41 | The Bi+ Postpartum Experience

Guests:

Allison Coleman is the Owner and Founder of Syler Pregnancy & Family Planning, which provides virtual and in-person wellness services to people who are trying to conceive (TTC) and currently pregnant. Allison has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Master’s Degree in Social Work. Allison is openly bisexual and a wife/mother of a 2.5-year-old son named Tyler.

Anne Marie is a young queer mom, bisexual femme, and Political Organizer living in the Pacific Northwest with her daughter, her partner, and their furry and feathered friends. Anne Marie sits on the NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon PAC, is an active member of Basic Rights Oregon’s Fierce Parents of Transgender Youth Committee, and has worked hard to ensure pro-choice and pro-LGBTQ champions have been elected up and down the ballot in Oregon.

Further Reading

Episode Transcription:

Emily: Before the episode starts, I just want to let you know that this episode contains some frank discussions about birth and birthing trauma and postpartum depression and psychosis. If this is not something that you are comfortable listening to, we just suggest that you listen to one of our other great episodes and just skip this one for everyone else. Enjoy the episode.

Emily: Each person who grows their family through pregnancy has their own journey, the ups and downs of the two week wait, navigating health insurance and medical care and sometimes the not as often discussed, emotional, physical, financial and personal challenges. The research is still growing but we are seeing patterns in how the pregnancy, birth, and then postpartum journey uniquely impacts bi+ people. To discuss their own experiences, some of the findings of the research, and what we can do together to support bi+ folks, I have with me, Allison and Ann Marie. Allison Coleman is the owner and founder of Syler pregnancy and family planning, which provides virtual and in-person wellness services to people who are trying to conceive and currently pregnant. Allison has a bachelor's degree in psychology and master's degree in social work. Allison is openly bisexual and a wife, mother of a two and a half year old son Tyler. Anne Marie Backstrom is a young queer mom, bisexual femme, and political organizer living in the Pacific northwest with her daughter, her partner and their furry and feathered friends. Anne Marie sits on the NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon PAC, is an active member of Basic Rights Oregon's Fierce Parents of Transgender Youth Committee, and has worked hard to ensure that prochoice and pro-LGBTQ champions have been elected up and down the ballot in Oregon. I'll start with the question that I like to ask all guests. Who is in your family and how was it formed?

Allison: So my family was formed via pregnancy. I got pregnant on January 28, 2016 I'll never forget that day and gave birth to my son on October ninth of that year and he was conceived by my spouse and I.

Anne Marie: My journey to parenting and motherhood was actually kind of interesting. I'm a young mom. I gave birth to my daughter when I was 19 years old. I grew up in a very religious household that wasn't very affirming of my bisexuality. I got married young and we had our wonderful, wonderful child back in 2010. My ex-husband and I, we separated shortly after, but we're able to co-parent really well. And through the years I've had different partners. I've had relationships with people of many genders. But through my advocacy and queer rights, I actually ended up meeting my life partner, Dominic, through my volunteer work with Basic Rights Oregon. So my family includes myself, my almost nine year old daughter, my partner, and my ex-husband. And we just kind of all blend it together.

Emily: Fabulous. And what are some of your favorite things to do as a family?

Anne Marie: Both my partner and my ex-husband and my daughter are very into video games. So video gaming culture is something that we definitely engage in. We're also very lucky. I live in Portland, Oregon. We have such a vibrant social justice community. We have a vibrant queer community. And with my daughter being trans, and myself being bisexual, we really plug into a lot of queer advocacy and events. I'd say that we're just a very typical family, but that blended family and activism all blended in.

Allison: My son is young, he just turned two and a half, so he's obsessed with Dora. He's just a lot of fun. He's so curious about everything and I just love spending time with him.

Emily: Would talk some more about that journey to parenthood. Was it a long journey? Was it something that you had planned for a long time? Any sort of big experiences or takeaways through that journey to becoming a parent?

