“He’s just spoiled.” The nurse smiled as she proceeded to perform the heel prick on my two-week-old firstborn. I choked back tears. Was she insinuating that holding my two-week-old too much led to this pain?
I watched my son writhe, stretching his body and arching his back only to curl up again. This exact motion along with nonstop screaming had brought me to the doctor’s office, feeling incapable and inadequate. An older woman had watched me bouncing tirelessly in the waiting room, the only thing that felt productive despite his incessant wailing. She leaned forward, “Is that mean mama poking you?”
Now that I am a mom of three and have been through the newborn phase as many times, I can recognize these comments as unhelpful, yet well-intended, remarks to lighten the mood. I can imagine myself, the tired young mom with bloodshot eyes and spit-up on my shoulder, desperate for anything to soothe my new baby’s pain. I wish so desperately the mom I am now had been in the waiting room that day. Because I would tell myself, “You’re doing a great job. That baby needs you to do exactly what you’re doing right now.” New mom me may not have believed it, but it would have been a sharp contrast to the unhelpful and guilt-inducing comments I was receiving.
I wonder if women forget. I wonder if they forget those early days. The helplessness and uncertainty. I was dealing with a load of hormones, anxiety, depression and isolation. I just needed someone to smile at me and not make a joke insinuating I was screwing it all up somehow. So, now that I am safely on the other side, here is my advice to the mama on the receiving end:
- Recognize that they are not intended to be hurtful.
- You have a voice. If a professional person makes an unhelpful comment, you absolutely reserve the right to say something. In my experience with the nurse, I wish I had done this. She was a nurse at a pediatrician’s office and needed to know how that made me feel.
- Then, once you get the opportunity, talk to someone you trust. Tell them how it made you feel. Let someone who loves you speak truth to you.
- Let it go. If it creeps into your mind, as it likely will, around 4 AM when you are nursing your sweet baby, dismiss it. Think instead of the comments your loving, affirming friend made. Replace those thoughts. They do not reserve the right to stay in your mind affecting your self-worth.
Kara Garis is a cloth diapering, baby wearing, semi-crunchy mama to two active boys and a baby girl. She lives with her husband in Oklahoma and loves running, cooking, traveling, reading and teaching herself how to braid. She blogs very infrequently at karagaris.blogspot.com.