I used to lie to people when they asked the inevitable question of whether my husband and I would "try for a boy" after learning we have two young daughters. "No," I would answer, "We're maxed out!" While it's true that we feel overwhelmed as parents, it's also true that before becoming parents, we pictured our family being larger than a party of four. The truest of all, though, is I can't imagine having another child and potentially reliving postpartum depression (PPD).
Having one child teaches you what to expect with another child in many ways. But in the same way kids are born with distinct characteristics that require flexible parenting, I found that there's no way to predict how you will feel after giving birth, even though I'd done it before.
After my younger daughter was born more than two years ago, I thought I could pick up where I left off before I gave birth. But instead, suddenly, the basic question of how I was doing felt like an assault, and it became an unwelcome reminder that I wasn't OK. "How are you?" made my throat close and dried out my mouth, caused my jaw to clench, and challenged my eyes to see through blurry tears. It made me want to close up completely, and sometimes that simple question made me furiously angry.
How was I doing? I felt like I couldn't get far enough away from myself; I felt like I was suffocating alone. Most of my support system assumed I was just a more exhausted version of myself. And when I went to my six-week appointment after delivery, my ob-gyn and her nurse assumed I was fine because they trusted I knew how I should feel. After all, I had done it once before.
When they asked how I was feeling, I replied with a stiff jaw, "I have good days and bad days. But that's normal, right?" They nodded their heads. There was a feeling of relief when they didn't push more, and at the same time, I was crushed. I wanted them to press harder so they could discover I felt like I was drowning and burning at once, and they would offer to help me feel better.
Because my closest friends live far away and I didn't have to look them in the eye, even they weren't aware of what I was really going through at the time. When I progressed to a point where I could be honest about my emotional hardships, they asked in astonishment, "Why didn't you tell us?"
I didn't tell them because I couldn't speak about my feelings in a way that was remotely sensible. The moment I tried, I would move quickly toward tears and shut down. Today, I'm able to support my vulnerability with strength. PPD made me feel weak and empty, lost and fearful, and for a while, it took my voice.
Now that I'm finally feeling more like myself – largely thanks to a new healthcare provider – I no longer lie to people when they ask if we're going to try for a boy or have more kids. Now, I tell the truth. I tell them I struggled with PPD, and I can't put myself, or my family, through it again.