I found out I was pregnant again back in April. Our firstborn was due to turn the big one the following week, so we absorbed the news while prepping for her birthday celebrations. By absorbed, I mean I spent days wondering how I would navigate work, give my “still a baby” 1 year old enough time and attention and deal with morning sickness and the fatigue that only pregnant women understand...wipe out! It presented a minefield of emotions as well as a planning and logistical obstacle course.
When looking at all of the complexities of number two, the memories of the early days with baby number 1 came flooding back. I remembered all of the things people said and asked and with that wave of nostalgia came the excitement and anticipation for this growing little person to make their arrival. But what I also realised is that there were comments I was already dreading. Ones that drove me insane with my first.
The comments are all well-intentioned, and maybe I was hormonal and sensitive, but I see no reason to perpetuate these norms for new mothers everywhere.
1. Top of my list is my all time least favourite question to be asked about my brand new bundle of joy: Is she good?
Well actually, Nuala, she’s pure evil. She has no consideration for anyone but herself and she’s taking up far too much of my time altogether! Really? What other answer to this question is there except, she’s a baby, she’s wonderful but she has needs that can only be met by other people.
Babies are not inherently good or bad, they are vulnerable and needy. Has anyone ever responded negatively to this question? No, I sincerely doubt it. So let’s put this one to bed for good.
2. Second on the list is...You should sleep when baby sleeps
Right, Cynthia, that’s super advice. I’ll also cook when baby cooks, clean when baby cleans and sure I’ll just leave the laundry to her for the craic! This comment is so well-intentioned, but with my first I can count on one hand the number of times I got to take a nap when she did. Now I was probably being completely frivolous with my time, but you know, I saw showering, dressing, and general everyday hygiene as important.
I also found that dinner didn’t cook itself, no matter how much I stared at the fridge. My husband works long hours, so if I didn’t do the essentials, they just didn’t get done. Instead of giving mums unrealistic expectations about rest, we could simply say rest when you can, but even that’s common sense! So let’s offer assistance instead. Would you like to take a nap while I look after Baby for a bit? Now there’s a question! Being the absolute control freak that I am, I would probably have turned them down (bigger fool me) but it’s a very helpful question that most mums will jump at.
3. Number three on the list, which is probably number one for other mums, is a biggie: Does she sleep?
Well, Jane - no. Never. She’s permanently awake and staring at me - it’s a little creepy if I’m honest. The reason this question annoys me so much is because all babies sleep! How often they sleep or for how long is another matter, but all babies sleep at some point during the day, and if you’re really lucky, during the night too.
A more important question is, are you getting much rest? Newborns will sleep when they want to, and they don’t need to be on a schedule from the word go, this is not military school.
4. Next up: are you feeding her yourself?
Now I know this is a completely innocuous question, all the questions are really, but this one always made me feel guilty. I had a long labour with my first, ending in some complications and a shock blanket for me (yet I still have nothing but fond memories of that amazing day, gentle birthing preparation helped me immeasurably). The end result was a very tired, frazzled me, unable to breastfeed. I’ve cried about it, but I’ve realised now it wasn’t my path, and I have made peace with it. Every time someone asked though, that pang of guilt returned. I had done the classes, bought the pump and pads, but all ended up being redundant.
On my very first Mummy meet up, I remember cringing when I took out a bottle, as all other mums were happily feeding their babies themselves. I remember admitting this feeling to another mum (who managed to breastfeed for over a year) months later on a night out and she was astounded I would feel that way. She told me “fed is best”, it doesn’t matter how they’re fed as long as they’re thriving.
This validation of my mothering efforts made such an impact on me and I am forever grateful to that mum for her reassurance. So let’s replace “are you feeding her yourself” with, “How’s she going with her feeds?” Same topic, just phrased slightly differently.
5. Last but not least, will you go again for a boy?
Having one feisty little girl and blessed with another on the way, I’m anticipating this question already. I was asked a few times after my first, but I imagine that this question will be all the more frequent now my second offspring is also female. I know plenty of families who are heavily biased to one gender that do “go again” to try for the opposite, and that is completely their choice - more power to them! But why is it a thing that people would even ask? Before we learned the gender of our new baby, I was convinced it was a boy. Not because I longed for it, I was completely happy either way as long as it was healthy.
I felt so different to my first pregnancy, I assumed (to assume makes an ass out of u and me, right?) that this was a little boy. When I received the letter with the results of my blood test, and the sex read female, it took me a while to absorb it. However, this wasn’t due to the fact that it wasn’t a boy but rather that it was not what my mind had expected. Once the information was absorbed, I became incredibly excited for my little firecracker to have a sissy, something I never had and had craved. Gender balance in a family is not a necessity, and neither is the question.
Before you ask a mother about her future reproductive plans, consider that perhaps she’s happy with her family now, or that she spent years trying to have this bundle and doesn’t even want to think about the process again. Instead of asking about future plans, make tea, offer to mind baby while she showers or even better, bring food! A new mother will appreciate your time in that initial foggy period. Biscuits. She will also really appreciate biscuits.