My Wife Had Postpartum Depression. I Got a Cancer Diagnosis. Here’s How We Made It Through

It's been a tough few years — but we always communicate. That helped a lot.

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Welcome to ‘Sex After Kids,’ a column where parents talk frankly about how their sex lives shifted after they had children and what steps they took to recalibrate their relationship. A baby raises the stakes. Couples have less time to devote to one another, emotional intimacy can dwindle, date nights — at least for the first months — are nearly non-existent, and sex is often a non-starter. Couples must adapt. Here’s how they do it.

The first years of parenting are hard for any couple. But for Roxanne and Eric LaManna, who live in upstate New York, they were beyond imaginable. After the birth of their first child, Roxanne suffered from postpartum depression. After the birth of their second, Eric was diagnosed with leukemia. Shifting into parenthood while supporting one another through these events put a lot of stress on their marriage. But, with constant communication, they were able to make it through. Here, they talk about adjusting to parenthood.

Roxanne: My pregnancy was interesting. I had morning sickness really bad for the first 18 weeks. Luckily, my boss at the time was very accommodating. I was supposed to be at work at 6 in the morning. I’d wake up and my head would be in the toilet, so he was accommodating.

It was definitely tough to balance being at your desk, doing your job, and the “excuse me for a minute while I run to the bathroom” kind of thing. That was definitely rough for about 18 weeks, and then it let up. I went on what, as Eric calls it, a “high school eating binge.” I was coming up with the weirdest food combinations. They were amazing.

Eric: She was amazing. She worked all the way up to labor. In her job, she spent a lot of time on her feet, so she definitely pushed through and worked all the way up to the very end.

R: Birth with our first was something else. I was at work and began to feel very anxious. The baby wasn’t kicking as much. I told my boss that I needed to call my doctor and go home. I came home to find our dog had killed our cat. And then, that night, after burying our pet, around midnight, my water broke. So that was when the doctor told me to sit for a couple hours, count contractions. We went to the hospital at 3 in the morning.

As for labor itself, it was tough. Obviously, labor is no fun in the first place. But against what I had hoped for, I ended up getting an epidural simply because I hadn’t slept in 24 hours. Probably because of everything that had happened, and emotional stress, I wasn’t progressing and dilating as quickly as the hospital would like. After that, I couldn’t feel anything from the waist down. And then I pushed for like 20 minutes, I think?

E: Yeah.

R: The hardest part of pushing was that I couldn’t feel anything. It was a very strange experience.

C: I was just kind of along for the ride.

R: Yeah, he watched in silence.

E: Adjusting to being a new dad was a lot of learning. I didn’t grow up around little kids. I didn’t have any relatives that had any babies. For me, it was all new. Roxy grew up with nieces and nephews when she was younger, so she saw a lot of that. But a lot of those first few weeks was a whole new experience. A whole different world.

R: The guy is awkward holding a cat. I was really not trusting him holding a baby! We had some learning there. Diapers were fun to teach him how to change. He was like, “What do I do? How do I know how to use powder and wipes?” I had tons of practice with it, so for me, on the technical level, it felt really straightforward.

Admittedly, I did not adjust all that well, emotionally, to having a baby. Biologically speaking, the maternal instinct kicked in. I took care of my child. But I also had the unfortunate circumstance that I really had wanted a girl first, and we didn’t know what we were having until he was out. So I had convinced myself that it was a girl. So it was a total shock when our baby came out as a boy. It really only took a few weeks for me to adjust, but I definitely struggled with the bonding aspect. But at the one-month mark, he made eye contact and smiled and recognized Mom. Then we started bonding. It was better after that.

R: We struggled with going on dates. Just after our son turned 1, we had our fifth wedding anniversary. My parents watched our son and we got all dressed up and went to a nice restaurant for that. And that is the one and only date night that we have actually had since we had kids.

E: Yeah.

R: Otherwise, most of our Saturday nights look like falling asleep on the couch watching something on Netflix. So that’s about our unscheduled time to not discuss things, not talk about our budget, not talk about what car we need to get. That’s just relaxation time for us.

The reason we communicate well is because I’m not afraid to hurt Eric’s feelings. I realize that might be kind of the one thing that has gotten us through fairly well, is that I’m not afraid to speak my mind or offend him. At the very least, it gets it out in the open and gets him thinking, so it can help me through if I’m struggling.

E: We’ve had a roller-coaster ride ever since our son was born. She spent that first year and a half with postpartum depression. With that…

R: The long and short of it is that I said, “Here, you’re home, hold the baby, because he’s cranky and he wants to be held for the next hour. I’m touched out. Don’t touch me. You sit on that couch and I sit on this couch.”

E: As much as she was jealous about having adult interaction and her not having it, the postpartum depression still made it so that she didn’t want to do anything, even when we could. So that first year and a half, we didn’t really do much, and then after that she got pregnant with our daughter.

R: I was more sick with her, nauseous and puking the whole way through. I really did not leave the house much.

E: That nine months was rough. Then, the day that our daughter was born was the day I was diagnosed with cancer. I literally spent the next 30 days in the hospital and didn’t get to go home when they went home. Over the next year, I went through cancer treatment and got a bone marrow transplant. After that, I went back to work.

R: For his cancer stretch, I had, for some reason, this mind-set of like, he was like a leaf in the fall. That he was fragile or that he might break. Even though he wasn’t. He was doing really, really well. He had chemo a few days a week, for months, and never got sick from it once. He was just tired sometimes. But still, I almost went into this doctor-patient mode. So that definitely made things tough. It put a pretty significant physical distance between us, too.

Intimacy was tricky. There are certain things married couples do, and that was mentally not something that meshed well with me, because of the fact that I felt like he was this fragile cancer patient. And his doctors really did not want him to have an elevated heart rate. No power walking, no running, no exercise. He had to keep his heart rate below 120.

So, we couldn’t really do anything. I’d be like, “Is your heart okay? Is it beating too hard? Okay, never mind.” But once he physically started to look, on paper, more normal, we were like, “Okay. Let’s ease back into it.”

E: I think once my eyebrows grew back, that helped, too.

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