I was at the insurance info session for my new job a couple months ago, and one woman showed up with a tiny baby in a carrier.  I spent like half of the info session eyeballing them, trying to guess how old the baby was and planning what I was going to say to her.  As a self-appointed goodwill ambassador to all new moms, I knew I just had to say something.  So when we were done, I strutted over and asked her how old her baby was.

“He’s eight weeks,” she beamed.

“Oh, congratulations, he’s so cute!  And by the way, it gets so much more fun!” I replied, thinking I was being the most uber-supportive mom-stranger ever.

The woman’s eyes narrowed.  “Well I think THIS is fun.”

Crickets.  I had no idea what to say.  I think I just whipped around and slunk off with my tail between my legs.

There I was, trying to be that person to say that thing that really made someone’s day, meanwhile I seemed to completely offend her instead.  Why had my comment backfired?  Who knows – maybe she had heard it a million times before.  Maybe she really DOES love eight weeks (I guess someone must).  Maybe she was hating it and trying really hard to cover it up.  Whatever the reason, I had said the wrong thing.

Stressed Businesswoman

I think my desire to say just the right thing comes partly from the fact that I am a “helper” by nature (and a school psychologist by trade), but it’s also that I had a really rough go of it early on in motherhood.  I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone about what I was feeling, and I felt really alone in it.  Plus, people say really stupid things to you when you’re a new mom.  A few examples:

“Are you loving it?”  

Stock response: Umm parts of it? 

Real response: Which part?  The zero sleep?  The cracked nipples?  The constant feeling that the world is crumbling around me?  NO!!!

“Sleep when the baby sleeps!”  

Stock response: I’ll try!  

Real response: WOW what a novel idea, I’ve never heard that one before!  THANK YOU for your endless wisdom.

“Enjoy every moment.”  

Stock response: Um thanks, will do.

Real response: If I think too much about what’s actually happening at every moment, I might run away and never come back.

“You look tired.”  

Stock response: I AM tired!  

Real response: NO SH*T, SHERLOCK!

Having talked with so many other moms about this, I know that my experience was not at all unique – but it was still pretty awful for a while.  Some of the really thoughtless, stinging comments really stuck with me, but also, I think a lot about a few of the comments that made a huge difference in the other direction.  For example, my father-in-law told me, “You are a strong woman.” And I remember this one conversation I had with my sister-in-law about how hard it is to be a new mom.  It was nothing earth-shattering, but it validated a lot of the things I was feeling.  I have not-quite-intentionally made it my mission to help other new moms feel not so alone.  Unfortunately, not everyone reacts in exactly the way I expect.

I think what I have learned is that pregnancy and motherhood are such sensitive topics – and such personal ones too.  It is really hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, even when you have been in a really similar situation.  Even a seemingly benign comment can strike a nerve for whatever reason.  So what to do?  Forge ahead, knowing full well that I might offend someone?  Say nothing at all?

I honestly don’t know what the right answer is.  I think it is better to say something than nothing (a smile and a held door are good too), but what to say?

What do you say to new moms?

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