The Healing Power of Deja Vu

I started writing three years ago on Mothers’ Day. My son was about to turn two at the time, and I had done about a year’s worth of therapy to break out of postpartum depression and anxiety and build my confidence as a mother. I wanted to tell my story, to share it with others and process it myself.

So here I am with an almost 5 year old. He’ll start kindergarten in September. He dresses himself, feeds himself, and insists on bathing himself (sometimes he even uses soap). On the flip side, I have this tiny pink perfection of a five-month-old baby daughter. In some ways, it feels like I’ve rewound back to the beginning. Bottles, breastfeeding, baby food jars, diapers, and pacifiers are back in our home after a long absence. 

When my husband and I decided to try for a second kid, I hoped and prayed that things could be different for me this time. That I wouldn’t slip back into the darkness I felt when my son was an infant. I did more than hope and pray though. I planned for how I would take better care of myself this time around. I vowed I would attend the moms’ support groups at my local hospital. I had talks with my husband about warning signs and what he should do in response. I made sure I had a stronger support system of family, friends, and especially other mothers. And you know what? Things have been very different this time. Beautifully similar, and beautifully different.

Giving birth, take two: Several days after my son’s birth, I had a serious hemorrhage and complications that left me scared, traumatized, sick, weak, and reeling (see this post for details). My daughter’s birth this past December was not without incident. I chose to be induced four days after my due date after learning from an ultrasound that my baby might be close to 10 lbs (thankfully, she was actually 9 lbs at birth). I had a long, drawn out, painful labor (epidurals are magic though!) And despite reassurances from my OB that it would be highly unlikely, I had another hemorrhage. This one happened in the delivery room right after giving birth, and the speedy response of the doctors and nurses was actually quite a healing experience when contrasted with the last time around. Don’t get me wrong, it was scary in that delivery room. Not so much for me since I was riding high on post-push adrenaline, but for my husband and mom who could see the aftermath. But it was over in a matter of minutes. I advocated for myself to have a follow-up OB appointment two weeks postpartum instead of the requisite six, so I could have peace of mind that my healing was on the right track. 

Breastfeeding, take two: Breastfeeding my son was also a traumatic experience for me (see this post). I found it to be both physically and emotionally painful. With my daughter, things started out rocky. I struggled with low supply and had to supplement with formula from the start.  Please understand that I am exceedingly aware that FORMULA IS AMAZING. My son is healthy, smart, and well adjusted (and he had almost 100 percent formula as a baby). But for mothers, I think there is just a biological drive to breastfeed, as well as strong feelings of guilt and failure if you are not able to supply everything your baby needs with your own body. No amount of logical, rational knowledge that formula is great can compete with biology, especially in those early days when postpartum hormones run amuck. Add to that the current breastfeeding-obsessed culture and there is a ridiculous amount of pressure for a new mom to handle, when really the most important thing is that the baby eats and gains weight, however that happens.

This time around, breastfeeding proved challenging for me again, but instead of experiencing it as an epic fail like I did with my son, I was able to reframe it as a win. My daughter had a better latch from the start (so less pain) and because my postpartum health complications weren’t as serious, my milk also came in more easily. As my daughter grew and continued to need more formula to satisfy her, I shed tears over not being able to supply everything she needed. I thought about quitting, even though I enjoyed the act of nursing her. I saw breastfeeding as all or nothing. What helped me change my thinking was the support of lactation consultants, my local mothers’ group, and my friends and family. They all encouraged me to make my own choice and educated me about “combo feeding,” which I really never realized was a thing. My daughter is five months old now and has thrived on a combination of breast milk and formula. 

There are all kinds of ways to feed your baby. Nursing, pumping, bottle feeding, supplementing at the breast. Everyone figures out a route that works for them, even if it’s not what they pictured at the start. For me, what has made me a better mother and a stronger person is being able to let go of my expectations and just live in the moment with my babies, doing the best I can each day to care for them.

At five months, I think my baby and I are ready for weaning. However, I’m again struggling with negative, self-deprecating thoughts. “What if my baby doesn’t like me as much? What if I can’t soothe her without nursing?” This weekend as I took a postpartum yoga class (which I highly recommend by the way) I found myself ruminating on these thoughts and I encouraged myself to challenge them. Instead of dwelling on feelings of inadequacy, I decided to thank my body for all it’s done for me and my babies. To tell myself it will be okay to let go of breastfeeding and enter the next phase of motherhood with my family. To think of this transition as an act of bravery, of belief in myself that I am more to my baby than just a breast. I am her mother. I am my son’s mother. And I am doing a f*cking great job.

Sleep, take two: I’m reluctant to even write this for fear it will disappear, but here goes. My baby sleeps. She sleeps very well and pretty much always has. When my son was a baby, sleep eluded us for almost the first year of his life. We tried all kinds of tricks and methods and nothing seemed to work. With this baby, we’ve done close to nothing. And she just sleeps. I think this confirms what I suspected all along, which is that some babies sleep and some don’t. I was so quick to take all the blame for my son’s sleep issues, but I’m pretty sure that I can’t take any credit for my daughter sleeping well. She just does.

Oh how I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to stop frantically trying to get my infant son to sleep. To tell myself it would be okay and eventually he would learn to sleep through the night and nap like a champ. That I should just be kind to myself and do whatever I needed to get through the tiring days and nights. But I can’t go back. What I can do is tell all the sleepless mamas out there that it will be okay! You’re not doing anything wrong and there’s no magic trick you’re missing. Sleep when you can. And maybe, if you have another baby, you’ll get the kind that sleeps. It worked out that way for me.

Where I am now: I’m certainly not suggesting having a second kid solves any problems. More kids equals definitely more problems. But these are good problems to have. This is the mantra I repeat when comforting a fussy baby while my five-year-old simultaneously whines at me and bounces off the walls of my house. “These are good problems to have,” I whisper to myself. These are the problems I chose. 

There are so many things in life that are not what we would choose. Today, I think about the mothers who have lost children and the children who have lost mothers. The mothers tending sick children and the children at the bedsides of ill mothers. The men and women longing to become parents, uncertain of what the future might bring. I see you. I feel for you. Be kind to yourself and kind to others. There are many things we cannot choose in life, but we can choose to be kind.

And while I sometimes feel I’m back at the beginning again, the deja vu of child number two has been a very healing experience for me. It has given me a chance to look at what I’ve learned and where I’ve been, and a chance to rejoice at where I’m going.

Happy Mothers’ Day! I love you all.


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