Sunday, October 21, 2012

What Not to Say

As I amble into Target  -- newborn in tow -- with my hair askew and an un-showered appearance, a person (or 10) undoubtedly stops me to say sweetly "Look at the new baby!  Don't you wish they could stay like this forever?"

Though I smile politely at this stranger's notion of perma-infants, in my mind I have landed an upper-cut-jab-combo squarely on the unsuspecting shopper.   

To be clear: this stranger wants to freeze my son at an age where sleeping one to two hours is considered an amazingly long time?  Where his all too frequent diaper changes are  filled with piercing screams as if an appendage is being removed?  Where he sleeps like an angel in my arms, only to wake with a jolt the moment his head hits the crib mattress? 

No thank you.

I understand their heart is in the right place.  A sleeping infant with its cute button nose and little baby coos is undeniably wonderful.  Seeing such a teeny human is a bit surreal.  They are so new, so innocent.  

Unfortunately, with the onlooker focusing so much on the baby, my current state of Crazy goes unnoticed.  Surely a glance in my direction would alert the person I am most likely unstable.  

Yet, immediately after mentioning my exhaustion, a typical response is either:  "Don't babies sleep all the time?"  or "Aren't babies easy and portable at this stage?"  Both implying I should be inexplicably happy at this opportunity to snuggle day in and day out with this perfect being.

To such well-intentioned commentators (both present and future), let me offer a bit of advice.  While the short answer is Yes, infants sleep a lot and are incredibly portable, please don't assume it is handy for the caretaker.   To paint a clearer picture, a sample timeline is below:
Last night my infant slept for two hours, twice in a row!  I felt good; confident.  However, excitement quickly dwindled as the next 4 hours were fraught with his favorite game of "Fall-Asleep-Until-Placed-in-the-Crib. Repeat".  
My hours logged sleeping = 4  
When my son is awake during the day, time is consumed with feeding, burping, changing, interacting, and soothing.  This means once he lays down there is little chance to sleep in order to tackle the exciting tasks of laundry, dishes, errands, eating, pumping, bottle preparation, personal time, and working out.  
My hours logged sleeping = 0 
To achieve a gift of 1 or 2 hours, the non essentials of working out and personal time have fallen casualty
What to Say:
After ogling a newborn, take stock in the parent holding the child before uttering a word.  If the woman looks radiant, say anything you want.  She has a perfect child and a blessed life*.  And most likely a team of nannies.  

However, if they have a disheveled appearance and dark circles under their eyes (essentially ready for a role on The Walking Dead), refrain from implying the person should remain in this state forever.  Instead, try reassuring the overwhelmed parent how each month gets better and better; the witching hour will fade away; and/or the baby will not always need you over and over in the middle of the night.  Bonus points if you offer any sort of sympathy.  Or money.  I always respond well to cash.  

Fortunately, this is my second take with a newborn, so I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  I will come out on the other side and I will, indeed, see sleep again.  But while I am in the midst of it, please handle me with care and please please please do not suggest a lifetime sentence of infancy.    
*NOTE: I am not speaking for all mothers of newborns.  I am speaking only for me and potentially other overwhelmed, sleep-deprived moms trying to remain sane while their sense of "self" is on hold to care for an infant 24/7.  I know several moms who truly love the infant stage.  They also look radiant every day with no sign of spit up on their shirt.  I in no way understand these people (robots?) and they are not the ones referenced in this post.