The right answer to "how is the baby?" and why we have kids in the first place

August 15 2013 | Guest post by Julie G.
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Photo by Julia.
There are a couple standard questions that you get as a new parent:

  • How is the baby?
  • How are you sleeping?

The first question is easy. Because the answer is always: the baby is fine. Even if the baby is not fine, that is the answer you give. You can't give real answers. It's not that kind of conversation. It's just a nice way to allow people to show their affection for you and your growing family.

If you don't have kids but plan to have them some day, remember that. Chances are you'll need to change the way you hear that question soon, so that when you have a baby you don't start answering the way things are really going. Because, if you were being honest, you would probably say: "Baby is fine, except…" (don't worry, there are LOTS of things you can fill in here. I'll just add one.)

Baby is fine, except…that he cries a lot.

He cries for long periods of time for no reason, then just STOPS. He just STOPS crying?! As if it's not confusing enough to hear babies cry for long periods of time without any cause, add to it that they suddenly stop. And then you think, "Ok, WHAT just happened? How did the baby stop crying?"

You will want to remember this, since you'll add it to the ever-growing list of things to do when the baby cries next time. You'll mentally note the environmental conditions (temperature, moisture, wind speed), then you'll check out his body position (was that a 30 degree angle, or 45?), maybe note the time of day, track his feeding schedule, how long since his last poop? And if he finally fell asleep and he happens to be on you, you stay still. You won't move an INCH for fear of waking him.

So then he's asleep, and your partner is asleep, but you're not sleeping. That's OK, you think, I don't need to sleep right now. I have an iPad, Facebook, a smartphone, and 600 TV channels. There are so many other things to do besides sleeping. Why waste the time? You tell yourself it's OK. You'll sleep later. For now, you revel in the moment that baby rests peacefully, nestled on your bosom. And then you realize you have to go to the bathroom.

I think you get where I'm going with this.

So how are you sleeping? Fine. If by FINE, you understand that I really mean that I consider sleep to be something like an old friend that you think fondly of. Images of warm, sunny days, spent sleeping until noon on a Saturday — just because — flash into your mind. Afternoon naps when you feel a little sleepy. Waking up "early" to get to brunch on a Saturday morning. Feeling a sense of pride when you get out of the house before nine on the weekends and still look fashionable.

But, somehow, babies have this way of making you love watching them rest, even after hours of screaming just moments before. You look at their precious little faces, with their chubby cheeks and soft expression, and you think "My heart is whole. I love this little person."

And that's why people keep having babies. Over and over and over again.

  1. As the momma of a just barely 6 month old, this rings so very true. I miss sleep. I miss sleeping in, and naps. I have slept in the oddest contortions so that baby will sleep next to me…

    We're FINE! 🙂

  2. I love watching my little guy sleep. And even being awake most of the time.
    That is not enough to compel me to have another baby though, I find idea of it terrifying. So last paragraph is a bit of over generalisation 🙂

    • So with you there.
      While he is gorgeous asleep, and I bemoan the loss of my tiny little baby (my 4 month old is as big as an average 7 month old), I am terrified of the idea of having another.
      That said, I can see how it would work its magic on others.

  3. Sleep will come back. Sort of. Mostly. Mine is 19 months and still wakes up at least once a night, but she sleeps til 9 in the morning! I can get like 6 hours straight of sleep if I try! It is magical. And I finally feel ready to think about having another. Maybe the next one will be an easy sleeper? It could happen…

  4. I completely get where you are coming from! I used to give vague, socially acceptable answers because…well, why not? However, I encourage all of you (especially first time moms & dads) to do the following:

    1. Aspire for *actually being* fine, ok, good, even great! How you really *feel* is important.

    2. Answer these questions about the state of your baby & your sleep honestly! What you *say* is important too (just as how you actually feel is important)! It allows others to relate to you and you to relate to them. Sometimes you learn more about yourself & feelings from having to formulate a thoughtful response- I encourage you to try it!

