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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a wonderful 2-year-old daughter, and my husband and I love being parents. We feel ready to start trying for a second child. The only catch: I truly hated pregnancy. Although I had an absolutely normal, healthy pregnancy, and thankfully a delightful, healthy newborn, the process of the whole endeavor made me incredibly depressed.
Though I had fantasized about being pregnant—and it took nine months of trying to conceive—the actuality was not, for me, being adorably chic with a cute belly. Normally a very tiny person, I was suddenly massive; I gained nearly 60 pounds over the course of the pregnancy and was CONSTANTLY hungry. The doctors said it was perfectly fine since I was so small to begin with, and my blood sugar and heart rate were also totally normal throughout. But finding clothes (already something I do not enjoy), presenting a nice face to the world, and feeling happy about my body were really, really challenging tasks. I never thought it would matter so much to me—and I never realized how much I would hate not looking like, well, myself. I felt utterly unmoored in this alien body.
Furthermore, I had wild hormones that went up and down and up and down both throughout pregnancy and the 15 months I breastfed. The deep attachment and hormone-feedback cycles made my thoughts feel muddled even while they gave me a set of “mom super-powers” (e.g., I would wake the MOMENT my daughter awoke, before she even made a sound, the entire first year of her life; I could sense if something was off, even from a room away). The shifts in my body, my mind, and my personality during those years served my daughter—she is a happy, bright, healthy child. But I lost myself.
Now I’m coming back into my own—I finally look and feel like me again. I have someone who helps with child care part time so I can work. I feel happy balancing work, life, toddler, marriage, etc. And I want more children! But I don’t know if I am ready to do nine months of pregnancy, a year of breastfeeding, and go through the mind-muddle all over again. I’m baffled by women for whom pregnancy is a delightful time of life, and I want to believe it can be that way for me! But am I really stronger than my hormones? Can I really let go and say, “Sure, the formula is fine, bring it on”? I don’t know.
—Can Someone Else Breastfeed Please?
It makes all the sense in the world that you would feel at least some hesitation at the idea of putting your body and mind through the most grueling set of challenges they’ve had yet for a second and maybe even third or fourth time. No two pregnancies are the same, so you shouldn’t compare your previous one to any of those “I loved being occupied” weirdos on social media. Some people have lovely pregnancies, while others feel like they’re under some sort of hostile physical takeover, and then there are folks who alternate between both realities during the course of one or multiple gestations. Among all three groups are those who took years to get back to feeling “normal” after giving birth. It’s entirely possible that you could have a different experience this time around, but it could also be the case that pregnancy, for you, feels just one way, and you can’t get around that.
With this in mind, I’d suggest a cost-benefit analysis, but be clear—this is more than simply saying, “Do I want another baby enough to suffer to have one?” Really think about the impact that your first child’s birth and postpartum period had on you. What sort of steps did you have to take to rebuild a version of yourself that you could live with? Do you have it in you to do that again? Also, what sort of measures, if any, could you take to improve your experience? (A doula may be able to provide some support by guiding you through some useful self-care practices and healthy habits. She and/or a nutritionist also may help you take a healthier approach to eating next time around.) What did you learn the first time around that could save you some trouble?
One immediate thing that comes to mind is releasing yourself from the notion that you absolutely must breastfeed and do so for up to 15 months. Breastfeeding can take a hell of a toll on the body and we should not ignore that just because it’s “best for the baby”; it is also important for Baby to have a happy, healthy parent who has enough energy to care for them and themselves. If a second baby is in the cards, explore your feeding options. You could try supplementation with formula or donor milk, and/or an abbreviated period of nursing. A lactation counselor can help you try an approach that keeps in mind your need to be as comfortable as possible. And if you don’t nurse at all, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure of a mother. In fact, it may be the case that you need to break from that ritual in order to be the best mother you can be.
This time around, you’d be facing pregnancy knowing exactly what it could look like for you, what parts you are desperate not to repeat, and what you can survive once again. Let that knowledge be your guide and make a choice that truly serves you. Best wishes.