Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Indoctrination

My next door neighbors had a baby a couple of weeks before Christmas. Do you know what this means? There's a new baby next door.

Ababyababyababyababynextdoorababyababyababy...


Shut up, I don't want to hear it.

That baby is so close I can almost smell him. Mmmm, baby powder and newness - Or that could be the Cabbage Patch Premie doll Chicky got for Christmas. Whatever. - A pile of soft baby folds and whimpering need, all squishy and warm. We visited our neighbors soon after they brought the baby home and as I held him I remembered something: I really don't like the newborn phase. The newborn phase from the perspective of the mother, that is. As a friend I love newborns. I can hold and cuddle him and give him back as soon as he cries. I'm not responsible for diapers or nursing, and the best part, I don't have to go through the self-doubt, the questions and the endless Google searches. And the long, sleepless nights. And the frantic calls to the pediatrician. And...

You get the idea.

The new mom called me yesterday with breastfeeding questions. I told her as much as I could remember (we tend to forget these things, don't we?) but added the caveat "This is all from my experience. Your's might be different." Because it's true; every newborn is different, what worked for me might not work for someone else. Not to mention that I didn't want to freak her out with all that lies ahead for her. Yes, I know what is in store for her, and as an opinionated person who suffers from foot-in-mouth disease I tend to let new mothers in on these secrets to a fault. I resolved not to do that with this woman, mainly since I don't know her that well, but I do feel there are some things she needs to know that aren't written in all the baby manuals. How many times have we lamented over the lack of knowledge and important advice we didn't receive? Why didn't anyone tell me not to point my sore boobs directly at the shower stream the first time I got a real shower? Tea bags on the nipples? Who knew? Why did it take me so long to buy a baby sling? If someone would have told me that my colicky infant would fall almost instantly asleep in one of those suckers I would have gotten a sling way sooner.

So, friends, I turn to you. In my position how would you approach this? Would you let all the ugly bits hang out - not those ugly bits, let's save some of the mystery for her, shall we? - and tell a new mother some of your horror stories, or would you hold back and let her learn some things for herself as not to freak her out? I'm going to be delivering her some books soon and I'd like to be armed and ready if the occasion arises to answer the hard questions.

Tell me, internets, what would you feel comfortable telling a new mother?


-------------------------------------------------------

I would be remiss if I didn't thank a certain blogger, one Janet aka Wondermom of Dancing Through, for the kind words on her blog and the Perfect Post Award for my entry about my baby book.

A Perfect Post - December

It's a cruel club to belong to, but Janet is a motherless mother herself and I'm glad to know that there are others out in the blogosphere that understand where I'm coming from.

Thanks Janet!

****Edited to Add****

I just found out that I was nominated twice for this post. I'm blushing, seriously blushing. Dispatch Mom also bestowed this great honor on me. Aw, shucks.

********************

37 comments:

ECR said...

I'm so callous that I don't even hesitate to tell the horror stories to pregnant women, let alone women who've already popped one out. I almost feel as if it's my obligation, because nobody should have to say "why didn't anybody tell me it would be like this?" That kind of feeling is so alienating. Granted, most pregnant women and new moms won't listen, as motherhood is something one really has to experience for oneself to truly comprehend. But I figure if I say it enough, something's bound to sink in. And at least I'll be able to say "I told you so." Because that's the kind of person I am. You seem much nicer :)

Congrats on the Perfect Post award. I actually told several RL friends about your post when the subject of baby books came up. Your message really stuck with me.

Janet a.k.a. "Wonder Mom" said...

I'm all for spilling the awful truth about new mommyhood. I wish someone would have done that for me...Now, ask me, but know there are No Holds Barred. You ask me because you know I will tell it all.

I wasn't able to breastfeed...long story...so I have no advice for that. But if I knew then... I'd have called a breast feeding club or La Leche League or something to help me out. I wish I would have done that then.