Allison: My pregnancy honestly inspired me to start my own companies. I always knew I wanted to be a mother. When my spouse and I got married, we want to wait a little bit. I was already in my thirties, so I didn't want to wait too long, but you know, I wanted to enjoy the marriage. After we had been married for about a year, that's when we started trying. It just took several months. I'm so thankful for acupuncture. I started acupuncture and was pregnant really quick after that happened. So I was very thankful for that. My pregnancy actually went really well. I was very healthy, very conscientious. I don't know if I'll go into it, but my birth was quite challenging, honestly, for my son and for all of us and led to different things postpartum.

Anne Marie: Like I said, briefly, I grew up in a family that was really religious, that was not affirming of my queer identity. I always knew I wanted to be a mom, just like you, Allson. But it was kind of this expectation. I had dated women primarily in high school, but then I met my now ex-husband and we fell in love and like many women in my family, I got married right at 18 out of high school and we got pregnant pretty soon after. People are always surprised, but we did plan our pregnancy and I was a little nervous in my pregnancy. I am neurodivergent, so I struggled ADHD and mental illness my entire life. I'm recovered from anorexia. So I had a rough and challenging pregnancy just to stay healthy. But I was so excited. I was so excited to be pregnant and to meet my kiddo. I was so excited to get on this podcast because just like you said, Allison, my pregnancy was this awesome, amazing experience. But when it came to birth and the postpartum period, I didn't feel prepared well for how my queerness would affect me. And also this idea of just the birth and postpartum being difficult and having challenges come up. So that's how I grew my family and my partner and I, down the road, we're thinking of growing our family again. I'm 28 and we're looking at it from this different perspective and I feel just very blessed to have gone the route that I did back when I was 18 and 19 and now be planning potentially for another baby in the next few years and all the joy that can come with that.

Emily: Family Equality recently created a guide for bi+ people in different sex relationships. Though the research is limited, we're seeing the suggestion that bi+ people who have children in the context of different sex relationships may be more likely to experience depression and anxiety symptoms in the postpartum period. Right now the speculation is that during that transition to parenthood, there is that loss of identity around sexual orientation and a feeling of disconnection from the LGBTQ+ community. There's not tons of research, but that's what we're starting to really see. And I would love to think about that and unpack that together. First is that speculation that bi+ people who have kids in a different sex relationship might experience that disconnection from the LGBTQ+ community. Does that feel relevant to you? Is that any part of your experience?

Anne Marie: Definitely. I've had this experience. I was married and then we got a divorce and we were co-parenting. And before meeting my current partner who is a cis-het man, I dated people across various genders. I've definitely noticed my own internalized bi-phobia or my connection with my own queerness and the queer community really change over the years depending on if I'm in a relationship with a woman or if I'm in a relationship with someone like my current partner. Through my pregnancy, giving birth and postpartum, I felt a very deep loss of my queer identity. My ex-husband, my daughter's father, was always wonderful and has always affirmed my queerness, but I think especially in my religious family, it was kind of this idea of, oh, Anne Marie is straight now. Anne Marie got married and had a baby. That phase of her life, it's over. And I didn't quite know where I fit in pregnancy and the postpartum period with the queer community. I had my queer friends, but when I would go to events, I saw families that had a different route to pregnancy and growing their family than I did. And I always felt like I was straddling between these two worlds of being a young married mom, married to a man, and also being a very queer woman and approaching my identity in parenting as a queer woman. There was this loss and also this sense of privilege and it was hard to grapple with that because with my ex-husband, and now with my male partner, I can walk through the world as a appearing-straight person. And I'm also cisgender and I'm white and I'm able to just walk through the world and if I don't want to claim that I'm queer, I don't have to. And when I've been in relationships with women or people of other gender identities, that hasn't been the case. Now at 28, I feel a very firm and strong connection to my queerness and my queer community. But it was a journey.

Allison: When I gave birth to my son, I was actually questioning at the time. I honestly was questioning for many years, but actually didn't come out until two years ago. So it's been quite a journey. When we transition from being a single person to a mother, that's quite a transition right there. And then on top of that I was questioning my sexuality and I was even questioning my career choices. After I gave birth I really wanted to make that switch from what I was doing to helping up people form their own families. That was quite a trying time for me. So, ever since I came out, it's been wonderful. I live here in the Bay Area and we're very accepted. I've received tremendous support.

