let’s discuss a topic that has been discussed to death in certain corners of the blogosphere: parents judging other parents. now that i am a parent, i can kind of understand why it happens. i try really, really hard not do it, but sometimes i really feel that other parents are wandering in the hinterlands of la la land. i’m sure they feel the same way about me.
i follow a few parenting blogs & communities, so i am going to share real examples. like the first-time mom of a brand-new baby who was concerned that her two-week-old groaned & grunted in her sleep an awful lot. “is there anything i can do to help her?” she asked. “i’m worried that she’s in pain!”
i shared my vast stores of wisdom, being the mother of a now-eleven-week-old. i explained that ramona also groans & grunts in her sleep a lot, & that it’s normal, albeit very annoying. it’s because infants have faster sleep cycles than adults, or even older children, & they groan during their frequent light sleep stages. it has nothing to do with pain. jared & i were losing our minds with her during our first few nights at home, convinced that all the grunting meant that she was wet, or hungry, or in desperate need of her pacifier. we made that classic rookie parent mistake: the baby is making noise so it must need something, so i will jostle it & inevitably wake it up in an attempt to meet its non-existent needs! on more than one occasion, i decided that the grunting was due to a wet diaper & stripped the diaper off…& any parent can see where this story ends, right? me, covered in poop, because the grunting was poop grunts & ramona wasn’t done yet.
i suggested that this parent do her best to acclimate to the grunts & trust that her baby will cry when it truly needs something.
her horrified response: “i am NOT going to let my child cry!”
well, okay. good luck with that. personally, i don’t have a choice. ramona cries when she’s having her diaper changed or being given a bath, to say nothing of all the times she goes from peaceful sleeping cherub to screaming banshee child in the span of a single nanosecond. but far be it for me to impede the path of the world’s most vigilant mom.
did that sound judge-y? see? it’s hard.
one community i follow is full of other moms of new babies. most of those babies are a bit younger than ramona, since she was born earlier than i anticipated. a shocking number of these babies are on medications for stomach problems like constipation & reflux. a staggering number are being given rice cereal already. honestly? it makes me sad. these parents talk about their babies’ symptoms: “he sometimes goes 24 hours without a poopy diaper!” “she lifts her legs up & grunts & turns red. she seems to be in pain!” “he cries every two hours! & they are angry cries, not hungry cries!”
i could go on. it makes me sad that these parents are so worried, they are twisting themselves into knots of anxiety & keeping their pediatricians on speed-dial over normal baby behavior! babies lift their legs & grunt when they poop because they have no self-awareness & don’t know they’re behaving in an impolite manner! it looks like pain to us, because we’ve been conditioned to suppress our grunting instincts, but a baby doesn’t know! it’s perfectly normal for a breastfed baby to go for 24 hours–or more–between poops! the whole point of breast milk is that it’s highly digestible! & babies have frequent growth spurts! a baby that cries between rigidly-scheduled feedings–especially a teeny newborn baby that is only a month or two old–might simply be growing & needing nourishment more often than the schedule allows!
i learned in the NICU that much of what doctors look for when it comes to tiny baby problems is based on parental reporting. if a parent reports that their child seems ill or in pain, the doctor will look for a problem. in the absence of an obvious problem, they may fall back on prescribing a medication that won’t really do any harm to a baby that doesn’t need it, or suggesting another solution that seems relatively harmless, like rice cereal.
with problems like “reflux” or “chronic gas,” there isn’t really any test that definitively proves a diagnosis. & there is no treatment that definitively solves the problem, because so often, part of the problem is a parent looking for a problem. i looked up the symptoms of reflux in young babies. ramona had a few of the symptoms. sometimes she chokes & coughs during a feed. sometimes she arches her back after a feed. but is it because she needs medication? or is it because she’s a baby & she’s still mastering this whole eating thing? i remember when i was four years old, i was drinking a glass of water, but i also wanted to lie down. so i figured, why not lie down & drink my water? i wound up choking on it because it’s really hard to drink & lie down at the same time. but babies don’t have a choice because they can’t sit up yet. if i space & hold ramona is too much a reclining position, or tip the bottle up so much that it drips into her throat, she is going to cough & cry. that’s my mistake; it doesn’t mean she has a health problem.
some babies do, of course, have various health problems, but i’d estimate that fully half of the babies in this community are being treated for digestive issues–& the overwhelming majority were born full-term & healthy to healthy mothers. how much of it is bad luck & how much is people looking for problems & pathologizing normal infant behavior? i know i’m no baby expert. but i’ve taken the opposite tack of just assuming everything is normal unless it’s really obvious that it’s not.
i’m sure this is a topic i will revisit a lot because i feel like i’m seeing or hearing something new every day that makes me think, “surely you cannot be serious,” when it comes to various parenting issues. like the woman who really wants everyone to know how dangerous ultrasounds are. “ultrasound waves have been known to change the migration patterns of whales! if they’re affecting whales, what are they doing to our unborn babies?!” or the woman who keeps her kid home from school on days when his class has a holiday party so that he won’t be exposed to delicious candy but worries that he’ll be bullied if he gives his classmates homemade valentines. lady, your kid is the poor bastard that isn’t allowed to eat candy. surely that’s the greater bullying risk? why not just make him carry a briefcase while you’re at it? or all the parents that are shocked–SHOCKED!–that i take ramona out on the town with me all the time when she is only eleven weeks old. she’s been to the grocery store & the bank & radio shack & two different bars & the post office & all kinds of places. i don’t even remember what her first outing was because she goes somewhere almost every day. meanwhile, these folks are packing for baby’s first walk around the block like they are trying to summit everest. one woman i know just too her three-month-old on her first trip outside the house LAST WEEK. three months in the house with a baby! i love ramona more than life itself, but i would go crazy. & what the hell is really going to happen to a baby that goes outside? will it be slaughtered by an axe murderer? or fall into a puddle of norovirus? i didn’t have a baby so i could be a prisoner in my own home! i want the kid to get some fresh air! & i also want to be able to, like, buy stamps sometimes! or even (god forbid) try on some jeans. yes, i have totally taken ramona with me on pleasure shopping trips just for myself.
i think people judge, in part, because they know they are being judged themselves. & sometimes judging helps you figure out what kid of parent you want to be. sometimes you don’t even realize how strongly you feel about something until you see some other parent making a choice that you find really upsetting. but i do think we all have a really tough job & we could all stand to step down a little. except for on the topic of baby headbands. baby headbands are straight up not okay & i will never not judge the parents that put them on their poor, defenseless baby girls. i feel that those babies always look at me with these big haunted eyes, trying to say, “a giant horrible flower is eating my head & its only purpose is to communicate to strangers that i have a vagina. please save me.”