I was born a girl in the late 80s. When I was a baby, my mother would dress me in “girly” ensembles, complete with a matching velcro bow in my virtually non-existent hair. She would push me around in my stroller, proud to show off her adorable baby. People would stop her and lean in to see me. “What a beautiful baby boy!” they would exclaim. My mother would leave the conversation in rage. How could they mistake my baby girl for a boy! This happened on several occasions; she still hasn’t gotten over it.
There are a few problems with this short anecdote. Yes, parents do love to hear how wonderful their child is, but there is nothing inherently wrong with mistaking me for a boy. It doesn’t reflect badly on me, as a baby, or on my mother. No one should be taking offence to that comment. Yet, it seems important to us humans for things to be clearly identifiable. The complimenter could have simply told my mother: “What a cute baby!”. The end.
I believe that all babies are created equal, regardless of their birth gender. If we all took that approach, life would be much simpler. Instead, people feel the need to immediately box and label newborns according to the gender norms they know and love. These boxes and the many other boxes like race, sexuality, and so on, are heavy. They weigh the child down. Later the boxes turn into baggage for the adult who is just trying to become their own person. Each individual is then faced with the question “What’s in the BOX?!”. As if it was as important as Brad Pitt’s question. It then takes us years, maybe decades, to realize that we can remove or change the labels society has forcefully glued to our boxes at birth.
What are the first questions we ask when a baby is born? Gender, height, weight and eventually, the name. For some reason, the time also matters. “Wow, 2:23 PM. Incredible!” Are these attributes really important? My eyes personally gloss over when someone says: “Boy, 6:31 PM, 6 pounds 2 ounces, 19 inches”. It really doesn’t matter. It’s a baby; it sleeps, eats, poops and cries. It’ll become a unique person no matter the birth details. The conversation should go “Hi, new Mom. Congratulations! You just created a new life. I brought you a donut…” The subtext of the donut being: I know it doesn’t make up for what you just went through, but I am here for you. Good follow-up questions are: “How is the baby? How are you? Can I do anything to help? Shall I just go and let you sleep?” Let’s start focusing on the parents. Mothers and fathers are still humans after all; they don’t suddenly lose their identity after having a kid.
I am not a mother, but if I were to have a child, I would want others to help me stay in touch with the outside world. I would already be spending all my energy on this lovely baby, for whom I would do anything. I’d be exhausted. I think there are more useful things you can say to a new parent than “What a cute baby [insert gender]!” Here’s an example of the top of my head: “Shall I take care of your baby so that you can have a long warm shower in peace?” Another helpful suggestion, if the person is a stranger and you cross them on the street, simply smile and say nothing.
Instead of offering help to the new parents, we judge them every step of the way. Mothers get the short end of the stick, they are usually expected to do it all. To make it even more painfully obvious, many people praise men for the smallest effort they make as a father. When a man changes a diaper or “babysits”, it makes the national news as an achievement of self-sacrifice. Dads are parents just like Moms. They shouldn’t get praised for every simple parenting task —that’s what Father’s Day is for.
The way we treat new mothers today is despicable. The media is at the heart of it, but the viewers are guilty of starting the gossip and perpetuating it. Everywhere you look, there’s a “news” outlet featuring new celebrity moms that lost their baby weight in two weeks. Amazing! Let’s praise her for not hurting our eyes with a non-perfect-after-birth stomach. No, it’s not amazing. It’s crazy and it shouldn’t be praised because turns into the expected “norm”. Let’s stop this charade; most women don’t magically lose that weight.
We don’t realize that mothers have been through a trauma. Yes, giving birth is a traumatic experience and we need to start treating it that way. She pushed a human out of her vagina and we’re analyzing her body fat, her ability to breastfeed and how quickly she can get back to her “normal” life at work and at home. New moms are already riddled with the stress of raising a tiny human. Every child is different and moms do their best to raise them. But, if she dares go back to work “too quickly” or feed her baby formula instead of breast milk, we talk about how terrible she is. Some human beings even dare to tell her comments like: “Oh, you don’t feed your baby with natures gift? I would never give formula to MY baby.” Cut it out. Let’s all keep in mind that this woman’s entire life just changed. She now has a tiny human to take care of in addition to caring for herself. Instead of judging her, ask how you can help. Hopefully, she already has a partner, friends or family members to help and support her. Stop shaming and stop caring about gender. Start caring about the humans instead.
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