. I do not have to think about my whiteness when I walk out of the door to drive to work. But I have been, more and more. For instance, I can pull over my car on the side of the road to take a photo of the sunset I get to see each morning on the way to work. And I don’t think much about others questioning my actions. I assume I’m safe for the most part, standing on the side of a highway. This assumption is an extreme privilege.

As I process the election and prepare for my spring courses, I’ve been reading new essays and re-reading Ta-Nehisi Coates. Because I have also found out I am having a son, a white son, and he will have the most supreme privilege that society grants humans. And I keep thinking how differently the mother of a black son must feel. I cannot fully understand it, but it is a different “galaxy,” as Coates explains it.

My son will live in a reality in which “there are little white boys with full collections of football cards, and their only want was a popular girlfriend and their only worry was poison oak” (Coates). 

I won’t worry about what he’s wearing and how it will be perceived by the world, because white boys aren’t profiled for wearing polo shirts and Sperry shoes. There are laws of the “other” that he will never have to learn, which are “essential to the security” of black boys’ bodies. 

There is a control over his body that he will feel that even I don’t feel. As a woman, I think about what I wear in certain situations, what men might take as an invitation. I think about the path I walk to my car and how to avoid what seems like a threat to my body. 

But as a white mother, I cannot fully understand the fear of a black mother:

“Added to the natural fears of every parent…is this other knowledge of how institutional racism works in our country…the condition of black life is one of mourning” (Claudia Rankine).

And as Rankine goes on to explain, while I can temporarily attempt to feel this suffering, I cannot “replicate that daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black.”

And so I am beginning to think about and process how I will raise a son aware of his privilege, and how I will model for him that awareness and kindness are not enough, but we must speak up and act too. 

Finding Out the Sex (Not Gender)

We didn’t find out if Mae was a boy or girl until she arrived in this world. And we loved the surprise! One of the happiest moments of my life was Jimmy announcing “We have a daughter.”

We decided to find out the sex of this baby for two reasons:

1. We thought it would be good for Mae to expect a sister or brother and begin to picture that reality.

2. We thought it would be fun to do it differently.

And we are excited to have a boy, but for me that truly just means he has a penis. That’s it. We found out this baby has a penis. 

We didn’t find out that he will like to play rough or play with trucks or even that he will like girls one day. Those are all things that he will get to find out.

I will say it is strange and wonderful to say the word “son.” I will have a son. A new word in our family’s world. 

So we have a baby with a penis, people! He looks healthy. And we will love him. That’s the news.  Now what should we name him? 

Mom-centric Pregnancy without Apology

Having a Mom-centric pregnancy

I’ve been questioning my lack of investment in this baby. It’s so different this time, but I’ve accepted this way, the mom-centric way, is healthier for me and maybe how more moms in the U.S. should think about pregnancy.
It’s not that I care less about this baby, but I’m not focused on any expectations or things I can’t control, which is just about everything. Last pregnancy, I already had a detailed spreadsheet about all the tasks and things.

What can I actually control and what’s worth my energy? Taking care of myself.
But almost everything in our society tells women to focus on the baby, the nursery, the birth, the next thing. And this means I have to say a lot of “I don’t know” to people because I’m just not thinking much about those things. I don’t relate to the traditional pregnancy path. 

Have you thought about names? Nope.

Are you breastfeeding? I don’t know.

Where will the baby sleep? Probably a lot of places.

But if you ask me “how are you caring for yourself?” I can answer that.

I’m seeing a therapist.

I’m talking to friends.

I’m reading books, for pleasure, not books on pregnancy.

I’m cherishing time with my daughter.

I’m taking baths (actually right now).

And this is not to say I’m a self-care expert. I’m really bad at it, but I’m putting self-care before anticipation of the future.

And whereas before now, I felt a little ashamed or embarrassed that this time I wasn’t focused on the baby, I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m owning my mom-centric pregnancy. I actually think maybe I got pregnancy right, at least for me, this time. Pregnancy is a time to rest and get yourself centered, to let go of expectations. It’s so different from last time that I thought this feeling must be wrong, but I think it’s actually pretty healthy. 

9 weeks pregnant after PPDA

(I am actually 16 weeks pregnant now and feeling much better physically. Am I still apprehensive about the postpartum period? I’d be an idiot not to be. I think this pregnancy is about not having any expectations and planning for a postpartum mood disorder. Is there joy? Yes. I already love this baby. I already love Mae’s pride in being a big sister. Last week, she sat against my belly and said she was “tickling the baby.”

But imagine that your last pregnancy took you to a terrifying place. I am, of course, braced to enter that place again.)

7 weeks ago:

I’m still in the first trimester. I can’t tell any of you. Well, I’ve told a few of you, but mainly this pregnancy is my secret. We haven’t even told Mae yet.

And I don’t really want to talk much about this pregnancy yet. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it, and I can barely do that because I am SOOOOOOO tired. It turns out pregnancy has brought back my hypothyroidism that happened postpartum with Mae. In retrospect, I think my thyroid may have caused some of my mood issues then. So I began taking the medicine two days ago, and I’m just praying to feel better.

But all of this–the fatigue, the inability to have a clear thought, the inability to eat–is bringing back how out of control I felt postpartum. I feel as if I’ve given up my body again, and I don’t know when I’ll get it back. PTSD is too strong of a phrase for what I’m feeling, but I don’t feel good. I’ve had the thought “Have I made a terrible mistake?” And then I feel guilty for having that thought, and then I feel guilty for what a crappy mom I’ve had to be over the past few months because I just have NO energy. I can barely get through the day.

I guess this is to say that this part has been so hard. I know it will pass. I know that. I know that the first trimester and the fourth (newborn phase) are the absolute hardest for me. But damn it, I’m tired.

Navigating the Playground

Mae is 2.5 years old. She finally wants to interact with other kids at the playground. Sometimes this results in wonderful, fast friendships. Sometimes kids just ignore her. Fair enough. I try my very best not to interfere with these exchanges and let her navigate, but I stay within ear shot and I watch her. I try to skirt that fine line between being a responsible parent and hovering over her.

This week, we’ve had two instances at the playground that have really caused me to pause, and I wonder is that just what we’re in for now that Mae is interacting with other kids. This shit is hard.

Earlier this week, we were at Womble Park, and a boy, about 4 or 5, followed Mae around the playground and tried to block her on whatever she’d climb to next. She seemed obliviously and would just say “excuse me” and make her way past him. I didn’t interject here. She was handling it just fine. But he did this for 15 minutes or so. Where was the parent? She talked on her phone for the entire hour we were at the playground. Yes, let your kid play, but please watch out for your kid being an asshole.

Today, when Mae paused to watch what a boy was doing (he was burying sticks in the mulch), he looked up and said, “I’m gonna shoot you and kill you.” This boy could not have been older than 3. His mother and grandparents were sitting too far away to hear him. Mae was visibly upset. I said something lame to the boy like “That’s not very nice at all.” I was too shocked to come up with much else. Then I told Mae we could choose to play in a different area, which is what she decided to do. The parents could see this interaction, even if they couldn’t hear it. They did nothing.

mae-swinging

And she just wants to try and touch the sky.

I know I can’t protect her from the world, and that living in the world means dealing with conflict and pain and meanness, but damn it, this feels too soon. I’m not ready. On the way home, I just told her I was proud that she had remained calm and kind, but is that enough? I felt like I should be teaching her to also assert herself, to say that kind of talk wasn’t acceptable. I guess I kind of did by speaking to the boy myself? This parenting stuff is getting so complicated. How do you navigate the playground?