Sometimes, the baby cries.
And it’s okay.
The way most people react even to the idea of a baby crying, you’d think it’s the worst sound in the world, nails on a chalkboard multiplied by chewing tinfoil to the power of someone slurping their soup. “There was a crying baby” is shorthand for “the experience was completely ruined and I derived nothing of value from it”. And I used to think like that.
I have to emphasise that it wasn’t having a baby which changed my mind, it wasn’t the magical (mythical) “you’ll understand when you have one of your own”. It was years before baby came along, when I simply came to appreciate that babies have no other way of communicating. And when you need something, as a baby, it’s pretty bloody urgent. And god, who wouldn’t love to just sit down and have a big wail about things sometimes?
That cry, on the bus or at the park or on a plane, wasn’t and isn’t about me (or you). It was about a baby who has a need (and they’re a baby! They need it now!) and a parent or carer who’s doing their best to diagnose and correct the issue as quickly as they can – and how could you feel anything but sympathy (especially when you’re on a plane)??
Now that I do have a baby on my own, I’m glad I went through that bit of personal growth. It’s easy to see why parents get to the end of their tether, once you add that full-bore open-mouth bellow of infant anger on top of the sleep deprivation and constant underlying terror of childrearing. It can feel like the baby is just making more noise specifically to make you explode or join them in crying. And it really helps to remember: this is the only way she can tell you things are wrong. She wishes she could make it stop herself. She simply can’t. She’s a baby.
And sometimes I’m not the person who can help, because I am at the end of my tether, but that’s only going to be made worse if I’m also telling myself that the baby crying is a personal moral failure on my part, and that being unable to pick her up because I’m so damn tired, or nurse her because my boobs were too damn sore, means I’ve failed. It’s definitely going to be made worse if I’m fielding unsubtle, contemptuous glares from supposed grown adults in my vicinity who want to pretend that children don’t exist in public areas.
Now sometimes, if a baby’s having a tangi in public, the answer is to take them out of the situation they’re in. But that’s still about what the baby needs, not placating antisocial melon-ballers.* We all have to recognise that some caregivers don’t have the choice to not be on that train, or not do the shopping a that time, or have no space or facilities to feed or change or nap the baby right now.
(I was just out at a nice Wellington bar the other night which had no changing table in any of its bathrooms. I changed the baby on the floor, and she was well grumpy about it, and I did not try to stop her crying because you’d complain too, lying on a cold floor with your bare butt in the air).
Sometimes the baby cries and there’s no fixing it. She’s fed and clean and warm and just really, really tired which only makes her less likely to go to sleep. Or she’s a tiny creature full of big feelings and can’t say “I’m experiencing some existential angst, mama” yet. And what matters, in that moment, is that she needs me, and she needs to let her feelings out, and I want her to know that’s okay, and she will always have someone to snuggle her while she gets it out of her system.
She’s a baby. Sometimes, the baby cries.
*Melon-ballers: the most useless kitchen utensil and yet one we’re all supposed to put up with