Emily: Were there moments where there was a feeling of loss of identity or where your identity was disconnected, through the pregnancy and postpartum? Was there a difference at all in how you felt in queer spaces? How connected you felt?

Anne Marie: I've always had very affirming people in my life. Even though it was rough with my family when I was growing up, my mother has come around and really learned to accept both me and my kiddo for who we are. But I think that there was this deep period, especially getting married and having a baby at 18 and 19, where I kind of had this thought of maybe I can just be straight in this world. I was still grappling with religion. I don't identify as religious anymore. But I had this thought of, I can just be a good mother, a good wife, and I don't have to be queer anymore. I felt this sense of obligation, not just through my relationship with religion and my family, but just in this world. It was definitely hard and it was painful. I mentioned before that I went into pregnancy knowing that I'm neurodivergent and I'm prone to postpartum complications. But I wasn't prepared for, and I know that we'll talk about this later, was those postpartum outcomes. I was prepared for depression. I was prepared for the baby blues. Maybe my anxiety would get worse. But after the birth of my daughter I went through just months of postpartum psychosis that actually landed me in the hospital. I think internalized or outside bi-phobia or homophobia definitely played a part. That idea of isolation, isolation from my community, isolation within myself and my own identity. What I want for all bisexual new parents, especially queer parents, to know is that you can hold your identity, whatever that identity is, and your identity as a parent. That they don't have to be in conflict, that they go hand in hand. I wish 10 years ago that I had known that. I think would have still struggled with postpartum depression and psychosis. But I think it could have been easier.

Emily: I can't imagine queer community spaces have always been welcoming. I would love to believe them to be, but I know that bi-phobia is real and that includes within LGBTQ+ spaces. Have you had challenges in LGBTQ spaces and have you had some really wonderful experiences that others can learn from?

Anne Marie: I've definitely had both. As you mentioned in my bio, I do political organizing work and I focus on reproductive freedom, queer and Trans rights, and advocacy. I definitely noticed when I'm partnered with a woman or a person who is not a cis man, I felt more, not accepted, but less hesitant to join in queer celebrations and in queer spaces. My partner, he works in queer rights, but he's a straight man. And I've noticed that even with my well intentioned allies in the work that we're doing, I will get kind of straight washed of like, Anne Marie and she's partnered with Dominic. And I'm like, yes. And that's not the whole story. Regardless of who I'm partnered with, regardless of my parenting status, I am still a queer woman. I do still face these challenges. You said this too Alison, but just my confidence has grown so much and I'm so much more vocal now as an activist, as a mother. I'm here and I'm queer and I want to use my privilege to help other people, but I also want to be seen as who I am. Making that happen has been so positive for our family. I think both for me and especially after my daughter came out as trans. We have this network of queer organizations and queer organizers and queer people just behind us. And as someone with family members that aren't always as supportive and as affirming, it's been so great. I really feel like I've been able to build and grow this community and I just want all other bisexual or questioning parents to have the same experience and to be welcomed into the queer community. I see the work being done, especially here in Portland, with all the amazing activists and organizations. But like you said, there's still so much more we need to do to make spaces more inclusive because, again, it's like that straddling of two worlds, you know. I'm not quite a straight mom, but I'm also not quite queer enough and where do we fit in?

Allison: There's so much bias from straight people and also from queer people. It's like you're being judged one way or another. So that's hard, trying to find that identity. That's why I think it is hard in the queer community, you're not totally fitting in. But then also we fit in mainstream society because we live in a patriarchal culture. I think it makes it hard and just the different stereotypes that are out there as well.

Anne Marie: And I don't know about you Allison, but as I've really come to terms with myself and my queerness, I feel like a more confident and competent mom. I feel like I approach my motherhood in such a different way than when I had this negative self view about my sexuality.

Emily: I know really want to maybe switch a little bit. You both now alluded to or talked a little bit about your pregnancy and birth experience and then your postpartum experience. Would you just share more about what, what was some of your birth experience and how your identity, but also how you got what you needed from family, friends and also from the medical community?

