Malaika Ludman is a birth doula and lactation counselor with a background in public health. She was born in DC and raised in Togo and northern Virginia. She spent her 20s serving in the Peace Corps, traveling, studying, and finding her professional self. Now in her 30s, she and her husband David (a professional saxophone player with Soul Project NOLA and other bands) have settled down in New Orleans and are parents to an energetic four-year-old son, Nico. Their family of three will be welcoming a baby girl soon after the new year.
One spring morning, my four-year-old son Nico told me that a butterfly landed on his nose while he was asleep. I asked him to describe this butterfly from his dream, and he told me that it wasn’t a dream. The butterfly was real, it was full of bright colors, and it was beautiful.
He talked about this butterfly for days. I looked up “butterfly dream meaning” and learned that butterflies symbolize transformation, new life, and changes that are about to take place. A butterfly serves as a spiritual messenger. A few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant with baby number two.
There’s something to be said about the selective amnesia that occurs with a subsequent pregnancy. You really do forget about all the unpleasantries and what it means to be a stranger in your own body.
When I was pregnant with Nico, I started to feel awful around week seven. I was constantly nauseous and bloated, my boobs were growing at a rapid pace, and my foggy brain couldn’t stay focused at my 9-to-5 job. I remember walking into my boss’ office and bursting into tears because I felt so off. He was a small-framed Nepali man with big glasses, just a few inches shorter than me. That day I cried in his office, I couldn’t help but tell him I was pregnant. He gave me a gentle hug and patted me on the back. I’ll never forget how comforting it felt to no longer have to hide behind my discomfort.
My boss was very accommodating during my pregnancy. I worked from home a few days here and there. I loved being able to cozy up in my sweatpants, close my eyes during my lunch break, and rest once I was off the clock. On weekends, I rested some more, saw friends, read about babies and childbirth, and nested. I would talk and sing to the life growing inside of me. My husband David and I lived in a one bedroom apartment in DC at the time. Life was simple. David worked at a coffee shop during the day and played music at night. He cooked me dinner often, and we ate far more Ethiopian food than we ever had before.
With my current pregnancy, I was five weeks along when I got the positive test result. I thought, “OK, I got this.” I felt good and energetic. I was exercising, eating healthy, and sleeping well. Then, two weeks later, the nausea and fatigue hit me full force and I thought to myself, “What have I done?!”
Food was gross. I felt like vomiting every morning, was constantly burping, and my body was changing so rapidly. Hardest of all was trying to keep up with my four-year-old while feeling so miserable. Nico loves companionship and balks at the thought of playing alone. He is a boisterous little boy who likes to run up and down our long hallway, pretending he’s a dinosaur or a superhero. He’s always moving and constantly asks, “What are we going to do next?”
Nico was free as a bird over the summer—he wasn’t in camp and I was taking care of him most days. David was splitting his time between playing gigs, going to band rehearsals, being on tour, and trying to wrap up the four-year project that has been our home renovation.
I spent some afternoons in bed. I had no desire to cook. My hormones made me feel like I was on fire in the New Orleans summer heat. Any time I left the house I had to haul around snacks for both me and my son. I stopped taking doula clients because I didn’t have the stamina. I didn’t want my pregnant clients to worry about my well-being while they were in labor.
My body started feeling better in my second trimester, but on some days I felt a huge sense of guilt at not being fully present for my son. I also felt a sense of guilt for not having the space or peace to connect with the new life inside of me. I realized I wasn’t talking or singing to my baby girl very much, as I had with Nico.
My greatest joy during this pregnancy has been observing my son’s growing love for this baby. A budding sense of compassion has started to sprout in his soul. When I would fill my tall glasses of water with ice he’d ask, “Is that too cold for the baby?” When I’d pour hot sauce all over my food he’d ask, “Is that too spicy for the baby?” When he would play with small toys he’d assure me that, “When the baby comes, I’ll put these away so she doesn’t choke.” He would ask whether the baby could hear us, and whether there were fish swimming with the baby inside my belly. His curiosity and concern for her has my love growing deeper.
When I was about five months pregnant, Nico asked to sleep in our bed so he could be closer to the baby. As endearing as this sounded, David and I were less than thrilled. He sleeps like a starfish, pushing David and me to the edges of the mattress. My quality of sleep is poor enough. But, Nico’s intentions are sweet nonetheless.
As I write this, I’m in my third trimester, just weeks away from labor day. I’ve been juggling a lot of responsibilities, and I’m not quite sure where I get the energy. I wake up at 6 a.m. every morning to make my son lunch and get him ready for preschool. Then I bounce around between meetings and lactation visits, coordinating programs to help improve maternal and child health outcomes in our city. Lately, my body is telling me to be still. I need to pause and listen to it.
When you are a birth professional and you are pregnant, it’s easy to think that you have all the answers and that you have everything under control. It can be hard to ask for advice or support. I’ve learned, however, that it is crucial to set this attitude aside and feel brave enough to ask for support when I really need it. Sometimes it just takes allowing myself to be present in this reality as a pregnant person and accepting that my family and community will step up to take care of me.
David and I are planning on having another home birth. I labored for 36 hours with Nico and David and I spent much of that time together, alone, in our DC apartment. Once my water broke towards the end of labor, everything moved so quickly that our midwife didn’t make it to our apartment until Nico’s head had already been born. At the time, we felt like warriors. In hindsight, we felt scared. We don’t want to relive that feeling of being alone and unheard.
We feel incredibly supported this time around. We are under the care of two midwives, two doulas, and an entire community of birth and lactation professionals. One thing I’ve vowed to do differently this time around is to ask for more help in the fourth trimester. After having Nico, David and I felt the need to cook for ourselves, clean for ourselves, and “figure it all out,” because we didn’t want to inconvenience others. That is not OK. When I was in tears and in pain from breastfeeding during Nico’s first few weeks of life, I didn’t know who to talk to. I suffered in silence. I had to endure the physical and emotional challenge of dealing with plugged ducts, a breast infection, and a baby that wasn’t gaining enough weight. David and I cannot put ourselves through that again. We will not.
As exhausted as I may be, one of the most heartwarming parts of my day is putting my son to bed at night. My body gets surges of oxytocin when I lay down with Nico to read his bedtime stories and the baby starts to wiggle and roll around. Nico lays next to me with his hand on my belly, amazed at her movements. She makes him giggle and his eyes are full of wonder. He falls asleep connected to me and his baby sister.
As her due date approaches, we are full of excitement and anxiety. They say you’re more relaxed the second time around——you’re in less of a rush for your baby to grow up, you don’t fret over the little things, and you’re better prepared to go with the flow. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a mama, it’s the value of relinquishing control and enjoying the chaos and spontaneity that a child brings into your life. Our home is about to get twice as chaotic, but we’re ready to go on this ride.
illustrations Victoria Allen