The One Thing We Should Never Say to a New Mother (But We Still Do)
You’re at a family gathering and your cousin walks in with her new baby boy. He’s right at a month old and he’s bundled tightly in her arms. His tiny little fists drawn up close to his chest. His bubbly lower lip hanging open as he sleeps soundly. Your cousin is smiling brightly but her eyes give her away as she searches the room for a place to sit down. Finally, finding comfort on a small couch, she lets herself feel relief, but only for a moment. The rest of the women in your family soon find seats around her as they begin cooing over the sleeping baby and flooding her with seemingly sympathetic questions.
“Is he sleeping through the night yet…”
“Have you tried a bottle so we can baby-sit yet…”
“Does he cry a lot…”
“So you’re still using that pacifier…”
“Why isn’t he wearing socks…”
“Where’s his hat…”
“Do you want to get him sick…”
On and on they trudge. Their voices sound sincere but their questions are accusing and hurtful. With every remark your cousin tries frantically to explain herself, to sound strong in her opinions, to act like she knows what she’s doing.
The truth is, inside she is crying. She is confused and doesn’t know the answers because she is a new mom and she is still trying her best to figure things out herself. She tried to look nice today and on the surface, she does. However, with a closer look, you can see that her pulled-back hair hasn’t been washed in a few days. Her cute jeans are still maternity pants she is trying desperately to hide. Her shirt has spit up stains she has tried to wipe clean and hide with a jacket. She put on concealer and mascara but you can still see the circles under her eyes.
You know where she’s been. You were there not too long ago. You look at your own 2 year old and think to yourself “I should tell her that this is only the beginning. She has no idea what’s coming. It only gets harder.” But before you can get over to tell her, the baby wakes up. His eyes only open slightly, and he might still go back to sleep. He looks away to nowhere in that way that newborns do. Slowly, he lets out a tiny smile. In that little moment, your cousin begins to glow. She is smiling at him and it’s clear all over her face that if this isn’t the very first smile, that it’s still one of the firsts. She is sitting there thinking to herself, “This is what makes everything worth it.”
“Oh! Isn’t that cute! It must be gas!”…..
Your grandmother giggles and all the women follow suit.
Your cousin is crestfallen. Her entire demeanor changes as she sighs out and lets it sink in that the only reason the baby smiled is because he passed gas.
Have you ever seen this happen? Has it happened to you? Have you been the one to say that very line? I have. I can say yes to all three of those questions. Now I ask you, why do we do this?
I know from experience that when you bring that newborn home, you want so desperately to feel like he knows you. Like he loves you. You spend hours awake trying to make him happy if only for a few minutes. You feel like you are a cumbersome giant that could snap his fingers if you move just the wrong way. You feel like every second of your life is dedicated to him. I know that in a months time, most new moms have only had about 3 showers. And more likely than not, they spent two of them sitting in the bottom of the tub crying. Wondering how they got here and why no one warned them just how hard it would be. Not the same stuff we all hear, “You won’t get any sleep…” or “That baby is going to go through a LOT of diapers…” I’m talking about the emotional struggle. How hard it is to deal with the guilt that comes with not falling in love instantly. Dealing with wondering who this little creature is and why it wants so much from you. Trying to feel confident in yourself and show others that you are strong. Dealing with your husband asking you “What do I need to do?” when you don’t even know yourself.
I know I’ve been there. I also know that the very fist time that baby smiled at me I felt like he was looking into my very soul…
And I know that someone did say it was gas. I know that the second she said that, I died inside. Every second I spent with that baby had built up to that tiny moment where he recognized me. And it was shattered. Just like that.
“He doesn’t know who I am or what I do for him. He’s just a baby and he passed gas. That’s why he smiled. It has nothing to do with me.”
Why do we do this? Doesn’t that mother deserve her moment? Doesn’t she deserve to feel like everything she has been through was worth it because the baby smiled at her? I think so. So next time you, or I, see a newborn smile, don’t say “It must be gas.” Try instead, “Look at him, he recognized your voice. He must really love his mommy.” Is it too hard to do that? I don’t think so.
That mother will remember those first smiles for the rest of her life. You? You probably won’t remember that comment for a week. Save her the heartbreak. Because the truth is, I believe that baby is smiling at his mommy. Why wouldn’t he? He loves her.