My spouse and I had just signed our wills, a task that had been on our to-do list since I was pregnant with our daughter ten years before, and were so excited to know that our kids would be going where we wanted them to go should we both kick off before they reached adulthood, we decided to celebrate with a trip to Whole Foods.
It was a hot date.
As we stacked kale and cans of beans on the conveyor, the mom in the line beside ours was soothing her infant, who was clearly not content with being in the stroller. She jostled the stroller and said things to him in a sweet, Mommy voice and he gradually calmed down.
“I remember those days,” I said. “My daughter hated the stroller. I ended up wearing her every time we went anywhere because she would cry so hard.”
“That must have been so hard!” the mom said.
I didn’t know how to respond. I’d shared that little tidbit as a way to show her empathy, but had she thought I was trying to get empathy from her? And I was a little confused, too, because I’d worn my babies not because I liked the more difficult path, but because it was easier for me than using the stroller.
That’s not to say it was easy. I’d clearly unnerved my fellow shoppers at a variety of businesses by swinging my baby onto my back and strapping her on with the mei tai or Didymos wrap. And getting items from the bottom shelf was a challenge with an extra twenty-plus pounds on my back. I’d never figured out how people with stroller babies used a public restroom. I just wore my babies into the stall with me. My biggest challenge was making sure my pants were fastened under the carrier strap around my waist. (Sometimes I met that challenge, and sometimes…)
But whether we wear our babies everywhere or use a stroller or carry them in the car seat bucket, parenthood is just hard.
After two kids, I recognize that the easiest path is one of surrender, but actually surrendering is often the hardest thing to do. When my daughter was screaming herself red in the stroller in the middle of Staples or on our otherwise pleasant walks under the eucalyptus trees in the California spring or in the nursing bra section at Target or sitting in the lactation consultants’ waiting area, one thing was clear: I was doing it wrong. Everyone else seemed to be doing the exact same thing I was, and yet their babies were smiling or sleeping or at least not wailing.
It was an act of surrender to dig the sling out of the garbage for the fifth time and attend a La Leche League meeting for a tutorial. I was crying “uncle” and stepping outside of the mainstream, using products I couldn’t buy at Babies R Us, and leaving the bucket in the car.
It wasn’t the first surrender—I’d already surrendered to the science fiction way in which my body had expanded and shifted over ten months; I’d surrendered to the reality that my baby hadn’t read the baby manuals and seemed intent upon never, ever sleeping; I’d even surrendered to watching “The 700 Club” at 2am when I was up nursing my finally-quiet infant and the remote control slid out of my reach from inside the elaborate arrangement of pillows and rolled-up towels that made nursing possible in those first weeks—but it was the first conscious choice I’d made to surrender.
My baby wouldn’t stop crying when she was in the stroller or car seat bucket. My baby would (sometimes) stop crying when I was holding her, therefore, I needed to find a way to hold my baby constantly and still fulfill my need to use my arms.
Once I’d made that surrender, other surrenders became easier. When I had my second baby, I just assumed I wouldn’t get more than four consecutive hours of sleep for the next four years. I was pleasantly surprised when it took much less time than that, but it really helped to have low expectations. I didn’t even buy a car seat with a removable bucket, nor did I attempt to establish a sleep schedule. I just wore the baby to gymnastics class and preschool story time and Costco and play dates and the zoo and anywhere else my four-year-old’s schedule took her, and he napped whenever he could.
That first surrender, though, was the tough one. The only reason I was able to make it and sustain it was because I found a group of families to show me that there was another way to do things and to offer me the community I needed to make me feel like less of a freak.
In two of the three states in which I’ve been a parent, that community came from La Leche League. Where I am now, LLL is different, and I’ve not felt the connection with the local group that I have in other places. I miss that community of outside-the-mainstream mothers and that chance to offer a different way of doing things just by taking a trip to the library with a kid on my back. Now that my kids are older and I no longer nurse in public or wear my kiddos to show another way of doing things, I try to offer a verbal picture of that other way of doing things when I see a mom struggling. Not that she has to do things the way I did, but maybe just by seeing that there are options, she can feel more confident that she’s making a choice rather than feeling trapped in just a single way of doing things.
But with the reaction I got from that mom in Whole Foods that day, I suspect that people see those kinds of comments as just another criticism of the way they’re doing things. Maybe I’m doing more harm than good by making these comments. Maybe that’s not the kind of community people are seeking.
Or maybe the new crop of moms just want to—and perhaps have to—find their own way.