Every now and then someone says something to me about young babies that goes right over my head.
“Don’t worry, it gets much better when they get older. They don’t spend so much time unconscious and they get much more interactive!”
“Oh, flying with them this young is easy, because they still love their sleep!”
“You can cut his nails while he is sleeping.”
…But then he wouldn’t be sleeping any more…
Then I saw a baby at a restaurant.
Over Christmas, I left Babby with my mother and went to dinner with some friends.
A lady at the restaurant had a tiny baby girl.
She still had that floppy, wobbly, curvy look that new babies have, and her flimsy neck was carefully supported by her admirers as they passed her around.
She mostly slept or squinted into the middle distance and was about as interactive as a potato.
I felt like an experienced women at that moment. This lady had just entered the wonderful and exhausting world of motherhood, with her newborn and I felt worldy by comparison with my ancient twelve week old, who was so insistent on standing all the time that you couldn’t fold him, let alone cuddle him floppily.
“How old is she?” I asked the proud new mother indulgently.
“Nine weeks,” the woman responded with a glowing smile.
I just managed to prevent the look of shock from spreading over my features.
Nine weeks? NINE EFFING WEEKS? She was only three weeks younger than Babby was at the time.
This baby, at nine weeks, did not remotely resemble my baby at that age.
That was when the comments of strangers and the perplexing references made by other parents came rushing in at me, and this time they carried a different meaning of what “normal” might mean.
It’s such a flood of mixed maternal emotions when one surreptitiously compares one’s own baby to someone else’s. Everyone secretly wants to believe their baby is advanced, smart, more special than other people’s babies. But at the same time, no one wants to feel that their baby isn’t “normal”
…and there’s a fine line between “good different” and “BAD different”.
Looking at that dozy, uninterested, spineless nine week old, I found a little senseless pride that my own baby was so much more advanced (and I felt heartily ashamed for feeling proud of something so meaningless) but there was another emotion there, too:
I felt cheated.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore my baby. I miss him whenever he isn’t in my arms. I love his big smiles, and I am proud of huge eyes, and of his sturdy little legs, and his indomitable spirit.
I feel like I missed a whole stage of babyhood – one where two month old babies are still floppy lovebugs who get passively passed around in public and can even go to a restaurant and sleep through the meal.
It’s better now. He can go to a restaurant without screaming. He sits and looks all around and grabs at the forks drops Sophie on the ground and looks to see where she went and then tries to eat the napkins.
But that feeling of envy keeps coming back, sometimes when I least expect it.
For the last three weeks, I have attended a “Baby Bonding Group” at the Women’s hospital where my shrink is. A girl there had a 10 week old. Guess what she was complaining about?
“I feel like I never get to spend time with my daughter. She’s only awake for a certain amount of time each day, and then everyone passes her around and when she comes back to me, she’s asleep again.”
There was that feeling again. The feeling of jealousy. Of confusion. Of realizing that a mother with a baby younger than mine was experiencing things I had never experienced. Sure, there are clearly downsides to her experience. But it seems like hers is more… usual. More normal.
A friend of mine has a newborn baby, and has posted adorable pictures of him slumped over and sleeping in everyone’s arms, curled up like a sweet little bug and people were like “I love that stage!”
…and I realized that I never really had that. I tried to take pictures of him being all cute and curled up in my arms. But they never looked right.
He was always holding himself stiff, and straight. The legs always dangled down, often stiffened like tent poles.
The cute Anne Geddes style pictures other people get of their baby adorable curled on a furry rug in the fetal position, or snuggled into their mother’s chest in a bug-like ball or cupped peacefully in loving parental hands… just never happened for me.
It’s not that he didn’t want to be held. He insisted on it. But he has always seemed to be in a battle. A war against sleep, against the environment, against his own body. Even when he slept, it was stretched out, or tightly swaddled.
Ever since he was born – even now – the first thing anyone says about my baby is
“Look at those eyes! He’s very alert for his age!”
Seriously. Every. Time. I was out with him yesterday. Three people told me that he is very alert.
I’m sure alert is good. I’m glad I have an alert baby.
“Has it occurred to you that he’s just very, very bright?” asked the leader of the post partum group when he was three months old. Sure, it has. Babby’s father is a genius. I’m sure my baby is bright. But my mother in law says that PH slept great as a baby, so there goes that theory.
While everyone else’s babies (geniuses included) were curled up all cute and sleepy, mine was alert. Alert and screaming, or alert and interactive, but always alert. I have sleep logs to prove it.
I’m happy. I’m happy with my son. But when I see small babies doing things mine never did, and I hear parents talking about things I never experienced, I feel a little sad, too.
It makes me wonder if I did something wrong. People in non-Western cultures have never heard of colic, and consider it strange for a baby to cry for more than a minute or so at a time.
I carried my baby, I wore my baby (more so after my mother left) and I breast fed him on demand. But still he was always awake, always screaming. Could I have done something differently?
Is my baby born different or was I not satisfying some inner need of his biology?
I wonder… did I mess up my chance?