I was standing in line, waiting to pick up some photos.
In front of me, a woman stood with her infant son in a pram. The baby was very young, maybe two months old – maybe less. The pram was rearward facing so the baby could see his mother. I could see both the baby’s face and the mother’s profile.
The baby was an outrageous cutie. And at that wonderful age where he is just beginning to really communicate. He was cooing and smiling, raising his little eyebrows at his mother.
I was so enamoured of this darling baby that I would not be surprised if I spontaneously ovulated, then and there. He was GORGEOUS.
But as my body prepared for conception, the baby’s mother remained impassive. And it’s not that she didn’t see him. She wasn’t distracted or looking elsewhere. She was looking right at him. Staring, almost vacantly, as though regarding a stranger. His little eyebrows jumped up and down, his little mouth working to form sounds. And all the while, his mother stood motionless, expressionless. Not responding.
It was so incredibly odd.
Could she have been someone who just isn’t a gushy baby person? Sure. But even then, she might have engaged in some way with her child who was so clearly trying to ‘talk’ to her.
This woman was not only unmoved by her son’s cuteness but almost removed from the entire situation. She was….vacant. She observed the baby. But she didn’t interact. She had a haunted look, like she was outside of her own body.
It was the strangest thing.
And I haven’t been able to erase the image from my mind.
I wanted to reach out to her. I wanted to make some kind of connection. I wanted to tell her she had a beautiful son.
But I remained silent.
I had the strongest feeling that this woman was suffering.
But I just shut up.
Because who the hell am I to ask her if she’s okay?
After LD was born, I was euphoric. Cloud nine stuff. It was dream-like. I was so in love with my son and my situation. It all just worked and when it didn’t, I trusted myself to get through it. I was, I must say, amazing. I was chilled. I don’t do chilled. Of all the things I am, chilled? No.
But by the same token, I felt the fragility of being a mother. There were times when I felt I was walking an emotional tightrope. And as I sat cradling my newborn son, in those very early days, I was sometimes overcome with what a responsibility this tiny life was and how frightening it was to think that he was entrusted to me, hormonal and raw and discovering a new realm of exhaustion as I was. I thought about what it might be like if I removed my support network. If I replaced a loving partner with an abusive one. If substance abuse, mental illness or entrenched unemployment were part of the equation. I imagined taking everything that I needed and relied on away and I came to see how people will do things that we could otherwise not fathom. And it scared me.
So I was filled with a powerful empathy for other mothers. It felt natural to engage with them. And for the most part, I found other mums reciprocated.
Until December 2007. It was the Christmas rush and I was mailing something at the post office. They were crazy busy. But I was still euphoric and floating a couple of centimetres off the ground. LD was being angelic in his pram. LD was always angelic in his pram.
A woman entered the post office. She had a very, very little baby with her and she carried him in a Baby Bjorn strapped to her chest. The baby was screaming. Absolutely screaming. The woman was packing something into an envelope and addressing it. She jiggled and shh shh’d the baby every now and then. The baby continued to scream. And the woman looked like she was about to splinter into a thousand tiny pieces.
I could see that once she was done, she would have to wait in the long line to pay.
I approached her.
“Hi,” I said. “Can I give you a hand?”
I thought maybe I could stand in line for her and pay while she soothed the baby.
“No!” she snapped, not looking at me. “Can you just go away please.”
I recoiled as though she had struck me. I was stung.
“Okay,” was all I said and I got the fuck out of there.
In the minutes and even hours afterward, I tossed the situation about in my mind. Of course, I was hurt. Fuck, I was only trying to help. But then, who the fuck was I to interfere? But then, what kind of idiot carries a tiny baby facing outwards in the Baby Bjorn? Everyone knows newborn babies like to snuggle into their mothers. But how the fuck do you know what the baby likes? Maybe the baby hates being in that position, you fucking know-it-all. But then couldn’t she just take a minute to cuddle her baby and then keep on doing what she was doing? But who’s to say that baby hasn’t been crying for six straight hours and the mother is just trying to run some fucking errands and the whole thing is hard enough and now you’ve blown in like fucking Mother Theresa and made her feel like a fucking failure. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh!
So. This time around, you could say I was gun-shy.
It wasn’t as though I was going to tell this woman I thought she needed help. Of course not. I wouldn't have even asked how she was feeling. What kind of presumptuous fuck would that make me? But I felt so strongly that I should connect with her, just for a moment.
Honestly, I don’t know what’s appropriate. And while some women feel the same bond of motherhood I do, others won’t. So I said nothing. Maybe wisely.
But I do regret not telling her how beautiful her son was. Because he really was. And I think, no matter what, she might have got a kick out of that.