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.