And, sweetie. You're welcome. You deserve to be noticed for your wonderful writing and heart. I do know where you are coming from...Enjoy the award...you deserve it.

something blue said...

I might not try to terrify the sleepless souls but offer tips. Oh yes! Who doesn't like tips especially when they come in the form of money?

Congrats on your perfect post. Your words were truly deserving of recognition.

Joker The Lurcher said...

congratulations on your perfect post - it was thoughtful and right on the nail.

as for your neighbour, i have a good friend who was brilliant when i was a scared new mother of a 5 week premature baby. she used to say "what worked for me was..." rather than being dogmatic about what i should do.

and if any one of the paediatricians who were on the neonatal unit had looked closely at my sons tongue it would have been obvious it was tied and that he would never breastfeed. they could either have snipped the tie (which i gather is less scary than it sounds) or i could have been saved 2 months of trying to express enough milk for him to take from a spoon or bottle and eventually having to give up anyway (whereupon he bloomed overnight into a plump baby!) in the uk there is a huge pressure to breastfeed and for those of us who can't it is a bit tough.

so i suppose just supporting people in their intuitive decisions in a gentle way is how i would do it.

Kate said...

Whoo hoo for the perfect post award! You deserve it - you are an awesome writer.

As for spilling the beans on motherhood, my advice would be to tell her anyway, because sooner or later she will know the truth. There's also a book out there for you to direct her to, "The 4th Trimester", by Amy Einhorn.

PunditMom said...

As a mom by adoption, I'm afraid I have no advice to offer on the breastfeeding thing.

But I wanted to post to congratulate you on the award. It was a perfect post ... so much so, that I printed it out so I could keep it. It has inspired me to do a special project for my daughter, who was not our daughter until she was 12 months old. Thank you for the inspiration and, as always, the wonderful writing!

bubandpie said...

I remember once on Babycenter there was a thread venting about all those dire warnings, and tons of women posted saying that motherhood was so much easier than they'd been led to believe. In response, someone started another thread about how motherhood turned out to be so much harder than they had ever imagined.

There's no right answer here, but I'd rather speak up honestly about how hard it is - I'd rather help a mother who is struggling, even if that means I run the risk of just being annoying to mothers who are having an easier time.

K said...

I share my pain -- but try to make it funny.

Try being the operative word.

ewe are here said...

Congrats on the Perfect Post award; I really really liked that post!

As for 'sharing' the joys and horrors of motherhood, it depends I suppose on who I'm talking to and whether I've been asked for input. Every baby is different, as is every mommy, though, and I do always emphasize that....

carrie said...

Slip a copy of Jenny McCarthy's mothering/pregnancy book under her door. That should cover all the "nasty bits" and you won't get the blame. Eeeeeeew!

Carrie

Dirty Birdie said...

I would only be brutally honest if she asks you a question, I wouldn't offer up horror stories unless it's a "Lets not do this ourselves now shall we?" sort of pre-emtive story telling.

Tea bags on the nipples? No shit? I guess I should have tried that...

Cate said...

I'd tell her there are very few "right" answers, despite what the books, nurses, and lactation specialists say. So much of it is trial-and-error, and babies are much more flexible than new moms think.

I'd point her towards some kind of new moms community, either online or in real life. I'm sure you're an awesome neighbor, but the best thing is to have a few other people who are going through very similar stages at the same time. That way you know it's not just you.

What books are you bringing? I'd recommend Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott and An Innocent, A Broad by Ann Leary.

Christina said...

I'd tell her the truth, but try not to scare her. Make it funny, share stories that you can laugh about now, but at the time felt traumatic, etc.

And yeah, I try to preface any advice with, "Well, here's what worked for me..." Babies are like weight-loss plans - "Individual results may vary."

Irreverent Antisocial Intellectual said...

I always tell the new BFing mommies that the first two weeks are excruciating and difficult but if they can get beyond that, it will be so much easier. And then I tell them about Lansinsoh and LilyPadz and how that made it easier for me. And then I back off and wait for the questions. But the key, I've found, is to be encouraging without being a Lactation Nazi ... those people scare me.

