by MEG MASON
If I had to pick the exact moment I realised that my pregnancy and future baby-raising were matters of public interest, I’d say it was … yep, probably the time a dude I didn’t know from the Accounts Payable department of my work put both hands on my pregnant stomach in the office kitchen while I waited for my lunch to heat up and said: “This baby does not want to be so near that microwave.”
How did he know that?! My baby could have been loving it. But more importantly, why did he feel entitled to tell me so? Why do any of us feel entitled to say what we say to new mothers?
Especially when exactly zero-point-no per cent of it helpful for the super-vulnerable woman in question. Herewith, a point-by-point guide to the very worst things to say to the lady with the baby, based on my own real life experience:
1. NOT LONG TO GO NOW!
Guessing how long a woman “has to go” is a favourite pastime for strangers everywhere, and while it was annoying when I was only 20 weeks but “all out the front”, it was so much worse after I’d had the baby. Yes, I do look pregnant and yes I am wearing maternity jeans because my other ones still don’t fit but, to the man in the car who drove past me on Kensington High Street and shouted “ANY DAY NOW, LOVE!!!”
I say, you missed a significant visual clue, sir: I WAS PUSHING A STROLLER. It is always best to check for a baby in the vicinity of a mother’s arms before making any out-loud remarks as to the imminence of her due date, especially if you will be shouting those comments out your car window.
2. IS SHE GOOD?
What does that even mean, I used to wonder when old ladies – for this particular question is an kind-old-lady-special – leaned into my stroller and asked if the angelic-looking gift of a baby sleeping inside was “good”. Good at what, old lady? Tennis? Excel? Or do you mean good like, morally upstanding?
Much later, I learned that my geriatric inquisitors meant “good at sleeping”. And so to them, I latterly answer: of course not! She’s a baby. A very good bad-at-sleeping baby.
3. THAT BABY SHOULD BE WEARING A HAT/SOCKS/A VEST/NO HAT/NO SOCKS/TWO VESTS/A TINY SOMBRERO AND EYE GLASSES
My daughter was born in London at the beginning of a particularly vicious winter. For the first three months of her life, the outside temperature stayed below freezing so every cafe or department store we visited on our first tentative outings had the heating dialled up to the “Carribean” setting.
The routine – go inside, remove a million layers of triple zero baby-clothing without taking the Baby Bjorn off. Step outside, put all the layers back on, without taking the Bjorn off, and this time with gloves on. Rinse, repeat. Just sometimes, there would be a three-second lag between my stepping out into a crowded street and my managing to get her hat on but three seconds is all a well-meaning stranger needs to draw a straight line from my baby’s state of hatlessness to my all-round deficiency is a mother. If you really neeeeed to comment on how a woman dresses her baby, well-meaning stranger, can you give her, oh say, five seconds? Just in case she’s looking for the hat…
4. ARE YOU DOING THAT RIGHT?
New mothers the world over agree: nothing promotes successful breastfeeding like a judgemental onlooker (sarcasm alert!) especially when that onlooker is your own mother or better still, mother-in-law. The same goes for trying to follow the instructions on the formula tin or get a newborns’ legs unfolded for long enough to do up a tiny nappy, all easier with mum standing sentry at your elbow and chipping in with passive-aggressive questions about whether you’re actually doing it backwards/too roughly/not roughly enough.
My mother turned out to be the actual bestest at this particular line of enquiry and it’s sister statement “when I did it, I was always told to…”. I love you, mum, but I am doing it now and I just need you to look on and clap. And get me jam crumpet before I start weeping.
5. SO WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY DO ALL DAY?
This is far and away the cruellest question to ask a new mother especially when you are a) her skinny, childfree best friend or b) the father of her child. I know – you’re not judging, you’re just genuinely interested since I used to be a barrister/jazz flautist/pilot and now I can’t seem to run a brush through my hair but the truth is: I don’t know. I don’t know what I do all day. I can’t remember but whatever it was, it felt life-or-death important at the time. And it probably was. Just trust me on that one.
Meg Mason is journalist and the author of Say It Again in a Nice Voice (HarperCollinsPublishers).
What do you think is the worst thing to say to a new mother?