by Sara Herrell
“Does he eat well?”
“Is he sleeping through the night?”
“He’s a BIG baby.”
“Maybe you’re just drying up.”
“Sleep when the baby sleeps.”
“Maybe he would sleep better if you would put cereal in his bottle.”
“Just let him cry it out.”
“Just give him the titty!” (hilarious courtesy of my precious dairy farmer grandmother, who nursed SEVEN children)
“When I had babies… *insert advice here*.”
I remember it so very well and tend to have almost had a fight or flight, gut reaction when the memories peek back through the doorway of my mind. The first 6 months or so of my oldest child’s life went a lot like this, on repeat.
None of this advice came from a place of malice, selfishness or anything other than the generations before me seeing young-mother me struggle and wanting to offer help. Possibly while regaining *just a moment* of the magic from when their now-adult babies were oh so very small, too. I cannot fault them for that. It’s nice to be needed. Amazing to feel helpful and sometimes awkward to find conversation starters when you want to be supportive and the new mom is beyond exhausted, holding it together with some intermittent sleep, a dash of mascara and soggy nipple pads, desperately ready to talk to other adults but still wanting time to hide away with her new babe (rightfully and biologically so).
After playing a rousing round of “pass the baby” then it would come, unassumingly, sweet and well-intentioned but like a MACK TRUCK out of nowhere, squishing the frog that would be your last shred of sanity clear across your self-esteem highway. It may have broken your brain a little, even.
“Is he a GOOD BABY?”
Wait, what?! Hold on. BACK. UP.
Is there such a thing as a “BAD Baby?”
Do I have a BAD baby?
You think back and start comparing your baby to other babies, friends and sisters babies, the ever happy babies who do just fine in the nursery at church or daycare. The babies that aren’t SCREAMING adult-sized screams just for simply being AWAKE. The babies that don’t demand to eat every five minutes or that let you put them down to pee by yourself.
Your baby isn’t like those babies. But, Is your baby really that BAD?
Come in really, really close and commit this to the deepest parts of your memory. Make it a mantra. Say it to other people, often. Sharpie it to your forehead. Rebuke your doctor when they ask this useless question.
Repeat after me, “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BAD BABY”.
Not a single one. Honestly, there is no such thing as a GOOD BABY, either.
You can tell them that, too.
These innocent and well-meaning questions from experienced mothers and caregivers had me absolutely convinced that my firstborn was a BAD baby and of course, it was my own fault.
My firstborn, Boy Wonder, had colic from DAY ONE. I loved him as any mother would, but I would be bold faced lying if I said I didn’t feel disconnected from my own child because I, his mother, could not adequately comfort him. Looking back, it wasn’t necessarily my *fault* but I can *see* now where a lot of our problems started and how being more informed even before birth would have eased some of the undue stress.
Our first 4 months were simply surviving and trying to get him to STOP CRYING (please dear goodness, make it stop!) and be comfortable. He wasn’t a “typical happy baby” because his tummy hurt near-constantly. Misinformation on the adequacy of my milk supply, how supply and demand hormones work, what constituted a “good” breast pump, dismissive physicians who weren’t tongue tie friendly, limited access to lactation consulting and the elimination of choice in labor and postpartum by hospital staff all contributed to switching between breastmilk and formula, ultimately causing excessive gas for him (which first-time mom me, didn’t understand could be an issue). From colic, we went straight to teething. We just couldn’t win.
© Sara Herrell, Herrell House Photo
I started to lose hope and became resigned to having a BAD baby when other moms had been blessed with GOOD ones. (Hold on, we’ll get to that, I know what you’re thinking).
By the grace of survival instincts, the miracle of science that brought us formula simply to keep him fed and alive, and the love language that is coffee, we survived babyhood with Boy Wonder (who is now 3 and introducing me to the 9th ring of hell that is
potty training) and were surprised with our second boy, The Tiniest Giant, age two months at time of article.
The Tiniest Giant has since solidified my theory that babies do NOT possess the capability of choice to be “bad” or “good”. He is already SO. MUCH. DIFFERENT. than his older brother.
First-time-mom me would be jealous of how “GOOD” this baby could be considered. I didn’t know babies could smile, play or even show joy so early because Boy Wonder had such a hard time even existing in his first few months. All I had known until now was screaming, and pain, and constant bouncing, music and shushing, looking for some kind of light at the end of a mythical tunnel. That is not to say that my second is anything more than a normal baby, with normal baby needs and normal baby exhausted parents.
All of which made me realize that those same well-meaning ladies would undoubtedly have called my first, a fussy baby and my second, a good baby – ( as if my boys could make a choice on their infant behaviors?) but they would be WRONG.
The truth of the matter, the point, you ask? Babies do not know how to “behave”, they simply know how to express their immediate needs for survival. That’s it. Babies cannot manipulate with malice. Simple. They can learn and adapt to what brings care and comfort *faster* (fake cries anyone?) but true ill intentioned manipulation is not possible by infants.
Why the heck were my two boys so different?
First and foremost, they’re different, individual people.
Second, ME. I was different.
My understanding and experience. My education. My advocates. My giving myself grace.