Mamacita Tina said...

Tell the new mother good tips, like the tea bags and the sling. She may not have the same "bad" experiences as others, and may have "bad" experiences the rest of us haven't had. Good tips are always appreciated. My tip is buying and using those gel packs for nipples. Put them in the fridge, apply when sore to numb and soothe. They come in huge circles, so I cut them into eights (like pizza slices) to just be nipple size and spend less money.

radioactive girl said...

I would have welcomed the truth from other moms as long as it was not told in a bossy "you need to do this" type way. Every child is different, so it pays to point out (as you are) that your experience may be different from what she will experience.

Lara said...

congrats on the perfect post! i remember that was a very beautiful post, so it is a well-deserved award. :)

Lena said...

You're craaaacking. Told ya. ;p

petite gourmand said...

I usually hold back a bit.
But I think any advise you dish out would be invaluable and appreciated I'm sure.
especially if you are even half as witty as you are on your blog.
Humour is what gets you through it all.
I mean putting cabbage leaves on your swollen boobs..hilarious right?

Heather said...

Not a mum, but I say if she asks, be honest - no sugar coating. Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to put my fingers in my ears while you tell her and say "laa la la la la la, I can't hear you."

Also, I don't know if there's an equivalent program where you live but my sister's a nurse at a health unit working with new mums and that's a free resource around here - they're there to answer calls and make house visits to anyone.

Nancy said...

Congrats on the Perfect Post award x2! Much deserved.

I try to do a combination of realism and practical advice, but only after feeling the mom out a little bit. I try to let her take the lead (by asking her how she's feeling, if she's been surprised by any aspects of motherhood) and if she seems willing to hear more I might open up. I do try and share experiences as "my personal experience" and caveat them in that way -- i.e., "this might not happen to you." And if I have some solution to offer I will try and give that as well -- for example, cracked nipples suck, but I went and got the stinky Lanosoh (sp?) and that helps.

From the way you talk about your interactions with people, I am sure you will be a helpful and empathetic person for her to talk to.

MrsFortune said...

I say give it to her straight (I typed "give tit to her straight" there by accident at first, haha). Seriously. It is my contention that there is a conspiracy of silence among women for a lot of the reasons you mentioned and I want that conspiracy to end! Tell her all about it, but you are right to say it's your experience and hers could be different. But I would have wanted to know and quite honestly I was kind of pissed at some friends of mine who had kids who didn't tell me.

Just my opinion.

T. said...

Freaking blogger just ate my comment!!!

I say sandbag her with it.

She can take it. She's a mom, now. She needs thick skin.

Besides, what's worse than sore boobs and angry jets of water in the shower? Not knowing about angry jets of water and having your battered, bruised breasts take a beating, just cuz your neighbour didn't tell you about that particular hazard...

I'm just saying...

And congrats on your perfect post. But then, I think all of your posts are perfect! : )

jen said...

i would just offer to watch the baby so she can take a nap and bring her a large bowl of guacamole and chips.

congrats on the post, you writer, you.

Bobita~ said...

I have struggled with this same question myself...when I have laid out the ugly bits I have made at least one woman cry; but I have also spoken with some moms whom I spared the crappy stuff...and they were resentful that "no one told me about the tea bags on the cracked, bleeding nipples, why didn't anyone tell me???"

So, now I tell everyone, everything. I always love to tell them this:
Be prepared for stink eye. People will give you stink eye with complete abandon now that you are a parent. At the grocery store, in restaurants, at the bank, in the post office. When they do, and they WILL, you must remember one thing and say it to yourself...those stink eye givers have either never had children or they have forgotten what it was like to have children. Fuck 'em. You are not a bad mother if your baby cries in public. You are not a bad mom if your curious toddler pulls down the display rack in the Hallmark store. Stink eye givers suck; never doubt yourself because of them.

