"And is she a good baby?" I was asked this question over and over again following the birth of my daughter. It seems harmless but to a sleep deprived, sore and vulnerable new parent, it made me feel like I was going to lose my mind.
The newborn period is challenging for most parents. As I prepared to meet my second baby, I assumed things would be easier.
I already had one baby, I was a confident, seasoned parent, right? WRONG!
I was trying to navigate breastfeeding for the first time with a very ill-informed and unsupportive paediatrician. My daughter was challenging in that she would.not.sleep. I used to question how she could possibly survive, let alone thrive, waking so frequently. She took ages to settle and when she wasn't settled, it was full on screaming like I had never heard from a baby before. It cut through my husband and I like shards of glass. We were so overwhelmed and distressed because she was distressed and it felt like nothing we did could soothe her. We didn't know it early on, but our little girl was sensitive to cow's milk protein.
I was a shell of myself following my daughter's birth. My husband's family were all overseas and we felt so alone in our parenting. My close friends all lived 2+ hours away and I felt so embarrassed about my feelings as a second time mum. I carried shame with me everywhere I went.
Then everyone started asking "is she a good baby?" And we all know the implied opposite of a good baby- a BAD baby. As my mental health was already in decline, this question only added more fuel to the fire. I was repeatedly struggling with questions like, "what's wrong with me? What's wrong with HER!? Why can't I cope?" When this was question was asked, I would shrug and say yes, but it stung me so deeply and made me feel like a BAD MOM who had to hide the fact that I also had a BAD baby.
Let's get one thing straight- ALL BABIES ARE GOOD BABIES! Babies are not born bad, looking to manipulate or distress their parents. What people are really asking when they say "are they a good baby?" is "are they an EASY baby?" And mine wasn't. She challenged me physically and mentally more than I could comprehend.
The sad part of this question is I find most people who ask it don't truly care, it’s most commonly just something to ask- routine if you will. If you would turn around and say you are struggling or your baby is really challenging you, I wonder what type of response you would receive... are they going to offer help? A compassionate listening ear? Or will you be met with awkward silence? Sadly many new mothers have lost their village, or network, of support. New mums are struggling more than ever to ask for and find help if and when they need it. Like my situation following birth, families are often separated by distance or work obligations which prevent more regular, consistent help.
I think we need to start challenging the question "are they a good baby?" with witty or serious responses. I find It incredibly problematic, especially for new parents who are struggling like I was for months postnatally. Instead of asking this particular question, which tends to create the polarisation of “good” versus “bad” babies, how about we honestly ask parents, "how are YOU? And how are things going with the new baby?" I think this illustrates more of an actual interest and leaves more space for new parents to talk about how things might really be going. And of course if you can offer help, do!
When life feels overwhelming and intense, Limerick Doula Services is here to offer information and non-judgmental support. You can always get in touch.