Allison: So I had to go in and be induced. I went in for my 40 week appointment and my gynecologist said my amniotic fluid was low. So she's like, you need to be induced and aren't you ready to give birth. What ended up happening was that it took four days. They did all of these different procedures and then my son actually almost died, when I started receiving Pitocin his heart rate got significantly low and I ended up having an emergency c-section. So just that whole experience of being in labor for four days andmy son almost died,that really took a toll on me. So I didn't really actually recognize that I was like depressed. I had a very pessimistic attitude about pregnancy. My friends and family were like, oh, are you going to try again? I'm like, no, I don't want to go through that again. And honestly the turning point for me was my supervisor pulled me in and she's like, I'm seeing this big difference in you. She's like, you know, before you were pregnant, you were so excited and passionate and now you're a completely different person. The only thing I know that's different is that you had a baby. I noticed then my work performance is going down. And even with my friends I was always just always down and depressed. I was like, you know what, I think I'm depressed. So I started seeking therapy and that was beneficial. But once I acknowledged it, it really was a turning point. Like I said, at that time there was just a lot going on, not only with the depression that I was experiencing but also questioning my identity, my bisexuality as well. And that was a rough patch because of all the different things I was going through. I'm so thankful for the support I received and since then it's been really empowering, being able to overcome all of that and be who I am. Being more confident and self assured.

Anne Marie: Allison and thank you for sharing that. So I might be a little stop-and-starty on this one. It was hard. I talked about my pregnancy earlier and I mentioned that I live with neurodivergence. I'm also a trauma survivor. So when it came to my pregnancy, I have neurodivergence, but I also have PTSD and an eating disorder and I lived with depression and anxiety. So my midwives really prepped me. I stayed on antidepressants through my whole pregnancy. They prepped me that postpartum depression was going to be very likely and that they would be there to support me through it. When it came to birth, I wanted to have a very natural childbirth. So we were doing a water birth with midwives in a hospital setting. But nobody prepared me for the fact that my labor could be 36 hours. It was long. And it was very scary and traumatic for me. Again, just being a trauma survivor and being a very young person, I had no idea what to expect. My birth was really long and I was pushing for almost five hours. And I remember they handed me my baby after this. I just, I looked at her and she was so beautiful, but I was just so out of it. And I think that whether your birth is long and traumatic or it's another kind of birth, there's just this kind of almost association of, Oh, wow, there's this baby, but I'm exhausted.

Anne Marie: I went home and I was prepared to have postpartum depression and anxiety, but nobody ever talked to me - and this surprises me now that I have a degree in public health education and I focus on sexuality studies - nobody prepped me or even told me the words postpartum psychosis. Even though I'd been dealing with mental health my whole life. I definitely heard of psychotic episodes happening with severe depression. I felt really lonely. My, my husband worked while I stayed at home as a stay at home mom and he had to work long hours to support our really young family. And I found staying home alone while all my friends were 18, 19, living their lives, I was really lonely. I was really isolated and depressed and I didn't even notice when it slipped into the baby blues to postpartum depression to then that psychosis.

Anne Marie: And it was scary. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know who to reach out to for help. I thought that if I told someone that I was having these psychotic symptoms, they would take my baby away or say that I was a bad mother. I was really scared. I thought that it was my fault, that I was doing something wrong. I didn't know that this is a condition that can happen after anyone kid's birth. So it was hard. I had my husband there and he was my support person, but he couldn't be everything. No one can be everything. I just fell deeper and deeper into that depression and psychosis. I relapsed in my eating disorder and it got so bad that eventually I tried to end my life. I spent some time in the hospital after my suicide attempt and they diagnosed me with postpartum psychosis and they helped me. I got therapy, I got medication. I got well again and I'm still here. I'm still a mom to my daughter and I'm so thankful. But I spent her first birthday in the hospital getting well, and I firmly believe that so much of that could have been prevented if it was talked about. If it was talked about by the community, by my midwives, by just society as a whole. I love that we're talking more about postpartum depression in the media and in the world. We need to be more open about it. I've always been scared to share this story cause I'm like, Oh God, what are these people gonna think of me as a mother. But it's real and it happens and I'm here today and I'm safe and healthy and my child is safe and healthy.

