A new mother is a sensitive creature. She is adjusting to a great responsibility, she has probably not gotten much sleep lately, her body is recovering from a dramatic change, and emotional response is heightened. If you see her out in public, know she is testing her confidence in her new role. It is kind to congratulate her or to compliment her baby. It is not appropriate to shake her with unsolicited advice or scary stories.
During my first postpartum trip to the grocery store an older woman asked how old my baby was. Her response made me uncomfortable. “You’re taking her out already?!” with eyebrows raised. I only shrugged, suddenly uncertain. Was I a bad mom for taking my infant to the store with me? I had read seven whole books on childcare and took a class, but no one ever mentioned a truly correct age at which a baby may travel. I didn’t even consider that it could be dangerous. I needed groceries and I wasn’t going to leave my baby at home! “You’re taking her out already?” Well, yes, as you can see…
Different people have different opinions about every aspect of infant care. For instance, parents who are more afraid of germs will keep their babies home more. Most of the unsolicited advice I have received reflects the fears of other people. I have been told to be careful in so many ways, such as how I hold her, to watch her neck, watch her arms. But such comments only make me more awkward. When my baby and I are alone we can gracefully listen to each other’s needs. When there are other people involved it is too confusing and difficult to find that peaceful balance.
Sometimes a friend, family member or stranger will offer to translate my baby’s needs for me. This is something that I, as a mother, can find insulting. I don’t mean to be defensive, but this particular baby and I have spent nine months together before she was even born, and every moment since then. No one can know her better than I. Maybe your child made a certain gesture when filling his diaper, but I know mine is just stretching. “She’s hungry,” I’m told, but I know she’s only comforting herself with her fingers; she just finished eating right before you got here. “She’s cold,” I am told, but I just took off a layer because she was hot.
Before my baby was born I didn’t notice so many stories of child abduction, neglect and murder. But the media is full of it, and now some people think that I would be especially interested to know these stories, and how unsafe the world can be. Hearing the latest crime against a child in our society, it becomes hard to trust anyone.
“It takes a village to raise a child”, but our networks are so complex and spread out that face-to-face interactions are almost unnecessary. Many of my baby’s clothes and toys were made by people with manufacturing jobs far away whose faces I’ve never seen. I can’t count all of the people who were involved in the making and distributing of a single one of my baby’s diapers. It would be possible to order everything we need online and never see another person. However, I like to bring my baby into public. It seems to make people happy to see a person so brand new.
Seeing a new mother with her baby might inspire you to cross the heavy personal boundaries of a fearful society. Please do say hello. Thank the new mother for helping to continue the human race. Wish her luck. But, please don’t scare her with horror stories, and be sure any advice you wish to give is presented with the non-judgmental kindness a new mother needs.