Tell her...and then let her know that you are always there to talk about how hard the ugly bits can be.

(Congrats on your perfect post award!)

creative-type dad said...

Teabags on the boobs? My man-boobs hurt now just thinking about that.

Stephanie said...

First, you are AWESOME and congrats!!!!

Second, I agree so much with Cate.

I wish so much I had not lived the first 3 weeks of Bethany's little life in a fog of fear and uncertainty. Jenny is right next door, and, as it turns out, we had the EXACT same issues trying to breastfeed and each were ultimately unable to for the EXACT same reasons. The irony: I was so deep into that fog I didn't go to her! The result: I was so angst-ridden I failed to enjoy my little miracle for who she is until 5 trips to the pediatrician and at least a dozen visits with lactation consultants later.

You may not know this lady well now, but you could have a friend for EVAH by helping her through this time.

Did I mention you are AWESOME?!

Julie Pippert said...

Oh...well...if she *asked*...

Good: Tips, anecdotes, best suggested resources, sympathy and support from a more experienced mom *when I ask*

Bad: Rubber-neckers and glory-in-the-horror types full of "OMG just you WAIT" stories who can't wait to attempt to (a) reveal their greater knowledge and (b) terrify me *when I don't ask.*

The best supports for me as a new mom?

http://www.kellymom.com/

La Leche League

Mom Groups (real life and online)

The above were best for me because of who I am and how I wanted to parent then.

I think between asking, "What are your parenting priorities?" and your own good common sense you can figure out the best approach. GOOD LUCK!

Karly said...

I think it is only fair that the new mother be properly warned. Don't hold back.

Binkytown said...

I let it fly too, I don't hold anything back anymore. I know people told me things I didn't want to hear and I blocked them out so I assume they will do the same if they don't want to believe me.

Jenifer said...

Well, as the mother of a still colicky 4 month old.... I'd let it all hang out. If only to drag someone else down into my misery with me.... Awful isn't it??

And even as a mother of 2 now.... what worked with my daughter DOES NOT work with my son.... even as an "experienced" mother you are not prepared!!

And you are welcome for the nomination :) I'm glad I was not the only one out there who recognized the greatness of that post! I must have good taste!

Kristin said...

The only thing I tell new moms, other than fact stuff, is this, "It's very hard and don't feel badly if you need help."

Congratulations on your Perfect Post... it was beautiful.

Waya said...

Me? I also have that foot-in-mouth disease too. I tend to let it all out since I have 3 kids already, and think that I DO know everything about child rearing. But I wouldn't want to scare her with too much info though. Maybe only when she asks for it.

Congrats to the PPA! You sure deserved it!!

gorillabuns said...

tell her the good, the bad and the ugly. why sugar coat it? odds are she won't remember what you said anyway...you know, with the hormones raging and all....

mamatulip said...

Huh, I just had this same conversation with a friend of mine who is trying to get pregnant. I told her that it's my policy to keep my mouth shut until I'm asked and that if she wanted to hear about my experiences, honestly, I'd tell her. When asked.

So that's how I approach this sort of thing. If someone asks me how my delivery was with Julia, I'll ask them how much they want to know, because it wasn't like an episode of A Baby Story. Because I've found that there are two camps of people: people that want to know it all and people that ask for it all and then get mad when they get it.

Izzy said...

I would ask her straight up if she wants the truth or the sugar coated Hollywood version. Let her decide :)

kittenpie said...

I try to just tell them about the parts they ask about and tell them I'm happy to entertain any questions, but that I don't want to overwhelm them with all sorts of stuff they'd prolly read anyway. Thus I can curb my natural urge to blab away for hours and focus on the things they really want to know. And yeah, like you (god for you!) I'm always big on emphasizing that that's what happened for me, but I know other people who had different experiences. That's also why I really like the Girlfriends' Guides - they really stress the gamut of different ways things happen, which I like. V. reassuring.