What To Say To A Mom

This morning was the first in over a week that it wasn’t raining. It was time to get out of our house confinement and get some fresh air and exercise. I was excited to get going right after breakfast with dog and baby in tow. I’d done it before, and it was a glorious feeling. Why would today prove any different? Head to the park, take a 2.4 mile lap with almost no one else on the trail, be home with a baby ready for her nap and a content dog. I pulled into the parking lot, unloaded, and started walking.

an open, sunny field at Lake Benson Park in Garner, NC

About halfway through is when things started going downhill fast. And I mean that figuratively. You see, in order for my dog to trot along happily and well-behaved, I have to keep a quick pace. Otherwise, he gets sniffy and distracted. If he stops suddenly to catch a sniff, it yanks on the leash around my wrist and gives the stroller a jolt. Not exactly a smooth ride for my babe inside. For my daughter to remain quiet and relaxed, I have to find a good balance between letting her see what’s going on around her and keeping the sun out of her eyes. If she starts to get tired, what usually does the trick is close up all the shades on her stroller and play some white noise on my phone.

I was at the part of the walk where it was big, open sky. The sun was shining bright above our heads. Time to close up the stroller shades and play white noise. Oops, my phone died. OK, I can start shushing and creating the white noise myself. Wow, that is difficult when keeping a quick pace for the dog. I’m getting out of breath. I start slowing down. Dog starts to pull and meander. I start giving commands to try to keep him by my side. I can’t say commands and shush at the same time. Baby starts fussing. I open the shade, sun in her eyes. I close the shade, she can’t see what’s going on. My lungs are exploding and I have to stop all noise-making and just breathe. There’s no cutting the trail short to more quickly get back to my car. The fastest way back is to just finish the course. Two women walk by with some sort of Doodle-dog that wants to say hi to my dog. Instead of keeping their dog away, they continue to encourage the two dogs together. I yank on my dog’s leash to continue walking and get this ordeal over with.

By now my daughter is screaming. She’s tired, she can’t see anything, and she has nothing to distract her from the noises happening outside the cocoon of her stroller and help her fall asleep. I have to stop and take her out. There isn’t a good place immediately to pull off the trail and strap her up in the carrier so I just pull her out and carry her in my left arm with the leash and stroller on the right. Now at an extremely slow pace, the dog continues along distractedly, splashing in muddy water, catching sniffs, and inching toward the squirrels. As he pulls on his leash, the stroller shifts wildly since I only have the one hand on it. My daughter is shifting around, trying to see the sights of the park around her and wriggle from my tight grip. The more she squirmed, the tighter I held because I’m afraid of dropping her!

It’s at this point that a group of older ladies followed by the same two women with the Doodle-dog pass me. In the first group, one woman says, “You have your hands full!” The latter says, “Now that’s a workout!” There aren’t enough eye-rolling emojis in the world to express the complete exasperation I feel at this point.

This whole scene reminded me of another time I struggled and received an equally unhelpful comment from a stranger. I was heading to my endocrinologist for blood work. It was a rainy mid-morning. Had my daughter in her car seat and she was crying, uncomfortable and tired. I couldn’t find a nearby parking spot, so I had to lug her in her car seat across the parking lot in the rain. I struggled to open the office door, shout my name to the office staff over the wailing of my daughter, and find an open seat in the crowded waiting room. It was then that an older woman decided to comment and chuckle loud enough for the whole waiting room to hear, “Someone isn’t happy.” Yeah.

We live in a culture where there’s a lot of pressure on a mom. You have to be super human—do it all yourself! Keep the baby happy and healthy, run the household, work not too much as to have to put baby in daycare but enough for an income… and appease a stranger’s misguided attempts at being friendly. All with a smile on your face. We don’t have a whole lot of help for new moms. In a society that values independence and success, we’re essentially thrown to the wolves to figure all this out while being at risk for postpartum depression and anxiety as well as physical issues like diastasis recti and pelvic floor dysfunction. Go to a therapist, see a pelvic floor PT? And how am I going to pay for that with my mounting hospital bills from my daughter’s birth, insufficient health insurance coverage, and meager part-time self-employed salary? How am I going to find time for that as the house gets messier, my husband works longer hours, and my daughter demands more of my attention?

I’m not saying all this to complain. My husband and I chose to adopt a dog, buy a house, and have a baby. We knew it all would have its hard times and purely joyful times. And, wow, have I had some heart-bursting, eye-glistening, ear-to-ear grinning kind of incredible moments. I’m saying all this to help put it into perspective. That woman you see shuffling her screaming infant through the rain to her doctor’s office, the one you see juggling her dog and baby while trying to get an early morning workout in, the one you see waddling towards you with a big, round pregnant belly… we’re all just trying to keep it together. Parenting is hard from the moment you see that blue line on your home pregnancy test. How about instead of passing on a woefully obvious judgement, you say something uplifting and encouraging? “You got this, Mama!” “You’re doing great!” “Woo hoo!” Anything other than the snide remark that feels more like, “Looks like you could use a hand!” *Proceeds to smack you in the face with said hand.

I’m not perfect around new moms, either. I was at a Le Leche League Breastfeeding Café with two moderators, a woman, and her mom. The woman was struggling with breastfeeding her 7-week-old son. It hurt. She yelped in pain. She cried at the thought of “failing” and giving her son some formula. The women in the room started talking about what she was doing and offering suggestions to try. I didn’t realize until I got home… I should have been her cheerleader, too. I wish so hard that I could go back to that moment. “You’re doing nothing wrong, mama. It is hard, and I’m sorry that you’re in pain. You and your son will get through this.”

Moms are awesome. A mom gives and does so much and takes so little. She deserves a little compliment every once in a while. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have laundry to do, rugs to vacuum, dog puke to clean up, diapers to change, dishes to put away, bills to pay, a mama’s boy of a sweet pup to pet, and an adorable little 6-month-old baby girl to cuddle.

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