I had learned how to seek and discern information (and information will be ever evolving, know better, do better, forever and ever, amen). I became empowered to advocate for myself and my children (also known as being exceptionally stubborn). I understood what is normal for my babies and what isn’t or might not be. I’d done most of the hard stuff before and can recall what *generally* works and what doesn’t while accepting each child has different needs. I was able to give myself a little grace in the gaps. I wasn’t accepting what was “common” when I knew it wasn’t “normal” ( a little phrase I borrowed from our founder, Cassandra)
Could my first still have had colic for other reasons even if I had known more? Absolutely. Hindsight is 20/20, but I could have been more mentally and emotionally equipped to deal with it and request the help I needed but was embarrassed to need. I could have possibly enjoyed motherhood more while he was small, and had a fighting chance with a loaded “mental toolbox”. I would have known that Informed consent, education, advocacy backed by responsive resources and overall support are crucial, and that everything else can come after.
But what about my second? My GOOD baby?
Plot twist, the perpetuation of the “GOOD” baby also presents the false idol of the “LUCKY” mom and that isn’t fair, either.
As in, “You’re so lucky! She’s such a GOOD baby!”
What’s a lucky mom? Glad you asked, she is, of course, a mother with the “GOOD” baby. She has a baby as we profiled above. Sweet, happy, doesn’t cry, sleeps, is generally convenient. This mom doesn’t need help, is perfectly happy, gets enough sleep, cooks healthy meals by herself, doesn’t feel overwhelmed, is level headed, assumes her normal life immediately and needs zero help. Her baby is independent and shows no signs of the “Fourth Trimester”. She contributes to pinterest. She is the absolute envy of all the moms with “BAD” babies.
Here’s the reality though, just as the baby above doesn’t exist, neither does she.
By deeming babies GOOD (with an understanding that can mean some are BAD), we dangerously simplify what is considered typical or normal for babies and place unnecessary blame on tiny humans just trying to survive.
© Sara Herrell, Herrell House Photo
By allowing the “GOOD BABY” myth to continue, we assume that mothers don’t need adequate postpartum support, it makes support almost seem too much or an extra nicety. As if a newly postpartum mom is being dramatic or selfish needing help, patience, or understanding while finding her new normal. “Because she chose to bring a baby into the world, she’s lucky it’s a good baby, I had a BAD baby and didn’t get any support, why does she need our help, right?” Look, if that’s your train of thought, please don’t ask “when do I get to see the baby?”, you’re definitely not someone who needs to be around a new mom or baby. STAY. HOME. PLEASE.
Postpartum Depression is not an accessory pack to BAD babies. GOOD babies don’t exclusively sleep through the night (and they shouldn’t necessarily as a safety reflex) nor do they eat perfectly. LUCKY Mothers’ bodies do not “bounce back” from the physical feat of making a human for the better part of an entire year and expelling said human any faster when they have GOOD babies. Newly postpartum moms can especially struggle no matter what their baby’s temperament is, (it’s new, they’re recovering, baby comes first for them, duh.) and they’re afraid to admit it and have their child labeled “BAD” or even be labeled themselves, as a dreaded complainer. Because why do they have the right to “complain”? They have a GOOD baby, they’re a LUCKY mom.
This type of thinking can, in turn, overwhelm already emotionally maxed out parents who simply need extra support or resources to adapt into somehow thinking they themselves are inadequate caregivers. (Let’s stop that cycle, okay? Having a baby is already hard enough.) We tend to forget that ALL babies tap parental resources (physical and emotional) into a survival mode to some extent. Babies create demands that CHANGE their parents. Ever hear anyone say change is hard? They’re absolutely right.
Instead of perpetuating the “GOOD BABY” myth, let’s support mothers, parents and caregivers with better vocabulary and chit-chat choices. No one needs the speech police, but this could certainly be more helpful than uncomfortable small talk.
A few alternatives to try out:
“How are you feeling?” (Seriously important and underrated)
“Are you getting enough time to eat/sleep/take care of yourself?”
(especially if you’re willing to offer a goodies drop off or maybe to sit with baby while she showers or takes a quick rest – Keli Kirwin has a good piece on this subject’s specifics: find her article on Postpartum Care HERE
“How are you adjusting?”
( and then LISTEN. Nope. Hush. LISTEN. )
“Are your doctors listening to you/visits going well? Anything lacking?” (New parents tend to crumble under “authority” such as medical professionals, not realizing it’s okay to question if something doesn’t feel right)
“Do you have any worries or concerns? It’s SO normal to have those.” (because every mom wants to “have it all together” and may not realize how valuable just talking it out and with another experienced caregiver can be.)
“What a beautiful baby! Good job, momma!” (slam dunk, no more needs said)
Simply put, please be kind. There’s so much you’re not privy to that your words can have great influence and weight over in such a fragile time as being a new parent.
(biological, adoptive, however that happens for them)
The point I’m attempting to express is THIS: There is no such thing as a GOOD baby or a LUCKY mom (*yes, we’re all lucky to have our children, that’s not the point of this verbiage, I promise.*). They’re *beautiful* fairy tale concepts we would all love to live out. The sooner we let go of our white knuckle grip on them, we can start to help our mothers, fathers and caregivers be their best and raise healthy children without sacrificing their own mental, physical, or emotional health quite so readily. The world just might be a better place for it.
Do small things with great love,
Images subject to copyright, Sara Herrell, Herrell House Photo
submitted and licensed exclusively for coordinating article use by Positively Balanced, LLC.