Today I took my son to our local Recreation Complex for Kindergym and the Pool.
This is a pretty regular occurrence for us. He has been coming here with me or his dad since he was 4 months old, so he has a pretty solid routine in place. When we are done we always have a snack and drink in the main foyer. My Son is a big boy now at 26 months, he will tell you this. He is quite content to chill out at this point in our day and eat his banana and Cheerios while we take in a pick-up basketball game. Thankfully, this also gives me a chance to relax for 20 minutes.
We decided to settled in between an older couple and two Mothers with their infants. I have seen these Mothers here before. I sometimes wonder how they are able to look so pulled together. I mean, their hair looks washed and brushed. How do they do that? I want to know their secrets. Sometimes I send a “Hi, I’m a Mother too,” smile their way, but they just do their own thing. No biggie, I understand. They have infants, and I have a toddler. It’s a whole different world. When you have an infant, creating a shield around yourself can sometimes be the only way to get anything done outside the house. Everyone wants to talk to you. At times it can feel they are talking at you. It’s as if people can’t control themselves. They are compelled to tell you some personal parenting story or give their advice, whether or not it’s relevant to your life.
Occasionally, once you have finally made it out of the house with your baby and all the babies things, all you want to do is get to your destination without having to factor in a personal conversation with a total stranger. But it’s almost impossible when you reek of new Mother and are carrying around an adorable tiny human. For the most part, it’s not a big deal. I have actually received some timely and helpful pearls of wisdom from the person walking by me in the street, ringing in my groceries, or swimming by us in the pool. It’s only an issue during times when you’re not feeling your strongest, and are just plan worn out. It can be so draining to accommodate when you have nothing left to give, and are very purposefully trying to go about your business undetected. I found in the first few months during my rise to Motherhood I felt I was getting a daily work performance review, and it wasn’t always by someone qualified to fill out the paperwork. It was soul crushing to defend my actions or choices when I was just trying to survive, keep my baby alive and thriving, and also enjoy the ride. Perhaps, these Mothers beside me feel the same way, and just want to hang out together with their babies without being interrupted.
The unsolicited advise and invasion of personal space doesn’t stop when your infant transitions into Toddler. Just the frequency and topics of discussion change. More often then not people just feel the need to say something random. It’s like a nervous reaction. Even people without kids seem to have an opinion on how you are living life with yours. The couple to my right is smiling at me. Retirees. I smile back. I’m sure if I engage further I will hear all about how my Son reminds them of their little Bobby. Followed up with the “just wait until they are a teenager” line. I’ve been hit with that a lot lately. My son doesn’t even use the potty yet, but thanks for trying to install some panic into me for no reason.
I do absolutely love this stage with my Son. He’s really coming into his own. It’s so fun to watch him learn something new everyday. I can trust him not to always run out into traffic, or pull stuff of the shelves in the grocery store. Not that I can ever let my guard down, but I’m no longer constantly on critical high alert. He is less dangerous to himself these days. For example, I’m confident he’s not going to lean back in his chair just to test if it will flip over. It will if you try hard enough, he knows this, he has completed the rigorous clinical trials to back this theory up.
As I’m reminiscing, I see a Grandmother looking this way. She has smelled the scent of new mother and young baby and is making her way over to them. She masterfully moves around people to reach her destination. Comparable to a shark in the water with it’s lunch in it’s sights. She is giddy, and knells down to talk to the Mothers. Right away she said her Daughter is having her first baby and she is so excited. She then asked how old their babies are. The one Mother politely answered 4 months, and they had a small conversation. That Mother didn’t seem to mind, but the other Mother had her head down, engaging with her baby, trying to avoid any further questioning. The Granny-to-be said she was surprised the babies were so young, that for her, it was a year before children could go in the pool.
“Why was that?” She asked. Then she followed up quickly with; “I’m so happy it’s younger now, I can’t wait to take my Grand-baby in the pool.” She added.
