Stay Mum

16 Jan

I was standing in line, waiting to pick up some photos.

In front of me, a woman stood with her infant son in a pram. The baby was very young, maybe two months old – maybe less. The pram was rearward facing so the baby could see his mother. I could see both the baby’s face and the mother’s profile.

The baby was an outrageous cutie. And at that wonderful age where he is just beginning to really communicate. He was cooing and smiling, raising his little eyebrows at his mother.

I was so enamoured of this darling baby that I would not be surprised if I spontaneously ovulated, then and there. He was GORGEOUS.

But as my body prepared for conception, the baby’s mother remained impassive. And it’s not that she didn’t see him. She wasn’t distracted or looking elsewhere. She was looking right at him. Staring, almost vacantly, as though regarding a stranger. His little eyebrows jumped up and down, his little mouth working to form sounds. And all the while, his mother stood motionless, expressionless. Not responding.

It was so incredibly odd.

And sad.

Could she have been someone who just isn’t a gushy baby person? Sure. But even then, she might have engaged in some way with her child who was so clearly trying to ‘talk’ to her.

This woman was not only unmoved by her son’s cuteness but almost removed from the entire situation. She was….vacant. She observed the baby. But she didn’t interact. She had a haunted look, like she was outside of her own body.

It was the strangest thing.

And I haven’t been able to erase the image from my mind.

I wanted to reach out to her. I wanted to make some kind of connection. I wanted to tell her she had a beautiful son.

But I remained silent.

I had the strongest feeling that this woman was suffering.

But I just shut up.

Because who the hell am I to ask her if she’s okay?

After LD was born, I was euphoric. Cloud nine stuff. It was dream-like. I was so in love with my son and my situation. It all just worked and when it didn’t, I trusted myself to get through it. I was, I must say, amazing. I was chilled. I don’t do chilled. Of all the things I am, chilled? No.

But by the same token, I felt the fragility of being a mother. There were times when I felt I was walking an emotional tightrope. And as I sat cradling my newborn son, in those very early days, I was sometimes overcome with what a responsibility this tiny life was and how frightening it was to think that he was entrusted to me, hormonal and raw and discovering a new realm of exhaustion as I was. I thought about what it might be like if I removed my support network. If I replaced a loving partner with an abusive one. If substance abuse, mental illness or entrenched unemployment were part of the equation. I imagined taking everything that I needed and relied on away and I came to see how people will do things that we could otherwise not fathom. And it scared me.

So I was filled with a powerful empathy for other mothers. It felt natural to engage with them. And for the most part, I found other mums reciprocated.

Until December 2007. It was the Christmas rush and I was mailing something at the post office. They were crazy busy. But I was still euphoric and floating a couple of centimetres off the ground. LD was being angelic in his pram. LD was always angelic in his pram.

A woman entered the post office. She had a very, very little baby with her and she carried him in a Baby Bjorn strapped to her chest. The baby was screaming. Absolutely screaming. The woman was packing something into an envelope and addressing it. She jiggled and shh shh’d the baby every now and then. The baby continued to scream. And the woman looked like she was about to splinter into a thousand tiny pieces.

I could see that once she was done, she would have to wait in the long line to pay.

I approached her.

“Hi,” I said. “Can I give you a hand?”

I thought maybe I could stand in line for her and pay while she soothed the baby.

“No!” she snapped, not looking at me. “Can you just go away please.”

I recoiled as though she had struck me. I was stung.

“Okay,” was all I said and I got the fuck out of there.

In the minutes and even hours afterward, I tossed the situation about in my mind. Of course, I was hurt. Fuck, I was only trying to help. But then, who the fuck was I to interfere? But then, what kind of idiot carries a tiny baby facing outwards in the Baby Bjorn? Everyone knows newborn babies like to snuggle into their mothers. But how the fuck do you know what the baby likes? Maybe the baby hates being in that position, you fucking know-it-all. But then couldn’t she just take a minute to cuddle her baby and then keep on doing what she was doing? But who’s to say that baby hasn’t been crying for six straight hours and the mother is just trying to run some fucking errands and the whole thing is hard enough and now you’ve blown in like fucking Mother Theresa and made her feel like a fucking failure. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!

