I found out about my second pregnancy during the second year of graduate school. It was also only a month after my first daughter’s dol (Korean traditional first birthday). This time I just knew that I was pregnant even before a missed period. My body remembered the feelings of nausea and morning sickness and I just had this gut feeling even before a pregnancy test came back positive.
Ironically, a bachelorette party was planned for the night and I had been looking forward to hanging out with girlfriends and having some drinks. I debated whether or not to test before going out. As much as I wished I wasn’t pregnant that night, I drove to the pharmacy and purchased a pregnancy test. And sure enough, my intuition was right.
I still went out that night knowing it would be my last time in a long time. I skipped the alcoholic drinks but still tried to make the most of my last night out. I didn’t tell anyone about the pregnancy that day but my head was spinning with so many thoughts and anxieties. In the end, I decided that it was unexpected but welcoming news as I always knew I wanted a second child.
Luckily, the second pregnancy progressed much smoother than the first without any complications or concerns. I continued to go to graduate school, take care of my first daughter with my mom’s help and work hard towards getting the TA ship I knew I needed to boost my career.
When I found out the second baby was a girl, I was elated. I have a younger brother then a younger sister and I always found this girl-boy-girl dynamic to be a little odd compared to other boy-boy and girl-girl siblings. I felt happy and blessed that I can give my first daughter the greatest gift of a younger sister close in age. I always dreamed of having two daughters, and my dream was slowly coming true.
Graduate studies proved to be a joyous endeavor. It was difficult sitting through long hours of graduate seminars but I enjoyed it for the most part. I did well and was eventually offered a paid position to teach research and writing to undergraduates.
I had a family and promising career. All this by age 27. Life began to look brighter.
Second Labor & Delivery
I went into labor on the day of my due date. When labor contractions began in the morning, I was excited to be going into natural labor unlike the first time when I had to be induced due to low amniotic fluid. Contractions began in the form of a dull ache in the lower part of my belly. It came and went in waves. It wasn’t uncomfortable at the time and I even had a weird craving for french fries and iced coffee before my routine check up. And yes, I ate right before checking in.
My gynecologist told me that I was in early labor and would most likely progress that afternoon. He asked if I’d like to check into the hospital to which I immediately replied yes. I was tired of feeling (and looking) like a beached whale, again, and couldn’t wait to meet my baby.
I checked into the hospital at around 10 am and by mid-afternoon I was in active labor. The pain was manageable thanks to a timely epidural and I was dilating fast, contrary to the first time. I was eating ice chips, smiling and talking to the nurses and the next thing I knew, it was time to push.
I must’ve pushed once or twice and she was out. I remember thinking Wait, that’s it? It was such a different experience than the first time. Joyous, fluid and gratifying. The way I dreamed of. The first time I was engulfed by raw emotions; this time I was embraced by a quiet calm and gratitude.
I held my second daughter, who was smaller and more wrinkly than her older sister, smiled and welcomed her into the world.
Second Time Around
Everything felt so much easier the second time around. By now I was a professional diaper changer, breastfeeder and baby caretaker. I can do these things with my eyes closed. The biggest challenge was deciding whether to breastfeed exclusively or mix in formula. I knew I had to return to work and did not want to go through the stress of weaning again.
I returned home on the same day, popped a Vicodin to control the post-delivery pain in my womb, and began cleaning my bedroom like a madwoman. Looking back, this was not normal behavior as I was overwhelmed with a surge of energy and pleasure. Why wasn’t I tired? Instead, I moved around like the energizer bunny when I should’ve been resting. My so-called recovery was so fast. Too fast. I should’ve known better than to begin second time motherhood at full speed.
My family looked upon me approvingly and no one questioned my erratic behavior. They thought I had everything under control. I thought I had everything under control. Friends commented on how fast my recovery was. From the moment I returned from the delivery room, I began taking care of the new baby all by myself, waking up every two to three hours, feeding, changing, bathing and rocking her to sleep. I felt no lethargy or weepiness.
Soon, my body began working mechanically like a clock.
My body and senses became so reactive to my baby’s needs that I soon found myself opening my eyes as soon as my baby begins to make the tiniest sound. She didn’t even have to wake up or cry. My eyes would just pop open and my legs would just leap out of bed.
Was this natural? Was this maternal?
To this day, I’m not quite sure.
One morning my baby began to cry, a cue that she was hungry or needed her diaper changed. I heard the same sound countless times before and it was now the reason for my existence. Yet this time my eyes wouldn’t snap open and my body won’t listen. My mind is saying wake up, but my legs feel like they weigh a ton.
I can’t move. I can’t get up. All I remember thinking is how I would like to just sink into the bed and disappear into another world.