It’s cute, really. It’s just these moments are kind of awkward because you didn’t know the person that is actually having the baby. It becomes even more uncomfortable when pictures come out, or they ask if they can take a picture of your baby, or try to touch and kiss your baby. Umm, no thank you.
The Granny-to-be didn’t stay long. The baby being rocked in the car seat was starting to fuss. That Mom told her friend she didn’t want to feed her now because it might take a long time. It looked like they were waiting for someone. I think her friend convinced her to just go ahead. She unbuckled her baby from the bucket car seat, and picked her up. She gave a quick look around and clumsily pulled her shirt out from the bottom. With a bit of hesitation, she tucked her baby under until all you could see was the babies feet sticking out.
The shirt was very stretchy, but the Mother was not having immediate success navigating the blind nipple latch maneuver. It’s basically impossible and should never be attempted if you are already exhausted or frustrated. But after a few adjustments, to my surprise she obtained connection. Mom skills for the win.
And right here, at this juncture is when I broke my rule. I became that annoying Mom and made a random statement about something personal this Mother (that I don’t know at all!) was doing.
I was obviously staring like a lunatic, probably with that all knowing mother grin on my face. It was likely the same look I saw on every other moms face that stared at me while I struggled to nurse my infant. I knew they are getting nostalgic, I was sympathetic to that, but I was exhausted and in pain, and going through a really rough time. I would see the head tilt and closed mouth grin, and my back would get up. I would start to feel prickly. Here we go with the comments. When I was going through it, really in the trenches, foggy brain, overwhelmed, and completely sleep deprived, the last thing you want to hear from one more person is to “enjoy every moment, it goes by so fast.”
Guess what, it doesn’t for some at this stage, time can move very slowly. Some mothers may not have a reliable partner, or family, or friends that are helping or listening to you. Not everyone becomes a mother with an instant village. The act of being thrust into your new position while you have just gone through the most profound moment in your life can feel dreamlike and out of your control. It takes time to process, but you are immediately expected to have all the answers. Time can take on a new dimension and you no longer experience it the same way you did before.
Of course you want to enjoy every moment. That’s actually where most of the stress comes from. I remember feeling like I was the only other mother in the world that wasn’t enjoying every moment. Why was I feeling so defeated, scared, and more times then I care to think about, alone in this?
So, Instead of minding my own business, like I have millions time because (I understand first hand how overwhelming the new stage can be), I decided I would try to say something to make her feel more comfortable. You know, to help make it better, to remind her we are all part of the same club. Instead, what I ended up saying was:
“Oh you are way more discrete then I ever was. I didn’t care.
WHY AMY! Did you just say that? Was that shade? That wasn’t even helpful! Maybe she just doesn’t want a lobby full of strangers looking at her boobs! I immediately regretted what I said, and I got butterflies in my stomach.
Plus, it wasn’t even true. I didn’t want people looking at my boobs either!
Breastfeeding did not come easily to me. Every feeding I battled through tying to make it work. I didn’t think I would be successful because I was having such a hard start. My Son’s tongue tie wasn’t apparent right away. A few months in and my nipples were bleeding scabs. I was also managing the physical and mental combination of healing from an emergency c-section after three days of induced labour, and three hours of pushing. On top of that I had delayed milk production from an infection, and a blocked duct. I had to pump myself up and talk myself through the pain before each feeding so I could battle through the electric shocks surging through my nipples that raged down past my knees that would curl my toes.
Until everything was addressed and fixed, I had to use a nipple guard to handle the pain, and that too was breaking me down with mom guilt and worry. I was also finding it anxiety inducing that my body was now freely a topic of conversation by anyone that I came in contact with us, in and outside of my presence. I experienced this during puberty and I never wanted to be in that position again. My constant breastfeeding seemed to suggest I was open to having my body discussed and compared again when all I was doing was feeding my baby.
