By Shawna Gamache
It’s impossible to understand how scary it is until it happens to you.
There you sit, staring at the door, huge bag fully packed, tiny newborn in your arms wearing her seventh clean outfit of the morning. You finally made it happen. So why can’t you walk out that door?
Well, first, there are the things that will probably happen. Like needing to breastfeed in public. Dealing with a poopy diaper in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Holding a screaming baby while people shoot you nasty looks.
Then there are all the great unknowns. What if you forgot something really important? What if baby screams the whole way there? What if she is hungry but won’t take the bottle or breast? What if it’s all just too much and you lose it?
People have barricaded themselves in their homes under far less duress. And yet, every day, people are going out into the world with their babies. Sometimes it is a swimming success. Sometimes it’s a traumatic disaster. But they are doing it. And after they get home (and possibly hose down the carseat), they are going out and doing it again.
I still remember how raw I felt in those early weeks with my first. How humbled I was by the constant unexpected challenges I faced. Despite all my planning and research, the universe had delivered me a tiny, squalling colicky little baby with major nursing challenges who screamed whenever she was even near her carseat. I didn’t even think about leaving the house for the first month or so. And even then it was just a walk around the block with a diaper and wipes tucked into the Ergo.
I finally left the house for real. A friend and I had met at a local cafe with our five week olds. The six hours beforehand had been a perfectly syncopated effort on my part, timing nursing, active times and diaper changes just right so I could hit the cafe with Quinn in her optimal state.
The babies were awesome as we sipped our tea and vented. Actually, we didn’t have any tea. What were we thinking, ordering hot tea with tiny newborns in our arms? Our teas sat untouched but we didn’t care. I wanted to stay forever, but prudently kept our “playdate” short, conservatively calculating 25 minutes for the 15 minute walk home before baby might need to nurse again.
As my friend and I parted ways, I felt so empowered. We did it! This whole motherhood thing was actually going to be OK. I passed a storefront window and caught myself grinning, giddy with relief and sleep deprivation.
About five minutes later, I found myself in the middle of my worst nightmare. Well, let’s say my most mortifying nightmare. Baby needed to nurse and I was in downtown Ballard in broad daylight. I had no car. I had no husband. I wasn’t wearing a nursing shirt. I had no clue how to nurse in the Ergo I was wearing.
With baby screaming her head off, I scanned the street, looking for someplace semiprivate. There really weren’t good options. Finally, I just took a deep breath, sat down in the middle of a park bench on a busy street and nursed my squalling baby.
She was not having the nursing cover, or even the burp cloth anywhere near her. It was not discreet or inconspicuous. But it was OK. People walked by and behaved normally. Life went on. The construction crane kept moving, the crows kept cawing and nobody glared or stared or threw a blanket over me or anything.
Once the panic abated a bit, relief washed over me in waves. Here I was, out in the world, dealing with an awkward and messy new mommy moment. In public. And it was OK. I realized that my life as a new mom was going to involve many public shamings. And I would keep choosing to go out that door knowing that the unknown would happen. And it would keep being OK. Not perfect or clean or without mortification. But OK.
Now that I have three kids under five, I almost don’t notice the embarrassing things that are constantly happening to me. Well, I pretend not to notice them.
Parenthood is an incredibly humbling stage of life in which you have almost no control over what will happen to you at any given moment. But you desperately need time out in the world. So you bear the humiliation, and it diminishes a little every time.
I think the humbling never stops, though. That’s OK. I think I needed it.
About the Author
Shawna Gamache is a former newspaper reporter and co-founder of the local blog Moms Alive. She is mama to Ruby, 3, Quinn, 5, and Nora, 11 weeks. In her quiet moments, Shawna loves writing, knitting and avoiding eye contact with her laundry pile.