Anne Marie: But, you know, I just wish that every parent could get help before that breaking point or like you were saying Allison, before things were getting bad at work and at home and everything just felt so overwhelming. It's interesting, through all of that, I've really been able to bond with my kiddo. My daughter is my best friend. She's almost nine. She's the coolest kid I know. It's been such an incredible journey, but I know moving forward, I want to look at growing my family in a very different way in the future. If I do choose to have another child, which I think that in the coming years I will, I don't know if I want to be pregnant myself again. We've looked into surrogacy, adoption, all these other ways to grow a family. And it's interesting in terms of my queerness cuz in these queer parenting spaces, I know a lot of queer parents look to those options as well. But it's very different when I'm in a same sex relationship and kind of how that's viewed. So much goes into not just pregnancy, but those birth experiences and those postpartum experiences and we need to be more open about them. And I think doubly so for parents that don't fit that cis-het binary mold of what a family looks like.

Emily: What do you wish you had been alerted to be on the lookout for that maybe would have helped you realize what was happening a little bit sooner?

Anne Marie: I think for me, I was prepped for the depression and for my eating disorder, so I was able to get treatment. I relapsed in the eating disorder. I was able to go to a treatment program and get a little better. But I wish that when my midwives or parenting classes had sat down and really talk to me about what to look for with my mental illness, I wished that they had just said the words, this is rare, but postpartum psychosis exists in a small amount of people that have given birth and this is what it looks like. I wouldn't have wanted to be scared, like you're going to get this. But I wish someone would have just said the words because when it was happening, I thought that I was going crazy. I thought that I was a bad parent. I didn't know that it could happen and it could be tied to birth and postpartum. So I really just wish that someone had said something the way they did with my depression and with my anorexia.

Emily: It's almost like if you don't know what symptoms to be looking for, then when they happen you can't address it and you can't recognize it and get that help.

Anne Marie: When I went to the hospital and was getting treated for the psychosis, I brought up that fear that I was scared that if I went and told my midwife or my therapist they were going to take my baby. And I was told resoundingly like, no, we would have diagnosed you with postpartum psychosis and we would've helped you sooner. And I just, I wish I would have known that.

Allison: I think our society, not only the medical providers, but also family, friends, loved ones, should still give that attention postpartum. When you're pregnant, everyone gives you attention., They always want to know how you're doing, opening doors for you and all that stuff. That's how our culture is, because you're pregnant, you get all this attention. Even when I would see my gynecologist, I was always screened for depression and anxiety. So they always do that, but afterwards it's all about your baby. And not to say that that's a bad thing, I mean, it's very important. It's a innocent baby and you definitely need to be taking care of it. The mother needs to be taken care of as well. All that attention should be devoted to the mother and the child also.

Emily: What advice do you have for bi+ people anywhere in their parenting journey? Is there something that you wish you had known during your own journey that you might say to any bi+ folks listening?

Anne Marie: Oh Man. There's a lot that I could put in there. I think first of all, I would say you are bi+ or queer or however you identify. You are enough. You are bi. You are valid. You are in our community and you're a vital part of our community. I would say try to not lose that in yourself regardless of what your parenting and relationship status looks like. You are still part of our community. Find your people. Find who your people are and that can look like many different things. I know that my people are bi+ and they're queer and they're active in the queer and trans Community. And those are my people. And I wish that I would've spent time with those people and been involved with those people in my pregnancy and postpartum the way that I am now in my later stages of parenting. Don't be afraid to ask for help and support. I think that a lot of times when you're a new parent, whether you're a parent who has given birth or you're a parent who hasn't given birth, there's so much pressure to have all the answers. Kids don't come with a 'How to' guide. And so don't be afraid to reach out to your care providers or your family or your chosen family or your friends and say, Hey, I'm struggling. I need some support. Or Hey, I'm not struggling but I don't want to struggle. I need some help. Just remember that your bi+ identity, your queer identity is not in conflict with your identity as a parent. It's just a beautiful, beautiful addition to it.

Allison: My advice is to be a role model being who you are. That takes confidence. And you can inspire someone else, as well as your baby. When you're confident with who you are, you're setting an example for your baby because we don't know if they're going to end up being queer or the different things they'll go through. And they're going to look to you for that. So be inspiration. Be yourself and remember that you're setting an example for the future.