What I Wish I’d Known About the Second Year of Parenting

Springtime walks in the countryside

I walked a lot in the first months after my son was born because it was the only way Jack would sleep. I walked on fall days that were as crisp and colorful as a postcard, and into the winter when Portland, Oregon, is blanketed with heavy clouds. In early December, I stopped at a flower shop and bought two large poinsettias. I walked home with the baby nestled against my chest, his head on my heart, and one festive plant encircled in each of my arms. A man stopped and held his fingers out in the interlocking L’s as if framing an imaginary picture. “Super Mom,” he said.

I thought perhaps I should be offended by this man’s unsolicited attention and assumptions, but the truth was, I felt proud. At least from the outside, I looked like a good mom. I looked happy.

Depression has always been my grown-up version of the monster under the bed. While I couldn’t say for sure that I’d experienced it firsthand, I always sensed it was close. Fending off depression seemed to take constant vigilance, and I feared that after having a baby, I’d be tired and distracted and my tendency towards rumination and self-doubt would quickly spiral into full-blown despair.

Jack was not an easy baby. He cried constantly, not from colic but from a more general uncertainty about the world. If not being bounced rhythmically on our big green exercise ball, he would wail until his red face was frozen in a silent scream. He only slept if I held him. He also spit up constantly, not a milky dribble, but violent slingshots of vomit. Still, through all of it, I felt calm and present. This was hard, but everyone had said it would be. There was no room to think about anything except this small, furious being, and my brain welcomed a vacation from its own incessant chatter.

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Jack’s first birthday was a stunning September day, and we celebrated in the park. In the photos, I’m smiling, holding him in one arm and the string of a balloon in the other. I was celebrating my own milestone as much as his: we’d made it through the tough first year. I felt certain it would only get easier from here on.

On the same day Jack turned one, I packed up the tubes and bottles from my breast pump into their black carry case and tucked it all away on the top shelf of my closet. While I still planned to nurse at bedtime, pumping at work was a nuisance and I was ready to stop.

Soon after, fatigue hit me like a tidal wave. My whole body felt heavy; my brain seemed waterlogged, soggy, and slow. I gained weight and lost motivation to exercise. It became difficult to focus at work. The glossy sheen of new motherhood had worn off and left behind a duller version of myself.

Jack walked and then ran, said his first words and then his first sentences. I watched him trot around the playground, with his doughy cheeks and mullet of shaggy curls, and I felt lucky as a heads-up penny. But as my joy at…

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