I dragged my feet to and from her bassinet, head in a deep fog and heart without soul. I felt empty. Clock stopped ticking.
That day, a switch turned off in my head. I’m not sure if the change was gradual or overnight –and must I remind you, these were days when my needs didn’t matter. I was too long since I stopped to think about how I was doing and over time, I had forgotten all about taking care of my emotional, physical and spiritual needs.
All I know is there was this dark cloud hovering over my head that wouldn’t go away.
Visit to the Psychiatrist
Luckily I was still sane enough to know my feelings were unusual and indicative of a deeper problem. After reading Brooke Shield’s Down Came The Rain and being unable to relate to her experiences as a celebrity mom with access to the best nannies and resources (this was before mommy blogs were so easily accessible), I decided to seek professional help. At the time the term “postpartum depression” was rarely talked about and I didn’t have a single friend who knew anything about it. I felt utterly helpless, vulnerable and alone.
Immediately I searched for a nearby psychiatrist, preferably a female, and told her I’d like an appointment right away.
The psychiatrist was a woman in her late 40’s or early 50’s, with an air of professionalism and hint of maternal softness. She sat at her desk with her big blonde hair, surrounded by pictures of her children and rows and rows of books. She gave me a short test with less than 20 questions. I answered honestly.
After carefully grading it like a teacher would, she told me that I am clinically depressed. I’m not sure what being “clinically” depressed means, but I’m assuming it means it warrants psychiatric medication and regular follow up. She also asked me if there was a history of depression in my family. I told her I wasn’t sure.
Now I realize that even if there was, my poor mother and grandmother had to endure it all by themselves, in silence.
She went on to give me helpful tips on how to stay positive. She said I should maintain a high vibration in my actions, thoughts and words. She suggested I keep a gratitude journal when I told her I used to once enjoy writing (which inspired my very first blog, The Gratitude Tree). She told me to replace every “should” with “I get to.”
For example, instead of saying “I should clean the house,” say “I get to clean my house.” I had to rewire my brain. She said to avoid the word should.
Should is profane like shit. Funny, but it helped.
And with that, she prescribed me Cymbalta, an anti-depressant, and reminded me not to stop taking the medication without her approval. She said I should take it for at least one year.
Life On Anti-Depressants
I’m not sure if it was due to placebo affect or the actual medication, but I began to feel better immediately after the visit. Anti-depressants are supposed to take at least a week or two to kick in, but I felt better and more hopeful after a few days. I began to take medication at a set time and returned to my normal routine at home with the kids. I began praying more, writing in my online gratitude journal and reminding myself to stay positive. I continued my graduate studies and teaching.
My older daughter was still being seen by various therapists and specialists and just beginning to walk at age 2. My second daughter was growing as a normal functioning, healthy and happy child. By this time, I saw a clear difference between my two daughters’ development and knew that my first child was indeed, different.
While anti-depressants reduced my lows and feelings of hopelessness, lethargy and despair, it didn’t make me truly happy either. In fact, it masked my emotions and made me a dull and unfeeling individual. As a sensitive and perceptive child since birth, I hated feeling this way. I didn’t feel like my authentic self and I missed having feelings again…even the unpleasant ones.
To make matters worse, I began to exhibit odd symptoms. For example, my mind would begin racing, giving me a feeling of high like I’ve never felt before. I would sit down and write in my journal and all kinds of crazy thoughts would fill my head and pour out onto paper. I didn’t feel like my normal self but I didn’t hate it either. For a short time, I felt like a mad genius. It was the weirdest yet grandest feeling ever.
After doing some research (as an English-teacher-mom, I became very adept at this) I realized what I was experiencing were symptoms of manic episodes. Apparently manic episodes are side effects of anti-depressants and anyone can exhibit these symptoms. The medication that was supposed to help me was making me worse. Whatever caused the symptoms, it scared me. Plus I was tired of being dependent on a tiny yellow pill that makes me feel like someone else, and now makes me feel like a crazy writer person.
I never bothered to revisit the psychiatrist and just stopped taking the medication cold turkey after 3 months. I knew this was not recommended but I didn’t give a shit. This was MY mind, MY body, and MY life, and I was determined to regain control over my feelings and thoughts.
And I needed more sleep.
After a few weeks of brain zaps (the worst feeling ever) and a few emotional breakdowns, I began to feel like myself again. The medication was out of my system and I vowed never go back to that dark place again. I began to take care of myself again.
All in all, experiencing postpartum depression was the most turbulent time of my life. But I conquered. And persevered. Does this mean my trials of motherhood are over? Far from it. But I now have the courage to get over my fears of vulnerability and share my stories with hope that it can help another mom out there.
You can read about how I’m doing today with three kids here.