Apologies are seductive. Especially for a new mother, who finds her world suddenly spinning beyond her control, apologies are incredibly appealing. The trouble is that a new mother can also find herself always apologizing. Everything is a first, and nothing goes as she expected. Does she blame herself? And should she?
New mothers are barraged with advice. Most of it is useless, and some of it is obnoxious, but occasionally it’s wise.
I was scheduled to have a phone call with our local Jewish Family and Children’s Services representative on what turned out to be Lila’s birth date. When I finally connected with the woman in the weeks following, I apologized for being out of touch. “Don’t apologize,” she told me, “you’re a new mother. Everyone understands.” I was momentarily startled, but realized she was right.
Since May, this has been one of the best mothering pearls of wisdom I’ve heard. It’s important because I’ve lost count of how many times my plans have gone awry; I’ve been tempted to apologize, generally for things that don’t offend other people or aren’t my fault. It’s tough to fight your nature, when your general tendency is to be polite, but that makes this lesson crucial. Not apologizing is a survival skill in the jungle of early motherhood, learning to let go of all that you cannot control (which is most things).
With that, I’d like to introduce a new mother’s update to Passover’s Dayenu. Rather than “It would have been enough,” this is about saying, “It is enough, no more apologies.”
1. When it’s 7pm and I’ve accomplished nothing all day beyond feeding, changing, and naps, because newborns are labor-intensive. I will not apologize.
2. When I am 20 minutes late to a Mommy and Me class or play group because Lila was fussy, or we simply required more time than anticipated to get ready. I will not apologize.
3. When the maintenance man arrives to fix something in my apartment at 1pm, and I am still in my pajamas, because Lila had a rough night (and so did I). I will not apologize.
4. When it takes me days, or even a few weeks, to respond to routine email correspondence because my hands are busy, Lila needs attention, or I’m simply too tired. I will not apologize.
5. When I am doing everything I can to safely calm her on a moving train, but Lila continues to scream during our T-ride home. I will not apologize.
6. When I’ve missed services every Saturday morning since Lila’s baby naming in June because it’s a Herculean effort to go anywhere before 2pm, and Shabbat should be restful. I will not apologize.
7. When I am dressed informally like a student, because I have few clothes that fit (as I continue to lose pregnancy weight) and that are both breastfeeding and spit-up compatible. I will not apologize.
8. When it takes me two months to send thank you notes for Lila’s baby gifts because every day is a blur of Lila’s immediate needs, and we’re planning an inter-city move. I will not apologize.
9. When our apartment looks overrun with boxes, or like Hurricane Baby has recently swirled through, because I am too tired to clean up at the end of the day. I will not apologize.
10. When I spend my Yom Kippur on a sick visit at the pediatrician’s office because Lila continues to writhe in pain even after starting medicine for her ear infection. I will not apologize.
11. When people discuss current events, and I must ask about details beyond the headlines, because I haven’t had time to sit and leisurely read the newspaper for months. I will not apologize.
12. When I misspeak, reverse my words, or can’t locate the right word because I am tired or experiencing a moment of Baby Brain. I will not apologize.
13. When I sound distracted on the phone because Lila is increasingly gravitating toward wires and objects with buttons and I am the only one here to watch her. I will not apologize.
Truly, it requires plenty of energy to make it through a day with a baby. The last thing a woman needs is to also apologize, when she’s already doing her best.