After Rahma was born, we had visitors, not as many as I thought we would have, but obviously people wanted to see the new bundle. That time was fraught with stress about breastfeeding, latching and supply, anxiety about what people would think/say about me feeding her and her wanting to feed; and above all it was filled with thick clouds of stupidity from well-meaning but annoying people who felt compelled to say helpfully unhelpful things. I collected some of the highlights below:
- “Have you got her in a routine yet?”
No. For a number of reasons: she’s less than 10 days old, she actually doesn’t realise she’s a separate human being to me yet, and she is not in the military. Why does she need a routine? You’re thinking I should start her on a militaristic regimen of eat, sleep, wake, exercise? Perhaps we should throw an assault course in there too? Why not just get her some combats, a rifle and some boots? Baby Jihad you say?
This one came up a few times and in my case, there was much comparing from extended family members: “What’s her routine like? You know that [insert name here] has a good routine for her baby.” And my personal favourite, “With my kids I [insert random generic nonsense about routine here]”
Routine has its place in life, but I don’t believe in forcing a routine on my newborn baby just to make my own life easier. Yes, when she is a child it’s best for them to know what to expect at any time of the day, but it’s also good to mix it up a little sometimes. My toddler does get nap times and regular bedtimes (when they actually work) but when she was a baby, it was easier to play follow-the-baby. Which brings me to my next point…
- “You’re so baby-led!”
This was said a number of times by aunts who thought it was hilarious to mock us for listening to the cues our baby gave us. At one point when she was tiny, I could tell she was ready for a feed, nap or poo just by the way she turned her head. I spent a lot of time watching her, and I felt it paid off: I was attuned to her needs and responded to them straight away which meant I had a happier baby. It worked for us. Wwhen it became apparent to others that we would leave their house when our baby wanted to leave, we would go home when she wanted to go home, we would follow her to the ends of the earth, we were in fact allowing our baby to lead us by the nose as asses are. Many probably thought that she was the parent and they’d say baby-led (accompanied by a nose-wrinkle) like we were pro-murder or pro-Bin Laden. For the record, I’m not in favour of either, and despite being Muslim and having a bearded husband, I never knew Bin Laden.
- “Are you going to feed her again?”
This was a common question in the early days and it made me feel awful. Looking back, the anxiety, the post-natal depression, the inability to trust myself was all down to questions like this. I struggled hard to maintain supply and establish breastfeeding and comments like this didn’t help. Instead it would have been better for these ridiculous people to say, “Are you going to feed her again? Let me get you a cushion; let me cook you dinner; let me make sure the iPad is charged so you can browse; let me go and call your husband to come and help you so she doesn’t swipe at your nipple like some baby King Kong; let me look away while you whip out your sore, cracked nipples and try to latch her on. Let me be supportive of your decision to breastfeed.” Yes, I’m going to feed her again, and yes, she is hungry every 10 minutes. Either that or you smell funny and she doesn’t want you to hold her so she fakes feeding cues so she can come back to me. (Rahma faked feeding cues quite a lot. Probably because everyone I know is so smelly). But aren’t you worried she’ll develop bad habits? Like smoking and picking her nose at the dinner table? I don’t think breastfeeding on demand would cause that. No, she won’t develop bad habits because, well, you drink water whenever you want dont you? Maybe you’ve developed a bad habit? Maybe you need a dummy too?
- “Is she a good baby?”
Well, she’s a few days old and really, I haven’t had the talk about morality, murder and kindness with her yet. My stitches haven’t healed and I’ve not slept much. Oh, and she’s a baby. If by “good baby” you mean has she stood on street corners like a yob and shouted racist abuse at passers by, then yes, by those standards she’s a pretty good girl. A good baby? What people actually mean when they say this is does she leave you alone and not cry and sleep through the night? And the answer to all three is a resounding no. However, you find yourself being polite, making simpering comments about lack of sleep, internally berating yourself for being so polite, externally you’re almost apologetic about your baby’s lack of ability to sleep through the night, as though you’ve inconvenienced them all in some way. I used to always say, Of course she’s a good baby, she’s no trouble at all. What else was I going to say, No she’s flipping horrible and I can’t get her to stop spitting at black people and homosexuals, the big racist?
There were plenty more, but these were just the highlights. Funny though some of them are, the serious message is this: all these questions made me feel inadequate as a mother, because my answers never matched up to my own, and others’ expectations. I berated myself for her not sleeping through the night, for wanting to feed so much and for generally not being what people considered a “good baby”. Although I have always done what I wanted with her, regardless of what others say, everything was that little bit tarnished with the Stupid Things people say.
So here’s a thought: if you’re visiting a new mum, don’t ask her stupid questions you already know the answer to, instead coo over the baby, make her a cup of tea, do her dishes and give her a hug. Unless you want to make her feel inadequate and lacking, then by all means ask away.