When my second baby was born, he was blessed with colic, and baby GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) ~ basically, acid reflux. So, when his three crying months of colic were over, he went right onto GERD for 3 more months. It seems for the first 6 months of his life, he mostly cried. But I know that’s not true. He just cried a lot and it was terribly sad.
One day, my friend and I decided we needed to get our little boys out of the house. She was a single mother of three little boys, her youngest being the same age as my baby, her middle being the same age as my little boy (2 years old) and her oldest being about 6 years old. We met at a park to play and then walked with our five little boys over to a pizza place.
I had my baby in a snugli, he was tucked close against me as he squirmed and cried, arching his back after nursing to stifle the pain in his little throat. It was so sad and I did what I could: I held him and whispered and cooed and sang and rocked and swayed and bounced and rubbed his little bald head.
We walked, probably, a mile with our 5 little boys. We were hot and tired and hungry by the time we reached the pizza place. We went through the salad bar: two mamas balancing 5 plates and wearing our littlest ones, whilst holding the hands of our 2 year olds.
Making it to the table, there was a bit of silence as the three older boys munched and the littlest ones nursed while us mamas tried to poke bites of salad into our mouths. My friend set her baby down in a stroller, and enjoyed her dinner. My darling baby, however, tucked into the snugli, finished nursing and commenced crying and arching. I bounced and cooed and sang and rubbed his soft little head and provided many kisses, but I admit, I was hungry and at my wits end.
Several times amongst his crying in my lap, I leaned over to spike salad and get it into my mouth. I remember feeling hot and sweaty from walking, and quite agitated. I was doing my best and I couldn’t help but notice that beyond the screened windows, the sun was heading down.
In the commotion, I looked to my right, a bit behind me, and I saw a table with two couples at it. They were older than us, maybe 45 or so, and they had no children with them. One of the men of one of the couples looked at me. He looked at me in such a way that his eyes spoke. He stared at me in such a way that I felt even more warm beneath my shirt.
His head shook sadly, and he went on eating.
I couldn’t believe it. In amongst my struggles and my reaching to keep my 2 year old in his seat and eating, and my baby from crying too loudly tucked against me in the snugli, and to manage a bit of food for my own nourishment, this man was judging me. In the rawest sense, I felt his judging like a steel knife careening from his table to my own soul.
I gave him a look, I stared hard at him as if to say “you don’t know my story ~ you know nothing about me”. But to be honest, my power just wasn’t there.
And I realized, to him, we were two (most likely single, most likely living off the system) young mothers with way more children than we could handle. And “How?” he must have been asking himself (and possibly his tablemates) “can THAT mother find the nerve to sit and eat HER dinner while her baby CRIES so much!!”
We left soon, and I was shaken. We walked as fast as we could as the sun began to go down. Our kids were tired and we were chastising ourselves as to why we’d risked going so late, and so far. It was getting cold.
I told my friend how I felt as we walked and related what we must have looked like to that man. With wide-eyed shock I explained to her my pain at being so thoroughly and unfairly judged. She’d been there ~ as she was currently a single mother of three. She had stories to tell.
I had never felt that way before. I was a good mother to two babies. An attached and attentive, loving mother… I may have cried.
It took me some time to get the lesson in this experience. I should have known one was hiding there. And since then, I almost always look for the lesson in experiences that shake me.
Here is what I realized, in icy conclusion: I judged, too. I judged frequently. I would see a woman, pregnant, or with a child, and my eyes would go to her left hand. “Was she married? Or was she a single mother?” I would notice the cleanliness of cars in the parking lot, the state of children’s clothing, the quality of food being fed to a child in a public place. I noticed a lot.
I notice a lot. I am always looking and always noticing. I am a true-blue people watcher. I study and stare, a lot. But there is a difference now in how I notice. There is a piece that is missing, and a piece that is added. The judging part is (almost, I’m not perfect) absent, and in its place is a proposed story.
Maybe her ring was too small for her puffy preggo fingers.
Maybe she has lost her husband. Maybe they’ve been traveling for weeks and are just now getting back into town, no time to clean out the car yet.
Maybe her husband has just lost his job and they are struggling to keep their children fed. Cheap food is better than no food if you have to choose.
Maybe this woman was in an abusive relationship and has recently fled with her baby.
