I Want to Give My Son A Sibling But I Have Postpartum Depression PTSD
By Liz Hammond
I had my first baby in the peak of the pandemic. Baby showers were canceled, prenatal classes moved to Zoom. Instead of rubbing my belly while contemplating my future as a mother to a beautiful boy, I was panic buying Lysol and masks, worrying my partner might not be allowed in the delivery room when I gave birth. Needless to say, things were bleak. Then came an unplanned c-section, struggles with nursing and a postpartum depression that hit me like a Mack truck. I always assumed I’d have at least two kids – the inevitability of the nuclear family had been unconsciously ingrained into my psyche – but in the depths of those dark, isolating days with a newborn, I told myself with unwavering certainty: Never. Again.
I came to terms with my birth, unchained myself from the helm of my breast pump and leaned into the gift of formula, my baby slept through the night, the depression passed, it came back, time went on as it always does. Slowly I began to enjoy parenthood and I wondered if I actually could do it all over again. Perhaps it would be the do-over I needed to erase my painful postpartum period. A chance at redemption. My son was still young and questions about baby number two hadn’t begun yet, so I buried the thought, a giant question mark in the back of my brain to revisit at a later date.
My son is now three and a half, I am back in my groove with work, we bought a house, I’m writing a memoir—big things are happening! It feels like we’re now officially in the obvious will we/will we not window with a second baby, and my butt is still firmly planted on the fence. I think my son is the best little human in the world and would love to have more people like him around. I’m certain he would thrive in the company of a sibling. I’m also in a position of extreme privilege because finances, family support and fertility aren’t deal breakers in this debate. That said, the dark shadow of my postpartum period is still clouding my ability to confidently say I am ready for round two.
When I think about the newborn days, I think about bleary-eyed mornings, cups of coffee turned cold, crippling exhaustion, confusion and guilt. I think about laying in my dark bedroom with the white noise machine playing while my infant son napped with my nipple in his mouth (it’s the only way I could get him to sleep). I think about the crying (his and mine), the lactation consultants, the spilled bottles of pumped milk, the spit up, the Googling, the monotony of early motherhood. Soon I was struggling to get out of bed, questioning if my son would be better off with a different mom, a mom who wasn’t so sad. Then, the emergency referral to a postpartum psychiatrist, new medications and the slow journey to feeling like myself again. As I get further away from it, perspective has cast a golden hue over some of this time, but I’m still deeply cognisant of how dark those early days really were. It’s hard not to be haunted by these memories when people ask about a second baby (because oh boy, do people ask!) and my daydreams about what I’d name my hypothetical second child are often quickly shrouded by flashbacks to some of the most harrowing moments of my life.
Postpartum could look completely different the second time around—I could go into it with lower expectations, show myself grace when it comes to breastfeeding, I could not do it all in a global pandemic. But, it could also be the same and come with a set of totally different challenges, I just won’t know until I do it. Becoming a parent a second time feels like playing a game of Russian roulette with my mental health and yet, and yet… it’s not only my health and happiness I’m considering. It’s my partner’s, my son’s, the climate crisis, the economy, the startling state of the world we’re bringing children into. There’s unfortunately no neat and tidy answer here, as with most things to do with parenting, so I’m heeding the advice of my very wise therapist. I am a classic A-type perfectionist who thrives on certainty. She knows this, so she told me to go against my every instinct and get comfortable with not knowing. “Are you having another baby, Liz?” My answer, with no explanation as of today: I don’t know!
Liz Hammond is a freelance copywriter who is working on a memoir about her experience with postpartum depression. She lives in Vancouver with her husband and son, and is a voracious reader and consumer of reality TV. She’s also a co-host of the podcast Not Your Mommy.