The birth of a baby brings so much love. So much joy. And so many well-meaning but completely unhelpful comments.
In the days and weeks following the birth of my first child, like many new moms, I was bleary-eyed, beyond exhausted, having trouble breastfeeding, perpetually hungry and thirsty, and frankly, not really enjoying any of it. And all that standard lovey-dovey new-baby commentary, the stuff that you see printed on baby cards and hear from old ladies at the grocery store? Well, most of it served to make me feel even worse than I already did.
For example, I did not need to be told that I should “cherish every moment, even when he’s screaming”, or that I would be missing these times before I knew it. Or, “This is nothing! Just wait until he’s two! Or fourteen!” While I knew that these comments were well-intended sentiments from those who had survived the trenches, they had the exact opposite effect of what they were meant to.
Of all the innocent but infuriating comments and questions I got about my baby, the one that bothered me the most was, “Is he a good baby?” Because I knew what “good” meant. Good is a baby who hardly ever cries. A good baby sleeps through the night. A good baby nurses like a champ right from the get-go. A good baby is a joy to be around. And unfortunately, I couldn’t say that any of those things applied to my colicky, cranky child.
Even worse than replying (or thinking) “no” was the question that my “no” brought up: if a baby isn’t good, then what is he?
The term “good” comes with some pretty heavy moral baggage. Now, certainly, a baby isn’t evil. But what about good’s standard counterpart, bad? I just couldn’t bear the thought of applying the label of “bad” to my fussy newborn. After all, I was fairly certain he feeling just as lousy about the whole situation as I was. But if he wasn’t good, well then, what was he?
“Is he a good baby?” To be honest, I can’t remember how I even responded to that question. I’m sure there were times when I awkwardly danced around the topic of how hard it was, trying not to make the asker feel bad about their question. Maybe there were other times when I just lied and said yes, although anyone who spent more than a minute or two with us would surely see that this was not the case.
Worst of all, I knew a few other women who had given birth around the same time, and their babies all appeared to be completely angelic. I have a distinct memory of meeting a fellow new mama at a small gathering. She nursed her baby effortlessly then held her as she drifted off to sleep—no swaddle or pacifier or elaborate routine of shushing and swinging and bouncing and jiggling required. Someone commented on how peaceful the baby looked, and when the mother looked down at her, beaming with pride and love, and said, “She’s so good”, my heart just about broke.
If, in a moment of pointless comparison, I ever commented that their babies seemed so easy to care for, the replies were cold comfort. I’d hear “I don’t know how you’re coping, I know I couldn’t!” or “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” or my personal favourite (not), “Don’t worry, you’ll get a good one next time!” Again, I have no doubt that these comments came from the right place, but is there any way that saying these things to a mom who’s struggling is remotely helpful or comforting? Not a chance.
At last, too late for my first child, but in time for my second, I heard the perfect comeback. It was this: “All babies are good babies”. Now, I don’t hesitate to whip that expression out, regardless of whether the question is directed at me, or someone else nearby. I say it in a calm and loving but matter-of-fact tone. My goal is not to be aggressive or accusatory, just thought-provoking.
Sometimes people are taken aback, and I feel perhaps I should be ashamed for being so frank and maybe making them a little embarrassed (this is usually when I say it to someone who’s older than I am). But every now and then, someone really hears what I’ve said, and stops to think for a moment, and then says, “Yes, of course, all babies are good babies”.
And those times are why I keep sticking my neck out, daring to rock the baby banter boat a bit. If, down the road, it spares another mom from dancing around the horrid question, “Is he a good baby?”, then it’s 100% worth the momentary social awkwardness.