Chrissy Teigen made me afraid to take my baby out of the house. Well, not Chrissy Teigen, but Chrissy Teigen's social media accounts. Actually, specifically, the comments on Chrissy Teigen's posts. Brutal. Every single move she makes elicits some sort of criticism, and she knew a hell of a lot more about being a mom than me. While I told myself that my baby was too young to be exposed to people, or it was just too cold or rainy or sunny or windy to go anywhere, the reality was I was terrified of being mom-shamed. Chrissy is such an honest, relatable, and badass mom, and look how people tear her apart. What would happen to me with strangers on the street?
I knew that actual bona fide moms were going to take one look a me and see how completely unprepared I was. After all, they were real moms, and I was a charlatan. A fraud.
My hormones were in monsoon season, I had no idea what I was doing, and there were too many things to figure out all at once. What to feed a baby, where to feed a baby, when to feed a baby, how to hold a baby, how to strap a baby in a car seat, how to dress a baby, how to soothe a baby, how to make the little tent thing to keep from being peed on by the baby, and so much more. I didn't have enough sleep, knowledge, or experience to keep it all straight. Trying to be a mom in the privacy of my own home was one thing, but doing it publicly out there in the world was another. I knew that actual bona fide moms were going to take one look at me and see how completely unprepared I was. After all, they were real moms, and I was a charlatan. A fraud.
I was paralyzed with fear, but I was also due to arrive for the first pediatrician appointment, and even my impostor self knew that the initial check-up was non-mom-negotiable. I was shaking in the waiting room. My eyes were darting everywhere, anticipating the blows. I was sure that child protective services would be called and informed about my complete ineptitude as a mother. As soon as the nurse walked into the examination room, I started bawling. I tried to tell her that I couldn't get the hang of breastfeeding, that I wasn't doing it right, that my upper half looked like something out of a horror movie, but the noise I emitted sounded more like the shrieking cry of a wounded pig than a respectable mother one would have no qualms about being in possession of a newborn baby.
You know what happened? The nurse, Ginger the patron saint of emerging mamas everywhere, took my hand and told me she understood. She told me that she was a breastfeeding specialist and when her second child was born, she still woke up from way too little sleep crying about having to feed her child, again. She told me I was not alone, she would help me, and she showed me where to order My Breast Friend, a breastfeeding pillow that was exactly that.
Ginger was only the beginning. A virtual stranger helped me collapse my stroller in a Target parking lot. Did she comment that I should have learned how to do it before I left the house? Nope. She exclaimed, "I do not know why they make these things so complicated!" When my husband and I went out to dinner for the first time post-baby, and our little one started crying, we didn't get nasty looks. The waitress entertained our baby with silly faces while a woman at the table next to us smiled and said, "I remember those days." The moms in the baby aisle at the grocery store didn't comment on the supplemental formula I bought. They commented on the cuteness of my kid.
It didn't stop there. My sister, who lives far away and had not even met my baby, called me every couple of days to tell me I was doing a great job. The women who lived in our neighborhood brought over meals in disposable containers so I didn't have to stress about washing and returning Pyrex. My angel of a mother-in-law stayed with us for a week after my husband went back to work, cooking, cleaning, walking the dog, buying the newborn pajamas I had not thought to get, and basically keeping me alive while I tried to get the hang of deliriously sleepwalking around with my robe half-open, trying to figure out what my moaning son needed. My first day back at work, my female coworkers brought me flowers and things to binge-watch while breastfeeding and told me I looked great (I most certainly did not, but it allowed me to pretend that I could zip my pre-pregnancy tailored clothes up all the way).
I was prepared for the mom-shaming. I was not prepared for the pervasive encouragement and unassuming assistance that washed over my new motherhood. I was not prepared for the enduring kindness and graciousness of other moms. They didn't want to shame me. They wanted to lend a hand, some confidence, or even some baby gear, because they knew what it was like to be in my shoes. To be scared and unsure of my efficacy and unable to figure out how to collapse a stroller in a Target parking lot.
When we were kids, before going to a crowded place, my mom would tell my siblings and me, "If you get lost, find a mom." She explained that we could trust moms and that moms would always try to help. That advice worked when I was a kid, and it still works 25 years later as a woman.