I don’t remember when or why, but at some point after my daughter was born, I had decided to adopt a non-judgmental opinion of other mothers (though in reality, it wasn’t so much non-judgmental, as it was “whatever”).
I think it began in the NICU. Our regular nursery was being cleaned, so we had been moved to another nursery down the hall. This nursery seemed to be a transit stop for new babies who were Code Blue in the delivery room, but only needed a night or two under observation. And also multis–I think most early-term babies born in sets also spent a couple of nights in this particular nursery, though they were for the most part whole and hale.
At any rate, this particular nursery seemed much more lively than the one we had started out in, since the thrill of childbirth was still hours-fresh, and parents were sometimes still scrambling for names. My daughter and I kangarooed and quietly eavesdropped on the goings-ons in this busy nursery.
One dad was exuberant. “Which one is smaller?” he asked the nurse, pointing at his daughters. “The smaller one is Ella. Ella as in Ella the Elephant.”
Way to set her up for a lifetime of eating disorders, I thought to myself, but when Ella the Elephant’s mother was wheeled in, exhausted and beaming, I checked my thoughts–you know what, she just pushed her body through hell, twice, I don’t know what that’s like, so she can name her girls whatever she wants.
And the same went for the mother who decided to name one of her twins “Ah-rye-anne.” Only, she wanted to spell it like “A-r-i-y-a-n” which looked an awful lot like “Aryan” on the charts. Should I say something, I wondered, she might still be a bit medicated, but thankfully one of the nurses gently intervened to help the new mom modify the spelling before it became official.
And so it went. Because I can be an incredibly snarky person, I was constantly reminding myself that I don’t know Susie from Jane, and should therefore be less judgy. When a bitchy mother in the step-down unit loudly complained to her nurse that finally! I never thought we’d take my son home! we were in here for FIVE whole days!, I tried to remind myself that five days can be an eternity when you’re at the mercy of Medicine (okay, okay, I might have pointedly glanced at the mother’s It’s a Boy! balloons which were still full of helium, which was more than words enough for her nurse to totally get my meaning and fight the urge to smile).
For the most part, I tried (and still try) to give other mothers the benefit of the doubt, Lord knows I’ve said and done some pretty stupid things, but there was that one time when I thought my head would explode into flames.
The setting, our library’s Rhyme Time. A mother walks in with her new-to-crawling infant. The infant was small, but didn’t quite look like a preemie, so I said something like, “What a determined little crawler! My, what an early-achiever!”
The other mother snorted and shook her head. “No, she’s actually behind on crawling. She only looks small because she lost a lot of weight after she was born. We went through, like, three pediatricians. We’re on our fourth. She’s finally starting to improve. She was 80 percentile when she was born, but now she’s like 5.”
I probably should have said something generic and went on my way, but I couldn’t help it, I had to ask: “What happened?”
“They didn’t support my choice to exclusively breast-feed. They thought I should pump-and-bottle or try formula instead. One even threatened to call child services. One even said it was my fault my baby was losing weight.”
It was like she was totally fishing for a girlfriends moment, but she wasn’t going to get it from me. Because anyone who lets ideology trump her child’s well-being cannot be my friend. Never mind that pumping and formula are how many preemies get fed, pumping and formula are still very good options, so that healthy babies don’t have to slowly die of starvation if breastfeeding isn’t working out. And to blame it entirely on the pediatricians….!?
I kept my face a careful blank and said, “Mmhmm,” though I could feel flames shooting up behind my eyeballs.
So much for my saintly non-judgmental resolve. I judged the shit out of this mother. But as I sit here, recounting this admittedly confessional episode, I can’t help but wonder, if maybe I missed an opportunity to save this woman from herself. But then again, maybe I’m still being judge-y for even thinking she needs saving. Who knows? All I know is, the few times I’ve seen her at Kroger since, she ducks into another aisle to avoid me.
I guess my face wasn’t as blank as I thought.