“Is he your first?”
I get this question while guiltily scanning Kardashian headlines in the grocery store checkout line, willing the baby to ‘please, don’t lose your cool now, we’re almost through with this expedition.’ The baby considers as I shake my head no: He’s my second. This question is the second in line after “Oh, wow, how old?”
I don’t mind either of those questions, but I’d forgotten in my last babyless six years that there is something about a baby that transforms normally silent, self-minding strangers into inquisitive Aunt Mabel’s. Some of them are earnest, kind aunties, and others are more like that acquaintance who drops by for dinner just to inform you that you’re cooking it all wrong.
I hope I’m never the bad dinner guest, and I resolve never to be the initiator of invasive questions to new moms. Here are four questions I vow never to ask a bedraggled new mama (and that I get all the time!):
Are you breastfeeding?
The first time someone asked me this question, I gaped. I was standing in line at Starbucks, salivating at the thought of a chai latte on the heels of a scream-peppered night of sleeplessness. The woman who asked the question stood behind me in line, a woman I’d never seen before. Before I answered I wondered if she was going to tear into me for ordering something caffeinated.
“I am,” I responded, and braced myself for some kind of beat down.
But the response was benign.
“That’s so good to hear,” she responded, beaming at my baby boy.
Later I asked Corey what could have possibly possessed her to ask such a personal question about such a private choice.
“She was probably going to give you a hard time if you said you were formula feeding,” he responded with a shrug. And I was appalled and aghast that someone could be so rude until, two weeks later, when it happened again. Apparently, it’s acceptable in some circles to ask a complete stranger whether she is feeding her baby with formula or with her breast. I find this astonishing.
Did he come out of your body? Really? Oh my god, you’re so lucky.
I know it’s a compliment when I’m asked whether I gave birth to my own son (though, that’s kind of an invasive question of its own, really. What if I’d used a surrogate? Things would get awkward in that case.) I put on 22 pounds in my pregnancy with Jude, and lost it all within the first few weeks. It has nothing to do with genetics, though, nor luck, which is why I kind of resent the second part of the question.
I exercised five days a week for the 40 weeks of my pregnancy, and ate grilled salmon and kale when I really wanted marzipan and fried donuts. Postpartum I did double-unders and kettlebell swings when maybe I could have been napping, and so if my body has bounced back quickly, I’d like to take some of the credit.
There is a tiny minority of genetically gifted people who miraculously garner beautiful lean muscle mass while munching on poutine postpartum, but that’s definitely not me, and I’m pretty sure it’s not most of us. Also, the people asking me this question have never seen my herniated bellybutton or my split stomach. I don’t know if any of us mamas ever get to emerge totally unscathed.
Oh wow he’s so small! Is he really tiny for his age?
I’m sensitive about this one: My baby boy is still pretty little at three months of age. He is within the normal range, but ‘robust’ and ‘chunky’ definitely aren’t words that come to mind when looking at my baby.
I’m aware that he’s small, of course, and I’ve taken steps to fortify my diet with high calorie and nutrient-rich food in order to supply him with as much fuel as possible. I secretly worry that my milk is not enough — that I’m under-producing or possibly making miscalculations in my eating and not providing him with sufficient nutrition. When I’m asked if Jude is small for a three-month-old, I want to offer up excuses: He’s still in the normal range, he eats all the time, I think he’s having a growth spurt right now.
Oh my, he’s got some vocal cords doesn’t he! Is he colicky?
This isn’t an awful question, and it’s true that I feel apologetic when Jude is making his displeasure known in a public place. I appreciate it when people throw me a sympathetic glance rather than a glare. But I’ve grown to hate the word ‘colicky’ because no one seems to know what it really means. Is it a reference to gastrointestinal issues? A description of a baby who fusses more than his parents can comfortably handle? An inexplicably grumpy baby?
I think I dislike the question because I don’t know the answer. Our baby cries a lot, yes. We are not sure why, no. Babies cry, right? We don’t know if ours sobs at an unacceptable level or not, but sometimes the endless howling stresses us out and jangles our nerves completely. We’re not sure if one can take a baby to the doctor to fix his crying problem, and so we just deal. It seems like a little much to share with the stranger choosing tulips beside me at the grocery store, and so usually I’ll respond: “Yes, we think he’s probably colicky.”
Oh, I know that hating on random stranger questions is an incredibly first world kind of problem to have, but when you’re hanging on to your sanity by a shredded, gnarled piece of dental floss, invasive questions can throw you right over the edge.
I am going to remember this in 30 years when I’ve forgotten what sleep deprivation and inconsolable infants can do to one’s strength of spirit, and stick to commenting to new moms only if it’s to tell them they’re doing a great job and that it will, indeed, just keep getting easier and easier.
Photo by TheGiantVermin via Flickr.