It was late in the morning on December 29, 2012. I had sat down to feed Baby Nathaniel baby food from a spoon. He would not eat it. He kept his lips pursed shut. He swatted angrily at the spoon. He screamed a high-pitched angry scream. He would not eat it.
This was not the first time he had refused to take food from a spoon, but it was the first time I became overwhelmed with sadness, frustration, and an overall sense of failure as a mother. I threw the bowl and spoon in the sink, muttered something to my husband, Greg, about feeling sorry for Baby Nathaniel, that I was his failing mother who was never going to get him to eat, and I quickly walked to my room to cry before the baby could see me.
After getting the baby cleaned and settled, Greg came and hugged me, kissed me, told me what a wonderful mom he thought I was and reminded me that I needed to get all of these “supposed to’s” out of my head. Baby Nathaniel was going to eat from a spoon when he was ready, and even if he never ate from a spoon and went straight to finger/table foods, that would be okay, too. He gently reminded me of all the “supposed to’s” that our baby had already not adhered to, and he was a totally happy and healthy baby who was not going to do things based on our, or the world’s, expectations of how and when they were “supposed to” happen.
He was “supposed to”
He was supposed to sleep in the bassinet beside the bed when he came home from the hospital. Sometimes he would sleep in the bassinet, and sometimes we tucked him in his Boppy pillow between Greg and me in our bed. Sometimes he would only sleep on my chest or in the swing. In fact, for most of the first two months, he slept either in the bassinet or his swing. He did not consistently sleep well in the bassinet until the week before he outgrew it!
He was supposed to sleep flat on his back in his crib when he outgrew the bassinet. He did sleep flat on his back in his crib when he outgrew the bassinet…for about a week. Then, his acid reflux became very severe, and the only place he could sleep comfortably was strapped into his car seat because of the high incline. Today, he sleeps in his crib with the mattress at a high incline and strapped in a Tucker Sling. He still becomes very uncomfortable at night, and by midnight each night, we end up moving him back to the car seat.
He was supposed to start eating solid foods from a spoon at four months. Greg and I, along with his pediatrician, decided to wait until he was six months old to introduce solid foods with a spoon because breastfeeding was going well, and we wanted him to get the maximum benefits from breastfeeding as long as possible. We waited, and although it was a struggle in the beginning, he now eats solid foods from a spoon like a champ!
He is supposed to have a certain size/shape head. Nathaniel’s head is off the charts, but a CT scan and monitoring by his doctor show no signs of anything being wrong. The shape of his head is also different because of sleeping flat on his back on an incline for so long. He has not had the option of rolling onto his belly while sleeping because of the way he has had to sleep, and he is extremely uncomfortable on his belly due to his reflux. Even awake, he will not stay on his belly for more than what seems like a millisecond.
We are not alone
As I was having these strong, overwhelming feelings of failure about Nathaniel’s lack of meeting some of these “supposed to’s,” I asked the other moms if they had similar experiences. What a relief to learn that I was not alone!
The baby’s supposed to stop drinking from the bottle, transition to a sippy cup, then go to the cups with lids and straws. Jennifer shared that her baby still drinks out of the bottle and will only bang a sippy cup when given one. On the other hand, Andie and Linzy said that their babies skipped the sippy cup stage all together and went straight to the cups with lids and straws.
The baby’s supposed to like table food at a certain point. Ashley shared that her son does not like table food. He simply will not eat it beyond the baby pouches, yogurt, and peanut butter. Whatever other real food he actually does like is not healthy (french fries, for example).
The baby’s supposed to stop breastfeeding at a certain point. Karen said, “People praise breastfeeding moms for breastfeeding, but many think it’s gross to breastfeed past a year. There’s no off button people! Weaning takes time.”
The baby’s supposed to sit up and/or walk at a certain point. Trish shared that her six-month-old is still wobbly when sitting up. Karen added that her son did not walk until about a week or so ago, and he is fourteen months old.
Frankly, we could go on and on forever with this list of “supposed to’s.” The more important issue, I believe, is why we feel as if this stuff is “supposed to” happen a certain way and at a certain time. Perhaps even more important than that, is why we feel frustrated, guilty, overwhelmed, or like failures as mothers when all these “supposed to’s” elude our babies. I know for me and other members of the blog, it all begins with a probably well-meaning friend or family member who makes a comment when we have probably had little sleep and have already been beating our heads against the wall with whatever the issue may be (sleeping, eating, walking, crawling, etc…). Elizabeth mentioned, “I always felt like I was being compared to other moms in the NICU – like we didn’t visit Addie as much as we were supposed to, it was my fault that she was born early, or that pumping did not work out. Why can’t we all just support each other, you know?!”
Exactly! That is my New Year’s Resolution this year. While everyone else is trying to lose weight, I will be getting rid of my “supposed to’s.” I will be working on being secure and confident in the decisions I have made for Nathaniel collectively with my husband, my pediatrician, and most significantly, my God. I will also be trying to be supportive and helpful to my fellow moms.
My challenge to all the readers out there is this: The next time you want to tell a mom what, when, or how their baby is “supposed to” be doing something, stop. Take a pause, and use the energy that would be required to make that judgment or share that comment to give that mom a hug. Then, offer a helping hand (get the door, babysit, buy her a cup of coffee, etc..). It will make her emotional state, her day, and maybe even the world, just a little bit better.