Photo: iStock/Koh Sze Kiat
When I had my first baby, I made plenty new-mom mistakes. I didn't notice he had diaper rash. I let him sleep in his swing (a big no-no now, but we didn’t know it then). I didn't get my postpartum depression treated quickly enough. I thought I was better than you.
You read that last part right.
My worst new-mom mistake? I thought I was the best mom. I thought I had found all the parenting answers. I thought they were one-size-fits-all answers. And I thought that if you disagreed, you were most likely on the way to irreparably damaging your bundle of joy.
You weren’t. I didn’t. And while I think I made the right choices, I know they were the right choices for us. Not for everyone. And I needed to shut up and take a seat.
I’m lucky: I have great boobs. I don’t mean aesthetically. I mean my pregnancy DDs hefted up to size Fs and pumped out plenty of milk quickly, efficiently and painlessly. I made so much milk I could donate extra. That’s luckier than it sounds—my sons all have milk-soy protein intolerance, and required either a breastfeeding mother on a very strict no-milk, no-soy diet, or a Very Special Formula equivalent in cost to buying a designer dog every month.
If breast was best for me, then it must have been best for everyone. I mean, breast is best, amiright? I knew some women needed to supplement, and I felt that was very, very sad. And deep down, I believed that most of them just weren’t trying hard enough and ought to have visited a lactation consultant again, or latched their baby on more often, or looked for a hidden tongue-tie or lip-tie.
I was a very smug little breastfeeder. If you whipped out a bottle, I gave you a pitying look and probably decided my son needed to nurse, right then, with my boob in full view. I had no clue that nursing sometimes just doesn’t work out, or that some women simply don’t want to nurse, and that both are perfectly OK. Instead, I added my shrill little voice to the others screaming that they were robbing their baby of something vital.
I am so sorry.
I'm lucky to have a strong back and a (mostly) able body. I babywore my son home from the hospital. I babywore my son around the house. In fact, I wanted to learn how to wear him better, so I started a local babywearing group, and soon I was backwrapping him.
My thinking was that this would mean he could eat and sleep whenever he wanted, without those strict “schedules” that babies with unmet needs required. He had constant human touch, which would make him better, stronger, faster, more compassionate and probably smarter or something. I thought your baby stared dead-eyed from his stroller, bereft of love or human contact because you were:
I genuinely felt sad for your baby. This is some real crap, right here. Strollers are a tool. They work. People use them. They won’t turn your baby into a serial killer. They don’t mean you don’t love your child. And maybe you do get touched out. That’s OK. Maybe you hate babywearing. That’s OK, too. Maybe you’re differently abled, and you can’t babywear.
I loved babywearing and saw what I thought were obvious benefits, so I thought everyone should.
I was also a myopic mommy who didn’t understand that what worked for me didn’t work for everyone.
Did it work for me? Then it must work for everyone. I thought I had all the answers. That stereotype of a long-haired, harem-pantsed, babywearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, attachment parent giving every other parent pitying looks because her child will grow up to be so clearly superior actually exists, and I know that because I was her.
If I could take back one thing from my son’s babyhood, it wouldn’t be a parenting choice. It would be the judgment I heaped on other moms. My heart sinks as I write this. How many women did I make feel smaller? How many did I hurt with my smugness or my sideways lectures?
I give myself some grace over it: I had just made a major life change from graduate student to mommyhood, and I approached mommyhood like graduate school—someone had to be top of the class, and it damn well was going to be me. I was used to a world with one right answer, and a world with more than one scared me.
It’s an explanation, not an excuse. I’ve forgiven myself for my growing pains into parenthood, even if they make me cringe. I only hope other moms forgive me, and that newer moms can learn from my mistakes. We all do things differently. And in the end, that’s OK.