“You’re Just a First Time Mom”
Have you ever heard this? How did it make you feel? Were you quietly seething inside or did this finally convince you that someone else knows your baby better than you?
This is one of the most dangerous statements I feel a professional can use. It’s dismissive. It’s belittling. Yet it’s rampant in our culture. Why?
Is it us?
Are all of us new mothers accepting this statement and all it implies instead of politely correcting it?
Is it the professionals?
Have they forgotten their medical school training to trust the parent’s instincts and observations?
Is it society?
Too many social network blog articles that tell you how to be with your baby because you must not intrinsically know? Too much social sharing/emphasis on the What Could Go Wrong instead of an awareness of how the majority of babies are born healthy and thriving?
I would venture to say it is a combination of the three that has perpetuated this ‘First Time Mom = Idiot’ stigma. How can we abolish this inappropriate, inaccurate portrayal of motherhood?
First, let’s explore the history…
Since the dawn of civilization, mothers have been the direct caretaker of their newborns. There was usually a support team of other women as guides during labor and breastfeeding, but they did not replace the Mother’s caretaker role. And babies know this. They have done countless studies to prove that babies can locate their own mother’s voice, heartbeat, and breast. Mothers are also able to identify their own newborn baby’s unique cry. Have you ever watched a Breast Crawl YouTube video? Amazing! That healthy newborn baby that doesn’t even have head control or open eyes just crawls to its mother—not the OB, or the nurse, or any other female hanging between your legs that also has breasts. Baby crawls to you, the mother. Your baby knows you have what he needs.
Second, let’s see where it goes wrong…
Baby is born and put skin to skin with Mom. You have a regular delivery and stay in the hospital 24 hours before heading home. How many times does a well-intentioned professional (doctor, nurse, lactation, the friggin hospital photographer) tsk tsk you and laugh if you ask a question or note a concern? Why are we dismissing moms who are concerned that their baby is crying? “Babies cry. You’re just a First Time Mom, you’ll get used to it soon.” Then you head home and a well-intentioned relative laughs when you bring up your concerns, “You’re Just a First Time Mom.”
Let me see if I understand… Mothers are dismissed and belittled over concern for baby crying because All Babies Cry. So how are we to distinguish the difference between a healthy crying newborn and one that is crying because of newborn encephalitis or severe reflux if not by their cry? Many a lawsuit has been won by a parent whose concerns were dismissed by hospital staff only to find out the child had a serious issue that could have been prevented or minimized had parent concerns been addressed in a timely manner.
From a Behavioralist viewpoint, we are conditioning mothers to stop voicing concerns.
Mother voices concern > Concern dismissed = reinforced that behavior (voicing concerns) to stop.
But Baby doesn’t stop causing concern for the Mother.
So Mother again voices concerns > Concerns dismissed= behavior is reinforced to stop.
Repeat until either a) Concerns acknowledged or b) Mother seeks new source to voice concerns.
Wonder why all these concerned mothers have taken to social media Mom’s groups? Do you think the recurrent theme is that their Pediatrician truly listens and pursues their concerns? No. And then the dreaded eye roll when we confess our source of information comes from a Facebook group of *gasp* mothers.
But we need our medical professionals’ trained eye. And there are tons of fantastic, highly-educated professionals that are also great listeners. We need to understand what appropriate expectations for our professionals are, and then hold our professionals accountable to them.
Ways to reshape our view from ‘First Time Mother = Idiot’ to ‘First Time Mother= Expert on her Baby’
- It should not be up for discussion or dismissal whether Mom should be concerned. She either is or she isn’t. If she is, it is the provider’s role to then identify possible causes in the mother-baby dyad. If it is beyond their skill set, refer to the most appropriate specialist. Using language such as, “I am concerned and need your help to get to the bottom of this” is more effective than questions such as, “Is this any cause for concern?”
- Mothers should be politely correcting any and all professionals that suggest we are something other than an Expert on our child. I am not a cardiologist. I am not a Lactation provider. But I have an advanced degree in My Child. I know how many farts he had this last hour. I know the color and texture of his poop. I know if the latch is right because only I can feel what my nipple feels like. How can someone presume to tell me it’s a good latch or ‘weight is not an issue because he is maintaining his growth curve’ when they are not the one feeding my child 12 times per day? We must understand the parameters of each expert’s scope of practice. Doctors should not be commenting on the latch just as Lactation should not be prescribing reflux treatments just as I should not be interpreting x-rays. Understand what your scope of practice as an Expert Mother is, and what your professional’s scope of practice as an expert in their field is.
- Give your professional the opportunity to identify their role on your baby’s team. After all, baby is new to them too. They may need a little time to find out how best to support you (caveat: babies with feeding issues need immediate supports). There are parents out there that want to be told exactly what to do by professionals. Some parents become defensive when being told what to do. Professionals are not mind readers. Clarify with them how you like to receive support best, and be clear in articulating what expectations you have about your role on your baby’s team. And if you have given your professional ample time and instruction to support your family best, but it’s still not working, cut your losses. Consider yourself lucky to have identified that you were paired with a Dismiss-er when your baby is still young. Go on to find a better match.
- Take some time to acknowledge the many ways you are an expert on your child. Use that to strengthen your resolve as your baby’s mother and advocate when issues arise. Feel empowered by the awesome role you have in Baby’s life.
I leave you with an affirmation:
“I am a First Time Mom. And that makes me brilliant. My maternal instincts are powerfully attuned to my baby’s body and needs. It makes me my baby’s voice. It makes me confident in my abilities to care for my child. First Time moms, like me, are amazing!”