Last week I had coffee with my cousin who has just had a baby. The conversation turned to “Helpful things people say that drive me insane.” She recalled how when her newborn cried, her mother, mother-in-law and husband all responded with a “He must be hungry.” or the more subtle “Is it time for a feed?” or the more desperate “Please feed him.”
On talking to my cousin, I was relieved to hear it wasn’t just me who responded to feeding comments with a surge of something violent – adrenaline, oxytocin, oestrogen, bile – who knows. All I can say is that it stops all rational thought and incites me to a suspension of my sense of humour and my normal understanding of the English language.
In those simple, innocent, well-intentioned words, I hear an implied criticism, especially in the early days when I am worn down by fatigue, self-doubt and more than enough self-recrimination.
They say: Is the baby hungry?
And I hear: You are not satisfying your child and can’t perform this simple biological function that all other women in the history of human reproduction and lactation have been able to do.
All they are really saying is: I am as clueless as you, the baby’s crying is making me nervous, is he perhaps hungry?
My cousin and I agreed that it was most often our husbands who inadvertently walked into conversational minefields of our own making. These hapless creatures blunder through, seemingly incapable of diplomacy, doomed to self-detonate from the start. My husband would like me to be clear that although the conversations below are dramatic recreations of true events, he was in most cases trying hard to be humorous or helpful.
Me: Does my post-partum muffin top show in this dress?
Husband senses danger in this question but can not multi-task talking, thinking and self-preservation, and so he panics and the poor man answers honestly: No, the ruffles hide it well.
Me: Do you think breastfeeding four children has irrevoccably altered the shape of my breasts?
Husband: Don’t worry about it, you’ll never need to use them again.
Me: Is that your final answer?
Husband: Umm, no, can I phone your best friend and get the right answer?
Me: I’m sure I am losing too much hair after Newborn. Do you think the post-pregnancy hormones are causing female baldness?
Me (pointing to what I am sure is a bald spot): Look at this, am I going bald?
Husband (affectionately kissing the aforementioned imagined or real bald spot): No, but if you are, we could be bald together.
Now I’m not completely cruel. There are times when I ask husband a question and I try to help him out before he self-detonates. I give him pointers such as : “You might want to think carefully before you answer that”; or “Ignore the answer your brain is giving you and try again.” Sometimes I ask him a question and just give him the right answer to expedite the conversation, circumvent my tears and his subsequent punishment.
Other times, he answers right, all on his own –
Me (having just cooked dinner in my pyjamas which I have been wearing since last night): Do I smell?
Husband (inhaling deeply): Yes, like chicken curry. You smell delicious.