"Right now I am also well-practised at recognising the good things in my life, the things to be grateful for."
Deciding to have another child is always a difficult decision. Sufferers of post-natal depression have an added layer of questions to work through in their decision, sometimes to which the answer can never really be given. This is one survivor's story.
It's when you start to feel on top of things that you decide you're up to throwing something else impossible into the mix. For me, the question comes up every six months or so. I wrestle with it in my own intense way and come to a decision, and get on with my life. But like clockwork, it returns when I'm feeling capable.
I thought we were One And Done. Am I done?
My memories of early motherhood are not nice.
The broken sleep. Haemorrhoids. Blocked ducts. Breastfeeding in yoga-like positions to clear the blockages. Weird bodily fluids. The crying, oh god the crying.
Wondering if I would ever love my baby. Wondering if that feeling was normal, or I was just so very tired. Wondering why everyone seemed so overjoyed with this creature that fed on my soul. And yet being terrified that everything would kill him or hurt him, and that only I could prevent it. I had post natal depression and anxiety and that first year was the worst thing I have ever been through.
None of these things is my son's fault. I was suffering from mental illness. I refused all outside help, not wanting to appear weak, and as a result made things harder for myself. By the time things got really bad I had given everyone the impression I was fine. I wasn't. I hated motherhood. But because I have woven these events and my feelings together as one event, my idea of caring for an infant is inevitably tainted.
I have some gorgeous photos of my baby in that year which have been hard for me to look at. At the time I was snapping the photos, I knew he was being a cute little thing which is why my logical mind told me to record the moment: you'll want to remember this. But on the inside I felt cold. It could have been any baby sitting in front of me, kicking his legs like a chubby frog.
A year later I looked at the same photos and felt guilt. I could see the cuteness, the development from one photo to the next, and the adoration in his eyes. And I remembered my numbness. How could I feel that way towards someone who loved me so much? An innocent baby?
I was still suffering though. I had moved my focus from my son to myself. I was usually angry, utterly exhausted and generally critical of myself. I was not being the mother I wanted to be. Or the wife, daughter, friend or human being.
Now at three years old, my son is a delight. He's cute, fun to be around and can (somewhat) entertain himself. He makes friends easily and is learning things like a sponge. We are not quite there on the toilet training just yet, but he totally has the counting thing down pat. And thankfully the year-one photos actually bring me great joy. I am so glad I took them. The enormous love I feel for him now, I can transmit back to that moment in time when gave me a toothless grin (as Oprah as that sounds).
Life as a parent has become easier too. I've found my feet, lowered my expectations and am slowly learning how to manage life with depression and anxiety. I am not 'cured'; I still have my rough patches. I definitely think I'm a terribly mother some days and wonder why I am doing this. Some days I just scrape through and brainstorm ways to make life easier for myself.
But right now I am also well-practised at recognising the good things in my life, the things to be grateful for. And it makes me want to capitalise on the good. Which begs the question: should I reconsider my one-and-done stance?
The hints and questions from family and friends have started about a sibling but I am not bothered by what others think. My husband and I do however want to give our son the very best life we can. That doesn't mean toys or expensive education but the chance at a happy life. We understand that a sibling is not a guaranteed friend, neither in childhood nor adult life. And that for all the fun times to be had, there are just as many (if not more) arguments, bust-ups and disappointments – not to mention sacrifices.
I have heard the advice many times on deciding to have another child: take your worst day as a parent -the day with tantrums and potty accidents and damaged furniture – and ask yourself if you would still want another kid on this day.
The thought of guiding another person through this life fills me with dare I say it, excitement. On the other hand, I wonder if two children would get the same level of quality out of their already-fragile mother that an only child would? Or would I turn back into that angry, miserable, scared, broken person I was not so long ago?
When I think about having another baby, the physical work makes me nervous. Pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation. But the thought that absolutely terrifies me is this: I don't want to become that person again.