This photo makes me so excited for a new baby (also makes me want to learn how to braid my hair)Someone recently wrote the following comment on my friend's we're-home-from-the-hospital Facebook post: "Enjoy every second of motherhood!" Clearly the person who typed that was just spewing out a cliché, but I knew this particular new mom was having a tough time adjusting (healing from an unexpected C-section, sleep deprivation, latching issues, etc.), so I wrote her a message. "Um, you do NOT have to enjoy every second," I typed. "Some seconds (or even minutes or hours) can really suck. But it does get better!" I wanted to take off some of the "you have to be happy all the time now that you're a mom" pressure. She wrote back with an appreciative "ha!" and shared a moment she definitely had not enjoyed (I'll spare you, but it involved a wardrobe change for both mom and baby).
Anyway, our exchange got me thinking about other things well-meaning people say to us when we've just given birth. Those seemingly harmless comments and questions that can chip away at our fragile new-mom psyches. Because whether it's your first or your third, the initial few weeks with a newborn can be … emotionally messy. Even if you feel perfectly fine, you're still vulnerable, hormonal, sleep deprived, caring for a tiny human, trying to feed said human from your boobs, and healing from giving birth, which, last time I checked, is kinda painful no matter how you do it. I always felt emotionally great after giving birth, but I still had my breakdowns. My favorite was when Nora was 3 days old, and I decided that I hated her name and wanted to change it. I cried for an hour straight and then polled anyone who would listen on whether it would be OK to switch her to Charlotte or Natalie.
Don't get me wrong, having a baby rocks. And I don't think we need to assume the eggshell-walking position around all new moms. But it's a big transition, everyone handles it differently, and I think it's always a good idea to be mindful of others' feelings.
With that in mind, I asked a bunch of mom friends what they hated hearing in the early days. They are all terrific mothers who adore their children, but I asked them to focus on just the negative stuff and to be brutally honest. So they were. And I definitely learned a lot. Here, what not to say:
"Oh, he's soooo teeny!"
"I think because we live in a bigger-is-better society we often pair 'big' and 'healthy baby' together. My son was born at 37 weeks, so he was smaller than a baby who went 40 or 41 weeks, and that's OK. You can still have a baby who's healthy and not in the 90th percentile. Even though I believe this information, I am still sensitive to the comments about his size. Someone said of my then-2-month-old, 'Oh my goodness, what is he, 2 weeks old?' I heard a lot of 'Wow, what a small baby.' Why can't people just say the generic 'cute baby' and leave it at that?" — Caroline, mom of one (4 months)
"Oh my God, you did NOT just have a baby!"
"People felt the need to say this to me right after I gave birth, and I know they were full of s---. I'd burst blood vessels in my eyes during the pushing, had somehow sprouted fever blisters on my lips, could only fit into sweatpants, etc. In general, I think the emphasis on new moms' appearances is beyond annoying (it feels like yet another area of competition). Some girls are just luckier than others when it comes to bouncing back. I'm not one of them, and I'd prefer that topic just not be brought up, regardless of the good intentions involved. How the mom looks is not the point!" — Megan, mom of one (2 years) with one on the way
"Oh, you're not breastfeeding?!"
"I was struggling with breastfeeding my first, but all I got was pressure (from myself, from nurses, from the pediatricians, from the lactation consultants, from strangers). I live in Vermont, where breastfeeding is basically considered the only option, and everyone felt it was OK to comment on how I was feeding my baby. But I was a complete new-mom hot mess and had to make a change. And just when I was starting to feel OK about giving it up, someone else would ask if I was breastfeeding and give me a tsk-tsk look if I said I was switching to formula. As if being a new mom doesn't come with enough guilt." — Nora, mom of two (4 and 3 years)
"Is she sleeping through the night?"
"I wish! Perhaps if they asked how many hours she was sleeping, it would be better. That way I could tell them that she has slept for 5/6 hour stretches and not feel like such a sleeping-through-the-night failure." — Alexis, mom of one (2 months)
"Do you have to go back to work?"
"This was usually followed up with 'Ugh' or 'That sucks' or something to that effect. Going back to work is the last thing I want to think about right after giving birth, but my response was always 'Yes, but I like what I do, I enjoy my job.' Sometimes I thought I should feel ashamed for not 'wanting' to stay home with my kids." — Tara, mom of two (3 years and 4 months)
"Just sleep when the baby sleeps, and let everything else go!"
"Total. Bulls---. First of all, newborns sleep for 2–3 hours, then nurse for an hour, then have to be burped and changed, then back to sleep for 2–3 hours. Even if I slept EVERY SINGLE TIME the baby did, I'd be taking catnaps all day, which doesn't help. Plus, after a couple of weeks, I wanted to accomplish something during the day besides watching reruns. Who are these people that just lie around and sleep for six weeks? Do they have maids and cooks?" — Christi, mom of two (5 and 2 years)
"Are you gonna have more?"