    It took me several children (4!) to stop doing this disservice to myself by answering "Fine!" to these questions. Sometimes the baby was calm, easily entertained, etc. Sometimes sleep was coming in 4-5 hour spans & I felt human. Sometimes baby cried every single time he/she was put down. Sometimes the lack of sleep I was getting caused slurred speech & a short fuse. "Fine" just doesn't encompass that…it dismisses all of it to the corner, unworthy of being discussed.

    Again, I know what the author is saying and I have been there (and still am) but there is a whole other angle you can take here and it feels great to not be fine."

    • "Sometimes baby cried every single time he/she was put down"

      thank you for saying this. i'm a stay at home mom, and my 9 month old is doing this right now. i guess it's a phase but it's killing us. because i'm home all the time, and i just moved here so the few people we know don't have kids or want them, i feel very isolated. even family doesn't seem to understand or offer much comfort other than "oh hah yeah i remember that." i'm so exhausted and sometimes i feel so inept, especially since the internet seems to all agree that her sleeping issues are MY fault! so thank you! thank you because it really REALLY really feels good to hear someone else say it. to be reminded that it IS normal, she's normal, and i'm normal!

  5. "It's just a nice way to allow people to show their affection for you and your growing family."

    Yes! People (me) are bad at expressing this sentiment. I honestly don't know what to say to new parents. We care about you and your little one, so I think if we ask, it's ok to say something other than "fine." But if you don't want to go into detail or it's the wrong place and time to get into it, that's ok, too!

  6. And of course, this doesn't have to wait until the baby is born! It can start the minute you announce your pregnancy. I'm 34 weeks pregnant and since week 11 when I told the office, my boss has loved to ask how the baby is doing (often without actually, you know, greeting me, unlike everyone else who speaks to me). The answer is, of course, always "fine." She was fine before week 18, when I had to just assume that she was because I couldn't feel her moving yet. She was fine at week 30 when we had a horrible scare after some spotting and a slightly soft cervix and had to wait until after work to see the Dr. She is doing fine right now, giving me chronic heartburn, smooshing my bladder, and performing the dance of her people when I want to sleep.

    Let's be honest, everyone you know wants to ask about your kids because it's something they KNOW is relevant to your life. It's an easy casual conversation topic and one they assume you are excited to talk about. But it's only those who are truly close to you who actually want to hear the real answers.

  7. People do this about all sorts of things not just kids but I can see it really brings it out! Anyone with a chronic illness will be very familiar with people asking meaningfully how are you when what they mean is "I love you and hope you are well".

    I was a carer for an anorexic relative and in the beginning I actually had to ask people to stop ringing the house for regular updates to see how this person was (I set up an email list where I would send updates), because trying to gather myself together to answer a question I was still struggling with was utterly draining. I'd imagine commenting on a baby's sleep when you can hardly believe yourself that they ever will, is extremely hard and you probably need that last ounce of energy for something else frankly more important.

    Despite my phone embargo and regular email updates to people who were concerned, obviously people still asked. Unless it was a really good friend I could bare my soul to, it worked better if I developed a stock answer types ("well X has done well this week , we had lovely walk on Tuesday, thanks") and didn't treat each enquiry as a demand for my inner truth on the situation. Getting out your inner truth each time and trying to pick yourself up after is a huge energy drain and a waste really when the person was actually just trying to express love or concern and not really asking a question. It would be great if we all just said what we mean but we all do this!

  8. Oh my God, I hated the "how is the baby?" question those first few weeks when the answer is always, "Ummm, he cries all the time. He's not even smiling yet or moving his limbs on purpose. He clearly hates life and me, and I'm starting to feel the same way!" Like, do they expect a newborn to be gurgling and cute and playing like a 9-month-old?

    And then as they get older, I get this question, "Is he sleeping through the night?" Which makes me feel like there is something wrong with him or my parenting that he's not.

    I want to answer, "Is it considered sleeping through the night when he's seven and wants to get in bed with us after a nightmare? Or how about when he's 16 and wakes me up, trying to sneak out of the house at 2 a.m. to hang out with friends?"

    I'm starting to realize being a parent means always being tired. 🙂

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