2 Very Dangerous Questions
These two questions seem innocent enough.
“Is she a good baby?” and “Does she sleep through?”
Since Faith was about two months old, I have been asked the same two questions. Its almost as if they are standard issue in a “what to ask people you barely know” question kit. Regardless of where I am or who I’m with these two questions are the same. On the bus, in a café, in my driveway, on the phone, in the doctor’s clinic, at the park – always the same two questions. I can meet someone for the first time and bang! there they are. In fact, it is most often people I barely know who throw them at me; Randomly swinging these sharp little questions about, unaware of the damage they are inflicting on new mothers everywhere. Initially I was thrown. I questioned myself, I felt less than, I was self conscious and sometimes embarrassed and on the rare occasion, ashamed. I would dread them, avoid them, lie. I would justify and babble and make excuses. I would do what so many new mothers in our society do and hide my truth, swallow my voice, question my instincts. All because of these two loaded questions. Loaded with expectations, judgment, blame and sometimes ridicule.
I began to notice that other mums were feeling the same; I could see the scrambling for words to make their answers fit the mold. I could feel the tension; see it roll over their faces. I felt sad for them and for myself and realised that this is bloody ridiculous! Firstly, are there any ‘bad’ babies? What constitutes a bad baby? A baby who asks for her needs met? A baby getting a tooth? A baby who is confident that when she calls, she will be acknowledged? A baby with a stomachache or wind? Maybe some babies have bigger needs than others and some are finding which foods they cant handle and some are emotionally unsettled or maybe night time just isn’t their thing. But they are certainly not bad. And sleeping through the night – a very contentious issue. There is a “sleep doctor” in town who mothers with apparent ‘bad’ babies go to because their babies wake during the night. As a dear friend of mine put it, “he went through all these studies and backed it all up with psychological stuff, but at the end of the day, its ‘lock the door and ignore it’.“ Regardless of what these ‘doctors’ tell us its perfectly natural for a baby to wake through the night, for food, comfort, elimination, pain, body rhythms. I’m not suggesting that attending to each request is the only answer; there are ways of minimizing night disturbances if needed without the ‘cry it out’ method. What I am saying is that if we were all honest, if we knew what was normal, if the expectations placed on us and our babies was reduced and at the very least, realistic, then maybe we would not feel so bad, so alone, so in need of a doctor to tell us to ignore our instincts.
”What are we doing?? It occurred to me that what we are doing when we hide from these questions is we are ripping ourselves off. But worse, we rip each other off. Each new mum listening in, each pregnant woman who is about to be hit – we are ripping them off! And worst of all, we rip off the babies who are coming in. By pretending, we stop the ripple. We stop the flow of truth, which gives us all permission. Permission to feed in the night, permission to attend lovingly to our baby’s cry, permission to sit all night with them on us as they cut a new tooth, permission to be tired, strung out, wrecked, exhausted.
I remember how ‘refreshed’ I felt when I overheard two midwives telling a new mum not to expect a good nights sleep for about 2 years. THANKYOU! THANKYOU for the honesty!! Now I know! Now I can relax, now I know what to expect, now I know what’s normal, now I know that I’m not alone. I began telling the truth and an amazing thing happened! I wasn’t alone. The very people asking me the deadly duo would think for a moment, reflect, and AGREE. This is a conversation I had only 3 nights ago:
Friend: How is Faith?
Me: She is wonderful!
Friend: Is she sleeping through? (said with an innocent yet expectant, burdening tone)
Me: Of course not! She is only one! She is getting teeth at the moment. I don’t think many babies sleep through really.
Friend: Yeah they don’t do they. It goes on for ages! Its always something, a pain, a tooth…
Me: Yeah! I don’t know why people expect someone going through so much to sleep so solidly at night!! Haha
Friend: I know! It’s ridiculous really. I remember my little one slept in and out of our bed for years…I think she was 4 before we got solid sleep again! Hahaha.
And bam. The ripple turns into a wave. Maybe my friend won’t ask the next mother? Maybe he will remember more about what it was really like and comfort the new mother instead? Who knows. What’s important is that I spoke my truth, my experience; I didn’t lie or feel scared or ashamed. I want to shout it from the rooftops!! “NO!! MY BABY DOES NOT SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT! AND THAT’S OK!” I love feeding her at night, I feel sad for her when she is in pain, and now I can focus on that instead of worrying that she isn’t sleeping through…what will people think?? Ridiculous.
Now, I welcome these questions. I want to be asked. I hope that through my being honest the flow of honesty can wash away all the unrealistic expectations and illusions about what a baby is supposed to be doing. Whether our babies naturally sleep well at night, cry all day, eat a lot, eat nothing, toss and turn, are peaceful and calm or fast paced and full on, no new mother needs to feel that they aren’t enough and no baby should be labeled less than perfect. I am happy to report the truth, bags under the eyes and all, in the hope that we can all feel that what our day holds and what we go through, is perfectly, exhaustingly, wonderful.