"This literally started when my twins were still tiny. Isn't two enough? Two at the same time, no less? I often responded with 'Well, I just produced a litter' and that would shut them up. Or, 'My body just went through an exorcism and my husband saw my lower intestine, spleen, and kidneys,' which would end the conversation too." — Rachael, mom of two (2 years)
"If you're breastfeeding correctly, it does not hurt."
"BULLS---! In the beginning it hurts regardless, and the insinuation that you're constantly doing something wrong while trying so hard to do 'the right thing' is exhausting. Nursing does get easier, and I ultimately enjoyed it, but in my experience it took a while, and if more people were honest about that, I think it would take a lot of pressure and guilt and frustration away from new moms. This one infuriates me just thinking about it!" — Lisa, mom of one (1 year)
"How are you holding up?"
"A few people assumed that life with a new baby was terrible. I got sympathy phone calls as if something awful had happened to me. 'I know you must be really overwhelmed/miserable right now,' friends would say. I was doing really well, but if I wasn't, I'm not sure constantly hearing how bad things are expected to be would be helpful!" — Caroline, mom of one (4 months)
"Don't worry, when you become a mother, you just know what to do."
"When I was pregnant with my first, my well-meaning friend kept saying that. Um, I wouldn't have known how to wipe my child's behind without looking it up on the Internet. New mothers do not have magical baby fairies to assure them what they're doing is right, and there is a TON of stuff that came up that I had no idea how to handle. Parenting knowledge doesn't just come to me. It is painstakingly acquired through my mother's advice, parenting magazines, the BabyCenter.com chat rooms, and worst of all, trial and error. I think the better advice to a new mother would be 'Use your resources, don't be afraid to ask questions, and expect that at least once a day you will realize that you have no idea what you are doing!'" — Catherine, mom of two (6 years and 6 months)
"Can you imagine being so instantly in love with something so small?"
"Someone said that to me when my daughter was just born, and it made me feel incredibly guilty and sad. At that moment, I didn't feel that much love for her at all. I was in pain, tired, and overwhelmed. It took me time to build that love for her, just like any relationship." — Kristin, mom of two (4 and 1 year)
"The baby looks nothing like you!"
"I'm not sure why this irritated me so much, but after nine long months of pregnancy and a very painful natural birth with my son, anything could have made me go berserk — or maybe it was just who said it to me. Anyway, this person said, 'Wow, he looks nothing like you, are you sure you had anything to do with it?!' Grrr ... Well, six years later, all I hear is what a mirror image he is of me — revenge is sweet!" — Blake, mom of three (6, 4, and 2 years)
"Isn't it better than you could have ever imagined?"
"Yes, it is better, but sometimes it's also worse. Sometimes I feel guilty when people ask me how motherhood is and I don't have all positive things to say because sometimes it really does suck. When my baby is screaming at the top of her lungs because her little tummy hurts from her reflux and I've done everything I can, that is not better than I ever imagined. It's the worst." — Alexis, mom of one (2 months)
"Are you going to try for a girl?"
"When I found out I was having my third boy, my grandma said, 'I just think every mother should have a daughter.' Once he was born, that's when the comments really got bad. People ask me almost every day, I'm not kidding, if we're going to try for a girl. Someone said to me recently after noticing my boys: 'We had two boys, then got lucky with the third.' All I could do was look at my sweet little Eric and feel bad that other people see him as yet another failed attempt at a girl." — Elissa, mom of three (5, 3, and 1 year)
"When are you due?"
"Someone asked me this when my daughter was two weeks old. I put on my sunglasses and started to cry instantly. I don't know if it's just me, but I look about six months pregnant after giving birth ... for a while." — Me (Erin), mom of two (5 and 3 years) with another on the way, God help me.
As you can see, these quotes run the gamut. And I know that things that bother one mom would have no effect on another (I think it's interesting that one of my friends hated it when people assumed everything was wonderful and another hated it when people assumed everything was awful). The only comments that truly bothered me (apart from the quote I shared above) were from my mom when she would constantly question if my baby was cold or hungry or tired. Bottom line: We're all different, and these were my friends' personal experiences, but I think it's so helpful to hear. And I'd love to hear more! I also want to reiterate that I asked these moms to focus only on the negative stuff and only on the first few weeks, which is why it's skewing a little Debbie Downer. There is also obviously an abundance of amazing new-mom moments and memories right from the start, but that's not what this particular post is about. Have anything to contribute? Did any questions/comments/declarations bother you when you were newly home with a baby? Please share.