Is She Good? – Not a helpful question for a new parent

One of the most common questions I’ve been asked since having a baby is “is she good?”. I find this question both confusing and annoying, even though I know it’s rarely asked with any malice. This question was particularly difficult for me in the early months, and here’s why.

From the ages of about 2 weeks to 4.5 months my baby cried, a lot! At first it was due to wind/colic, but even when we got on top of that she continued to scream most of the time. She wouldn’t be comforted by feeding, she only ever breastfed for hunger (and still does) and if I dared offer her a feed when she wasn’t hungry she would scream as if I was trying to murder her. I was lucky that she napped in the day but she just would not sleep in the evenings, often not going to sleep until 2am or 3am. The only things that stopped her crying was The Ohio State Marching Band soundtrack and Lady Gaga (I will love Gaga forever for giving me a break from endless screaming). The music alone wasn’t quite enough though, oh no, if we wanted her to sleep we had to pace and dance around for a looooooong time. Great for initial post baby weight loss (cake counteracted this), but terrible for my mental state. My baby seemed to hate everything we did and everywhere we went, she hated the car and the car seat, her baby bouncer, the pram, the sling, being put down and being cuddled. It almost seemed that she hated life itself and that she hated me.

I experienced some dark times in those early months. I found the hardest time of day was gone midnight when my husband had gone to bed, in those hours I felt so alone and helpless. I didn’t like my baby much at times, in fact, sometimes I hated her. Then I hated myself for feeling that way toward my baby. I can now understand how people come to shake their baby, something before having one I just couldn’t fathom. Sometimes I just had to put her down and walk away for both of us to calm down. I would have a cold glass of water, take some deep breaths, count slowly to 10, prep myself and get back to it, trying to remain as calm and soothing as I could muster. I wondered at times if I had Post Natal Depression, but really I think the way I felt was a normal response to sleep deprivation, having to deal with a screaming baby and having no idea what the hell I was doing.

I remember one horrible day when I was determined to get to my baby yoga class, just so I could spend time with other adults, that my baby screamed at the top of her lungs the whole morning and the whole journey over. As I parked up and went to pick her out from the car she was still screaming screaming screaming, so I snapped and I shouted at her “WHY WON’T YOU JUST SHUT UP!!!”. There was a very brief pause before she began to cry again, this time a traumatised, distressed cry, obviously terrified that her normally warm and calm Mummy had turned into a shouty monster. The shame washed over me and all I could do was cry. My yoga teacher and the other Mums in the group that day were amazingly supportive, and helped to build me up a little. My Mum and my Husband were also wonderfully reassuring around this time, I’m not sure without my family and friends if I would have coped at all. I have certainly learnt that a decent support network is key to surviving when you have a new baby.

As you can see, I wasn’t in the best of places in the early months of motherhood. So you can see why when friends or strangers asked me “is she good?”, that I struggled to think of an appropriate reply. Strangers don’t want to hear that you think your baby may hate you, and most of the time I didn’t want to share that at 1am the night before I had seriously considered abandoning my baby in the garden just to give me some peace and space. Often when I was asked this question my baby would be in full blown cute mode (she was absolutely adorable for about 15% of the day) and I would mutter an awkward reply while a oidig eye contact, stating that she can be very cute but she can also be a bit difficult sometimes too… I had a weird sense that I had to be a bit honest about it even though all too often the conversation stopped there anyway. The question caused a horrible moment of self reflection, a reminder of the difficulties, forcing me to decide if I was going to label my baby as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, thinking then to what that meant about me as a mother. Really I think it’s a bloody stupid question. A ridiculous, unhelpful, thoughtless question. There, I said it!

My baby daughter and I found our way through that time and thankfully it didn’t take all that long (although it felt forever at the time). I learned her quirks as she learned mine, and we found our ways of communicating and understanding each other. I also discovered Baby Einstein (see previous post) and the Jumparoo! Now I am out of that hazy, self-deprecating mist I can see that the question isn’t a piercing one, it is not really demanding that you confess your baby’s dastardly deeds, or a request of a list of their saintly acts. It’s simply asking, “how are you finding motherhood?”, which is perhaps a much more pertinent question. One could answer honestly without making a judgement on their parental ability or their babies tendencies toward ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I know had I been asked THAT question, my reply would be “a bit of a shock actually”, and I would have felt comfortable that I was being honest without sounding like a terrible person.

So today I am making a polite request of you, if you see a new Mum (or Dad) and you want to make light conversation, please don’t ask if the baby is good, please just ask something as simple as “How are you?”, where the question is far less loaded.  Many Thanks.

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The magic of Baby Einstein

It's like magic!
It’s like magic!

Before I had a baby I was fairly adamant that I wasn’t going to be one of those parents who let their children watch lots of television. I had beautiful fantasies of me and my baby playing together on the floor, giggling and happy all day long.  It was a shock to realise that actually babies are initially pretty limited to what they can do and how they can engage.

I was blessed with what I describe as a ‘High Maintenance’ baby, one who didn’t want to be left alone for more than 7 minutes.  That was the magic number.  She would play on a mat for 7 minutes, she would be held by someone else for 7 minutes, she refused rocking/bouncing chairs, and there’s little else you can do with a baby of three months. That seemed to be the extent of her attention span. Once those 7 minutes in heaven were up it was back into my arms, not content with that alone, I had to be moving, while playing music. Joy.  I was exhausted, the house was a tip and I was beginning to smell pretty bad.

Then one day, one magnificent, wonderful day while perusing YouTube I found a video, “Baby Einstein Orchestra” it called itself.  I knew my little beast had a penchant for brass bands (a story for another day) so I thought I would give it a go.  My baby stared agog at the screen as puppets and cartoons danced about and played various instruments.  She sat silently, drinking it in…for 15 minutes! I almost wet my pants! Imagine, imagine the things you can achieve in 15 minutes… Washing up, vacuuming, a shower, a crossword, a workout, or what I did, make a cup of tea and eat cake while checking out Facebook. Bliss.

Over time I discovered other Baby Einstein videos. Some clever people had cut out the boring bits and made clips of just the puppets (which I found far less annoying), these went on for over and hour. My 7 minute baby sat and watched these for up to 45 minutes with the help of some other devices (will discuss this in another post).  At first I felt a little guilt (see first post), but what I came to realise was that the space that Baby Einstein gave me, allowed me to achieve some of the basics that then meant when I did play with my little one, I was 100% engaged with her. I wasn’t thinking about the cleaning that needed to be done or what to cook for dinner that night, I had already attended to these while she enjoyed a bit of Baby Einstein, I was just in the present enjoying that moment. A true gift!

So, for any tired parents out there, desperately in need of some time and space from their wee one, I can highly recommend trying a bit of television. It may initially feel wrong, but if baby is enjoying it and it allows you to achieve those basic daily tasks, do it. You may find that it frees you to enjoy the time you spend with your baby more…