Before my daughter was born, I bought all kinds of books: infant development, breastfeeding, sleeping, etc. I pored over various titles online, reading through reviews and comments, and dog-eared pages for information I thought might be important.
And then she was born, and aside from the basic medical and developmental stuff, I rarely looked at any of them. Instead, I focused on getting to know her, and figuring out her cues so I could respond to them appropriately. All the books on sleep methods? Not nearly as helpful as paying attention to when she was getting tired versus overtired, and facilitating her in getting rest when she needed it. She naps well and naps regularly, she has a regular bedtime that evolved based on her signals, and she sleeps through the night in her crib. She loves her sleep, and thankfully for us, that’s always been part of her disposition.
With sleeping, feeding (I could write a whole post on the immense challenges of feeding this child), and other basic stuff, we figured out what worked for her and for us, and how we do things might not work for other families and other babies.
But with babies, sleeping and feeding are two of the most heated topics, and everyone has an opinion. From co-sleeping to cribs to bottles versus breast, the comments, opinions, and “advice” abound. Recently I read Natalie’s post where she reflected on the judgment/surprise people had when they heard about her particular sleeping arrangements. Her methods aren’t what would work for my family or my child, but they suit her baby’s needs and her needs as well.
As I read it, a post from Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef was still fresh in my mind. In it, Shauna discussed how critical we can be of one another’s food choices, how convinced we can become that our way is the right way, the only right way, instead of accepting that there are many, many “right” ways.
How many times have people told you what you should eat, or how you should cook it, or what you should avoid consuming? (Never mind what you should feed your kids!) I don’t mean the friendly advice we get, or the tips we get when we solicit help or feedback, but the unsolicited comments that really seem to imply we are doing something wrong by doing things a different way.
Sometimes when I read the comments section on online newspaper articles, or the back and forth on popular blogs, I am aghast at how judgmental people can be. Even the online reviews of the baby books I looked at were antagonistic, as if we are divided into non-attachment parenting types or attachments parenting types an never the two shall meet, as if breastfeeding versus formula feeding was somehow an indicator of maternal worth, as if how and where and for how long babies sleep is a measure of parenting success.
It boils down to lack of perspective, I think. Part of that is human nature and inevitable, but part of it is an unwillingness to see things from other points of view. In the spheres of chronic illness and infertility, lack of perspective and its close cousin, competitive suffering, are common:
People who don’t live with constant pain don’t always get why people living with pain can be unreliable, or doubt their pain altogether. People who are healthy don’t always understand how physically and emotionally draining chronic illness can be, and don’t think to check in on that. As a recent tragedy with someone I care about illustrated, people who do not look at life through the veil of depression might not see why things could look overwhelming to someone else.
We all judge sometimes…perhaps too quickly and easily.
People who have gone through multiple reproductive interventions might not have patience for people who think a few months is a long time to not get pregnant. People who are always in and out of hospitals might not see why a short hospital stay or simple procedure is a big deal to someone else.
We all compare sometimes …perhaps without considering that someone’s pain is big and real and present to them, and it does not matter what our own take on that pain is.
There is always someone convinced that if we eat this, or try this treatment, or follow this protocol, or read this one book, our problems will be solved.
We all think we have the answers sometimes…perhaps without considering that there really are many ways of doing things “right,” and what “right” constitutes varies so much depending on background, lifestyle, religion, family, etc.
The first time I had to supplement breast milk with formula was really hard—in my head, my body was letting me down, I was letting my baby down, and so forth. The amorphous “they,” the peanut gallery that dwells in the recesses of my brain, was working overtime. But as my husband pointed out, the most important thing was that my daughter was adequately fed so she could grow healthy and strong…and whatever combination of nursing, pumping, and supplementing that took was the “right” way for us to feed her. I think a lot of us can find similar parallels with this situation in the ways we negotiate and accommodate illness.
Sometimes the biggest challenge isn’t simply what others say, but having the confidence to carve out a different approach in spite of it.