4th century, gold and glass medallion, Roman mother and child
Tonight, I listened as another mother expressed some guilt over discovering that her 9 week old baby wasn’t gaining enough weight. The lactation consultant figured out that the baby needed more milk in the evening when the mom’s supply was low. After the baby gobbled up 7 ounces of pumped milk that first evening, the mother burst into tears because she realized then how hungry her baby must have been on the other nights.
Oh, I remember those feelings. The “cold” that turned out to be a double ear infection. The funny spot that was staph. The “teething” that was really hand/foot/mouth blisters. No matter how much we read and worry and track and monitor, it’s all still a surprise half the time.
My advice to the new mom came straight from my stepmother, Big Gay.
“Honey, put down the whip.”
That’s what she says whenever I’m flogging myself over some mistake or almost mistake (kinda like when Richard was yelling “Old Lady!”). Quit beating yourself up because there’s nothing to be gained from punishing yourself for not being omniscient.
Midnight, Mother and Sleepy Child, 1794
Sharing that nugget of advice reminded me of a funny moment of parenting advice that Big Gay gave me when I was pregnant the first time. I drove down for a visit when I was about four months pregnant with Vivi. While we were eating dinner, I started getting really tired. Big Gay asked if I was sleeping OK.
“Usually,” I answered, “but last night I woke up at 2 a.m. and realized in a panic that I was sleeping flat on my back and the book says you’re not supposed to do that after about 10 weeks because the weight of the baby can restrict blood flow and cause the baby not to get enough oxygen so I’m supposed to sleep on my side and when I woke up and realized that I was sleeping on my back I felt so nervous about accidentally doing it again that I couldn’t really rest after that.”
Big Gay looked at me for a few seconds, like she was trying to figure out if I was kidding. Or if I might be having a neurological attack of some kind.
“No sleeping on your back? Huh. I don’t think I ever knew that when I was pregnant.”
I nodded in all seriousness. “Yep, it’s in the ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ book.”
Moche Culture, 3rd century Peru, ceramic mother and child figure
She picked up her bourbon and took a sip. “We didn’t have anything like that.” She leaned across the table and whispered, “And it’s a wonder any of you survived.”
Then we had a good laugh and I promised to put down the whip. And while I was at it, I put down that book, too.
Women have been doing this a long time. Even before Google.