Maybe, maybe, maybe…
The story isn’t important ~ It’s the Maybe… that is important. It’s the realization that I don’t know the story. None of us know the story of a stranger. We can only assume, we can only guess and wonder about their lives and what they’ve been through. Or, we can meanly judge. It’s our choice.
I choose to tell myself stories. I choose to guess and ponder, and then smile and remember how I felt when I was so coldly judged and mis-calculated.
What do you do? I’d love to hear your stories. Please comment below if you have a moment.
Have a great weekend!
Love & Sincerely, Katie
Katie m. Berggren art & design
Katie, you say that your heart sinks a little..I have to say I used to not really notice. But apparently my husband does! We were having a coffee in a cafe and there was a woman there with a newborn feeding from a bottle. I thought nothing of it, but when we were leaving my husband said that he was sad to see a baby missing out on being breastfed. I had no idea he felt so strongly about this! I’m not sure if that counts as judging or not, I think not, because he only mentioned being sad for the baby.
Simple tears. Simply ♥.
good for you Lorelei, you fed him the way you needed to feed him. He got the right milk, and that is what matters, eh? 🙂
wow Angela, that is amazing!! I wish I could have been there waiting in line to see that 🙂 Thank you for sharing!
Thanks, Katie! I was exactly the same way. My daughter was completely breastfed – she didn’t even know what a bottle was, and I have to admit to being a little snobby about it when I’d see moms bottle feeding in public. I’m a baby-wearing, BFing, attachment-style momma all the way. Maybe that was my Karmic justice. It broke my heart not to be able to breastfeed my son, but after trying and trying to get him to latch and him not gaining weight or thriving, we made the decision to stick with a bottle and we made the best of the situation. But I KNOW when I got those looks in public and I also KNOW that I had previously been one of the moms giving those looks. Not now, or ever again (although I do have to agree with Ev on judging actions).
I totally understand Lorelei ~ and thank you ~ because I notice mamas feeding newborn with bottles and my heart always sinks a little. Wow, Ev, what a story, thank you, and I think you are right. I have been thinking of your story throughout the day.
Oh Katie, that is awful…It is sad how quickly some people stereotype someone else (especially of that someone else is somehow inconveniencing them).
I have to say I don’t think all judging is wrong, some of it is perfectly natural and needed. Some lines have to be drawn (To give an extreme example if I see a parent screaming and hitting and kicking their defenceless child over and over again regardless of what kind of story they have it is NOT ok).
I try to not judge people, but I have to say I do judge actions. I think the best way to explain this is through a story I read on a message board once. I’ll tell the gist of it here and try to explain myself 🙂 :
A woman (let’s call her Ann) was visiting a friend with her toddler. The friend’s little boy was not doing what he was told and running around so his mother slapped him hard on the back of this head.
[at this point I am NOT judging – we all can lose it and sometimes do things we later regret, maybe she’s extremely sleep deprived, has no help, is under pressure].
Ann is a bit shocked but says that she doesn’t think that it was a good idea as hitting on the head can be very damaging to child’s brain. At this point her friend asks her to leave her house.
[ STILL NOT JUDGING HER: she might have felt embarassed, on the spot, any number of things, just wanted to be alone and work through a difficult situation. happens.]
Ann is uncomfortable about incident and texts her friend the following day, apologizing in case she hurt her feelings.
To which her friend replies that it was not Ann’s place to tell her off and, she will DISCIPLINE her child as she sees fit.
[NOW I AM JUDGING]
Why? because it was not a slip. It was not an honest mistake that was a result of a terrible day or lack of resources. She actually think hitting a child is acceptable disciplining technique to be used as she pleases. As far as she is concerned she did no wrong. I judge her for that. Because this is where I as a mother draw a line – children are people, children are not for hitting, hitting is not discipline. So here I judge.
It’s simplistic but I was just trying to explain..maybe not succeeding still 🙂
This is truly a wonderful story, Katie! Being the mom of 2 GERDlings myself, I learned not to judge at all because you truly do never know. I can also completely relate to your feelings at that time. I couldn’t nurse my son because of his GERD and 2 weeks in the NICU and felt very judged b/c I wasn’t breastfeeding (I was pumping every 3 hours to give him my milk but he wouldn’t latch) – but people in public didn’t know that, they only saw me sticking a bottle in his mouth. Just so many ways that people judge when they don’t know the story. This is a beautiful post and hopefully will make everyone who reads it take a little pause before judging a situation.