'When I overheard what another mum said about me at a cafe, it broke my faith in humanity.'

A few weeks ago I had two experiences that broke my faith in humanity and then restored it within swift succession.

I was at a cafe in a large suburban shopping centre with my 12-week-old baby girl. While I waited for my cheese toastie and extra large long black to arrive my husband texted. He’s a freelancer and was stuck in the city between jobs, sitting alone in a cafe in another large shopping centre, missing his baby. I pulled out my phone and took some photos of our girl to send to him. He texted straight back so we went back and forth a bit swapping notes on the baby the way people who used to be a couple but are now ships in the night do every day.

Sat at a table nearby was an older woman, probably not much older than my mum, and her adult daughter, who must have been in her thirties. The mother, in what she probably thought was a whisper but was actually just normal volume, said something to her daughter about women of my generation – Generation Y, which she spat out like a four letter word – being too obsessed with their phones to mother properly. She had decided that, rather than texting my baby’s father pictures of her to help him through his day, I was doing whatever nefarious thing she believes Gen Y-ers do on their phones.

caitlin kay-smith
Caitlin Kay-Smith with her baby girl. Image: Supplied.

Shamed, I made a big show of stowing my phone in the generous basket beneath my stroller and plucked up the baby. I sat her on my knee and chatted to her while I nibbled toast and tried not to spill rapidly cooling coffee on her head. After a little while, as we were getting ready to leave, the two women walked over to me on their way out. The daughter remarked on how cute my baby was, and made all the right sounds as if trying to make up for her mum's comments. Her mum, seemingly on a roll about other people's parenting, decided to make one last swipe before we parted ways. Looking at the baby sitting in my lap she mentioned what a bad idea it was to ‘coddle’ babies by giving them too much physical affection - babies who are kissed and cuddled too much become problem children, apparently.

It felt like I'd been slapped in the face by a woman wielding a dead fish. She started brunch by thinking I was neglecting my child. She ended it by announcing I was smothering her with too much affection. I could not win - and in my exhausted, emotional new mothering state I almost burst into tears. But new motherhood also makes you kinda numb, so tears come when they shouldn't, and won't come when they should.

caitlin kay-smith
"It felt like I'd been slapped in the face.". Image: Supplied.

I packed up and headed back to the car, parked in the standard underground car park. It was a school day so it was reasonably empty, but as I approached my car another mother nearby was wrestling her toddler into hers. The little girl was wailing as if being strapped into her car seat was tantamount to waterboarding. As the woman saw me coming she said to her girl ‘Look, there's a baby over there and the baby is sleeping, if you don't quieten down you’ll wake the baby and what happens when you wake up a baby?’ I heard the little girl stage a whisper, on the cusp of being calmed, ‘babies cry when they wake up’. She didn't make a single sound more.


The other mum managed to get her child into the car without further incident. As she walked around the back of her car to the driver's side she winked at me and mouthed ‘thank you’ while doing a goofy thumbs up. And then she was gone. And my tears decided to turn up.

That second mother will never give that moment a second thought - she was just doing what she needed to do to get through that moment, just as she had done and will do a million times. But she fixed a little part of me that had been broken by Brunch Lady (the real nickname I gave her isn't fit to print). She taught me something massive about motherhood - that we're all in this together. And when your kid is screaming it's totally cool to use another woman's sleeping child as a tool to get the screaming to stop.

Caitlin Kay-Smith is a 30-year-old mother-of-one from Sydney. She thoroughly enjoys spending time with her husband, baby girl and dog - and not being pregnant. Caitlin writes about her hideous experiences with hyperemesis gravidarum, motherhood and being #blessedbutstressed on her blog Panic in the Nursery.