I must also point out that even getting out of the house is a big deal it with an infant. At least one of you is going to end up crying at some point. The worst is not being able to rationally explain this to people when they look at you like they have no idea why you might be overwhelmed and breaking down.
I didn’t go out with Cayden anywhere that wasn’t non-essential for 3 or 4 months after he was born. So on my maiden voyage to somewhere social, I met my sister at a Starbucks pretty close to my house. The Starbucks we went to ended up being the most uncomfortable Starbucks ever. There was limited bucket chairs and no couches. Despite that, it was busy. I remember fumbling with the car seat and my jumbo infant inside it, the diaper bag, and my body that still didn’t respond like it used too. When I finally make it inside, sweating like I had just run a half marathon, we sat down at the only available table smack dab in the middle of the store. I looked around to take in my surroundings and it seemed like the only people here were older single men on a coffee break. Great, not the target audience for supportive breastfeeding.
My sister did not seemed fazed by our location center stage, she was focused on the decor. She had her daughter (her second child) flawlessly balanced in her arm. The little madame started to paw at her Mom suggesting she was hungry. With one swooping movement, my sister pulled her top down, and attaching the sweet pea to her breast, all while looking at the drink selection above the front counter. Mastery at it finest. My son, seeing his cousin eating her lunch, decided it was only fair he get some too.
I must have had a look of terror on my face. I had no arm rests on my chair. My son is double the size of his cousin and so very solid. I am no where close to a full recovery yet and I still feel weak. How was I going to do this gracefully and still hold him in a comfortable position for us both? It was as though I was in a final exam I hadn’t studied for. Panic ran down my back. I swear everyone is watching me. I’m still not totally cool with my nipples being exposed. I’ve kept them private for most of my life, and now it feels like everyone wants to sneak a peek.
“Is this your first time breastfeeding in public?” She sympathetically asked.
“It is. I’m a little nervous.” I stated.
“Okay, I get it. But just know, no one is looking. It’s a non issue with most people. If it bothers them they usually just look away. You may get the one random creeper, but you just stare them down. Amy, fed your baby, and don’t worry about anyone else.” she told me.
She was right. I want to breastfeed, that is my choice and my right to do so. So what do I care about some random person in Starbucks? Why are we conditioned to think that women nipples are offensive, and the natural act of feeding a baby becomes such an issue. Why would anyone’s opinion affect how and when I fed my baby? In time I became more comfortable. My body healed, and I got over it pretty quickly. Two plus years into breastfeeding now and I am unapologetic about it.
I remember how everything was so new back then. Everyday was a mystery that unfolded. Everyone asked questions and expected consistency, but there never was any. The fact remains that nursing in public isn’t always easy for every Mother, and people just have a way of making it weird when it doesn’t need to be.
My awkward comment to this Mother at the Rec. Plex was my poorly delivered attempt at providing her the same support my sister gave me when I looked so uncomfortable. So obviously I kept talking, out of nervousness, and I made it worse.
“Oh is that an actual baby cover? It’s very pretty.” I just trailed off and turned to feed my kiddo more banana. Again, why Amy?!
She is now looking at me like I’m insane.
“No, it’s just a stretchy T-shirt.” She turns her head away from me and continues her conversation with her friend.
Ya, I shouldn’t have continued. What the heck is wrong with me today?! I blame two-year molars, I haven’t slept in days. My poor kiddo needs a lot of snuggles at night to work through them.
They left shortly after that, and I promised myself I would remember never do that again.
So the take away on this is being a Mother the best, but it’s also scary, and new, and a total turn around from the way you used to live your life. If you say something dumb or not helpful (Umm, like me today), try not to get offended if your gesture is not well received or returned without enthusiasm.
Lets give a Mom a break. If their face is pulled in exhaustion and pain - know they are using what strength they have in them to be the best they can be for the day. Tomorrow will be different, and a surprise, and they don’t need someone constantly talking in their back swing.
Carry on Mommy, you got this.