I should have recognised the danger of uttering statements such as “I can’t believe how happy she is in the stroller” or “She’s getting sleepy, I think she’ll drift off in a minute”. But I was so overcome with pride in every single little thing she did that I couldn’t bite my tongue before the words escaped. Obviously they were certain to be followed by a sudden cry, which escalated all too quickly to a wail. Panic set in as I swooped forward and lifted her out of the pram. Holding her close to my chest, I breathed a sigh of relief as she paused momentarily. I quickly realised, however, that it wasn’t going to be that easy that time.
As I tried everything I could think of to soothe my upset child, I couldn’t raise my eyes to glance at the people surrounding me in the restaurant. I knew my gaze would be met with solemn looks of irritation and disapproval. Bouncing, rocking, pacing – none of it worked. In desperation, I offered a dummy which, as usual, was promptly rejected with a louder cry. I could feel the eyes of the annoyed diners watching me, judging. It must have been clear to them that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Surely I should know how to stop my own baby from crying. In fact, if I was doing as good a job as I thought, why had she even started in the first place? All of these criticisms circled in my mind as I swayed and shushed around the table.
“She’s just tired,” I explained apologetically in a deliberately louder-than-usual voice – an attempt to reassure the other diners that I did know what I was doing after all. I bounced towards the door so they could be left to eat in peace but promptly returned when I felt the draught of icy wind.
Waiting for someone to kindly tell me that she was probably hungry, I considered rummaging through the overly full changing bag for a bottle, even though I knew that this was not a hungry cry. But what if it was hunger after all? What if I actually didn’t know anything about her and it had all just been luck so far? I wished for a moment that she was hungry, because at least that would be any easy problem to resolve.
And then, without warning, she was asleep.
Once I had returned to my seat, cradling my baby in one arm, I reached for the second half of my burger, grateful that I had at least learnt enough to only order food that could be eaten with one hand. Breathing deeply and taking a bite, I cautiously dared to look up. I couldn’t believe the scene around me.
It was as if nothing had happened. People chatted as they ate; a toddler moaned in a highchair; the clattering of pots and pans in the kitchen could only faintly be heard over the music. The diners at one of the few childless tables looked at my sleeping baby and smiled before continuing their conversation. I had been so flustered and busy expecting to be judged that I failed to notice the fact that no one else was bothered.
As I felt my cheeks return to their normal tone, I reflected. Being a first time mum is challenging enough without adding to the pressure by criticising ourselves. Sometimes we need to take a step back and realise that there is no need to panic.