On November 8, 2016, I was rocking my one-day old daughter to sleep in my hospital room when my obgyn walked in on her rounds. I’m normally very deferential to doctors (or anyone in official-looking jackets and acronyms after their last names), but I asked her, in my most polite tone, if I could be discharged early. Sure, she said, this was my second baby, she wasn’t worried about me.
At home, my mother was entertaining my 4-year-old son, waiting for us to arrive from the hospital. I had a bottle of rosé in the fridge and a brand new set of white maternity pajamas laid out on my bed. I planned on sitting on my couch, nursing my newborn daughter, clasping my mother’s hand as we watched the first woman president be elected.
Of course, you know how the evening ended. I saw the look on the NBC analysts faces when they realized she could not catch up. I went to bed.
But there was no true bedtime for me. I woke every two hours to my baby’s squeaky little cry, and watched the stiff torsos of journalists confirm, and reconfirm, the election results.
When the sun came up the next morning I had a heaviness in my chest, like the edges of lungs were folding inward. I bathed my daughter in the sink, traced the ridge of her spine with my finger.
Throughout my pregnancy, I took long walks with my hands on my belly, and told her about the world I was bringing her into. When my due date came and went and my doctor scheduled my induction for the day before election night, it felt ordained. Her birth was a part of it all–of a world where a woman was in charge, where goodness and intelligence prevailed over bigotry and ignorance. Now, I rehearsed how I would explain this all to her years from now.
I deactivated Facebook and refused to watch the news. I listened to sports radio to stay awake during 3am feedings and learned about knee injuries, dislocated shoulders, salary caps.
But I couldn’t stop crying. The tears, the erratic waves of sadness that I couldn’t quite name, never stopped. I dreaded darkness: the sudden, early November evenings that lept through the trees and swallowed the sun. I recognized the symptoms–the same way I felt four years earlier when I had my first child. Back then, I tried to ignore it. I told no one, and pulled myself together every day before my husband came home from work.
But this time, I looked at my daughter looking at me.
I called my doctor. I went in the next day, told her I had postpartum depression (again) and asked for meds.
The next week, I took my daughter to the pediatrician. She was gaining weight too slowly, and, as was the case with my son, my breastmilk supply wasn’t keeping up. With my son, I worried for weeks over this, waking him up every 90 minutes to feed him, refusing to supplement with formula until the pediatrician ordered me to. This time, I stopped by Target on the way home to pick up formula, bottles, and a few magazines for myself.
Something had changed. On walks with my daughter, I started yelling back at catcallers. “I”m with my daughter, you asshole.” I called out racist comments at family events, even if the offender was old or nice or loving. A few months later, I went back to work. I was happy to be using my brain again, but I found that I could no longer tolerate the company owner’s casual sexism. So I quit.
I joined a company with values reflective of my own. I called my representatives. Since I couldn’t leave the baby long enough to protest, I donated. I started writing again.
I tried to practice mindfulness, to savor each ordinary moment with my baby. The first year goes by so fast, I know.
Moments before I pushed my daughter into the world, I told my husband I had never felt any more or any less like a woman. I was going through one of the defining acts of womanhood, yet every element of my femininity was suppressed. Hooked up to machines, body exposed and sexless. And yet, inside my abdomen, my little baby girl was curled up, her own abdomen already carrying 2 million oocytes, the precursors to eggs, the building blocks of two generations in my belly. The responsibility was dizzying. And two days later, as I sat on my couch, not drinking rosé, not watching our country elect a woman who was so clearly prepared to lead, I felt like I had already let her down.
Now, almost a year later, I’m assembling her baby book, looking back at the pictures chronicling her growth. Each of her milestones is tethered to some effort deadset on dragging us backward. She slept through the night for the first time–the Muslim ban. She crawled–Charlottesville. She said her first word–Puerto Rico. I’ll never be able to separate these two histories, try as I might.
She’s a different human being now (aren’t we all?) and she’ll grow up with politics mapped to her body. The work will be her work, and there’s a lot to do. But I feel the same way today that I did a year ago, walking my pregnant belly around my neighborhood, willing her out: exhausted, powerful, hopeful.