So. This time around, you could say I was gun-shy.

It wasn’t as though I was going to tell this woman I thought she needed help. Of course not. I wouldn’t have even asked how she was feeling. What kind of presumptuous fuck would that make me? But I felt so strongly that I should connect with her, just for a moment.

Honestly, I don’t know what’s appropriate. And while some women feel the same bond of motherhood I do, others won’t. So I said nothing. Maybe wisely.

But I do regret not telling her how beautiful her son was. Because he really was. And I think, no matter what, she might have got a kick out of that.

4 Responses to “Stay Mum”

  1. Bilby January 16, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    Very thought-provoking piece of writing there Angie, I must say. It reminded me of how happy I was at the birth of my two precious little ones, but at the same time, how struck down I was by depression. Having said that, I’m still proud that even in amongst that dark cloud, I could find joy and happiness in the simplest of things – those little smiles in response to just seeing my face… they do melt your heart and bring a tear to your eye from joy, that another little being can be so happy to see you, and just be near you. That said, perhaps some people can’t find that, for whatever reason…maybe they’re not the ‘mothering’ kind, maybe they are unwell… there’s a thousand maybe’s. One will never know, but credit to you for thinking about it like you have.

    Oh and for what it’s worth, I loved it when someone offered me a hand if I was standing in line at the checkout at the supermarket for example, and one (or both) of my littlies were starting to get a bit over it! There are some kind souls out there, and you are one.

    Once again, very well written and very thought-provoking 🙂 End of sermon 🙂 xxx

    • Angie aka The Little Mumma January 17, 2011 at 7:15 am #

      Thanks lovey. I appreciate your sermon! 🙂

      It makes me happy to know that even in the depth of your depression, you were able to really ‘see’ your beautiful babies, that you formed a bond despite your illness. But of course, I’m sorry that the depression clouded this precious time at all.

      Prior to having children, I was probably very quick to judge mothers. Becoming a mother myself, I am all too aware of how very thin we can sometimes be stretched. It has certainly made me a more empathetic person. I think I needed that.

      And yes, if someone offers a hand or even just a sympathetic smile, I take it gratefully. But not everyone feels that way. It’s hard to know what’s right.

      I think maybe I want to always offer the hand but learn to toughen up about the prospect of being rebuffed!

      Thanks for reading. xx

  2. Natalie January 17, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    very interesting topic.

    I also feel that connection with other mothers – i see a mother with screaming baby or tantrum throwing toddler at the shops and think, poor thing, that was me yesterday! But i very rarely say anything to the mum, just throw a sympathetic smile her way and hope she picks up on my telepathic support. I have been that struggling mother who got the offer of help and snapped back, not because i wasn’t grateful but because i was struggling so much just to keep it together and knew that letting the wall slip down just a little would result in the floodgates opening, and i didn’t want to be a blubbering mess in public.

    And if one of my friends rang me and said she was having a tough time with the kids, i would so understand and want to help her out – there really would be no judgement and i would think absolutely no less of her, in fact i would feel our friendship strengthen. BUT the silly thing is i would never ring a friend and ask for help, for fear that she might think less of me. And that is stupid. I think the key to connecting with other mothers is to let them see our imperfections and struggles – noone is perfect/happy/coping all the time. Kids cry and misbehave and resist what needs to be done, and sometimes you just can’t get any time for yourself and it gets frustrating. And if we don’t show that to others, then we all walk around thinking we are the only ones struggling and that’s very lonely.

    one of the reasons i find this blog so compelling is the ‘realness’ and honesty portrayed. there needs to be more of it in the mummy world!

    • Angie aka The Little Mumma January 17, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

      Natalie, I am quite certain the woman who snapped at me was just trying desperately to hold it all together. In that moment, I was offended. But that was just my pride. She had every right to tell me to fuck off. I hope that she and her babe got through those tough early days relatively unscathed.

      Funnily enough, I never ring friends and ask for help either! I think we’re hard-wired not to. Shame really.

      Thank you for reading The Little Mumma. That you find it real and honest is a huge compliment.

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