What Mothers Really Need
I heard you before I saw you. I was in the frozen food section and your cry was coming from the other side of the store. At first I tried to ignore you. Checking off my grocery list…apples, crackers, almonds…but it was no use. Your new baby cry was piercing my heart. I had to find you, to see if you were alright. I couldn’t understand why you were calling out, your little voice heard throughout the store. Who was with you? Who was helping you?
I hurried up and down the aisles. I’m 56 now, and it’s been 22 years since I comforted one of my own babies, yet it felt like you could be mine.
And there you were, propped in a baby seat, your mother frantically piling food items onto the checkout counter while you cried so hard that you turned your little face red. Your eyes were squeezed shut and your fists were clutched tight, pounding the air around you.
Your poor mama seemed unsure as to whether to pick you up, torn between your need for her and the need to get the groceries out of her cart, an hour’s worth of shopping, a whole morning’s worth of effort on her part. She kept looking at you, telling you “it’s okay, it’s okay”. Sweat was gathering on her forehead. She spilled the contents of her wallet as she tried to pay. She clutched her cloth grocery bags likely wondering how on earth she was going to self-bag her food items. She looked like she, too, might cry at any moment. She seemed acutely aware of the stares she was receiving…from the checkout person, from those in the line-up behind her, and sadly, I thought , from me.
I realized I was contributing to her anxiety as I walked up to her.
How could I have been so self-righteous as to forget how hard it is to get groceries with a newborn?
I knew just what to do! I’d do what I wished someone had done for me when my baby cried at the checkout counter, my other little kids swinging from the metal railing, helping themselves to chocolate bars, pushing the buttons on the cold drink machine…
I told her I understood. I asked how I could help? I didn’t really wait for an answer. I picked up her spilled wallet, tucked it back in her purse, and started packing her groceries. I said I’d meet her out front, and urged her to sit on the bench and wait for me, that I would be there soon. I felt so ashamed that I had judged her and her crying baby.
As I pushed her cart to the front of the store, I spotted her before she saw me. Sitting on the bench as I had suggested. Baby snuggled to her breast, no longer crying but instead happily drinking the warm mother’s milk he had been needing. Her head was tipped back and her face was turned toward the sun.
Ah, I remembered that feeling! The feeling of oxytocin and prolactin (naturally-produced breastfeeding hormones) surging through my body and washing away the stress of mothering. The very primal, innate feeling of knowing that baby is feeding and the world is right again. Heart rate slowing, fingers stroking baby…a universal sigh of relief felt by mothers around the world when baby settles and crying stops.
So the next time I hear a baby crying, I will remember this…
Mothering is hard some days. Simple tasks take a very long time. Babies fuss. Mothers need help. And encouragement. Not judgment.
Our kindness can make all the difference to a struggling mother. Let’s not ask if her baby is a “good baby” (aren’t they all?) Let’s not ask if baby sleeps through the night (do any?) Let’s smile. Let’s help. Let’s be part of the village the mother needs.
A mother is doing the most important job in the world…she is raising, nurturing, loving, caring for a human being!
Nothing else compares.