As a parent with a four month old I’m asked “routine questions” as a part of every pediatrician’s visit, every time someone strikes up a conversation about your cuteness, and when you cry a little more than usual.
Routine questions have a distinctive feeling of stale bread, yogurt warmed up with a sheen of dried crust across the top from sitting on the counter too long, or the numbness that comes from seeing an unmemorable advertisement so many times that you can’t forget it- but still don’t remember what product it is for.
Routine questions were a great source of anxiety with your oldest brother, a source of annoyance with your older brother, and simply background chatter with you.
They are things that someone wrote down on a checklist for pediatricians who need to make conversation with dozens of parents each day. They are things that someone asked the asker before and that has stuck in their memory as one of those things that you ask people with babies.
Isn’t the weather hot? I wish it would rain. The snow is so heavy this year, I don’t remember it snowing this much before. Ever.
How many times does the baby nurse each day? How many ounces does the baby eat? Does the baby sleep well at night? Is she a good baby? Is she still eating just breastmilk?
Some of these questions sound like things that a doctor might need to know, even though they make you anxious and wondering if you are doing things right. Some of them are just fluffy little questions that no one really needs or wants the answers to.
Sadly these questions don’t give the doctor the information that the doctor needs.
I don’t know how many times you nurse each day. I don’t count. Counting the minutes and hours spent nursing is a sure path to insanity during cluster-feeding and growth spurts. Sometimes you nurse constantly. Sometimes you go forever where you wrinkle your nose and act as though I dipped my nipple in lemon juice. You ebb and flow as you listen to what your little body tells you about hunger, need, comfort, contentment, and independence.
I count your wet diapers. Well. Actually I just simply count off six diapers into the basket by my bed at the beginning of the day, and then when I need to refill the basket I know that we’re doing well.
I don’t know how many ounces of breastmilk you eat each day. There are no ounce markers on my breasts, and I have never chosen to weigh you before and after every feed for 48 hours to figure out what magic number it is that you eat. This is not information that I need to know, not information that would serve any purpose.
I nurse you on demand. You demand, I nurse. You thrust your tongue out at me while making an “o” with pouty baby lips. You bob your head against my shoulder with a seeking little mouth. You chew on your fist and squeal at me as though to tell me “My demand is obvious, woman. Why is the nipple over there instead of here?” You startle and cry, and I offer you comfort at the breast which may or may not turn into mealtime as you soothe.
I don’t know how many hours you sleep. Those hours are still scattered across the day like pixels that have yet to be pulled into focus.
You sleep when you are tired. I carry you near and you fall asleep to the motion of our movement. You sleep in the car seat between chattering with the monkey wrapped around the mirror that lets us see you from the front seat. You are four months old and still settling into your sleeping patterns. When you need to nurse at night we rock and nurse in the dark because it is nighttime and we are sleepy.
You’re a good baby. You’re an awesome baby. You’re curious and learning. You fuss when something upsets you rather than simply tolerating it. You alert me to your needs. You cry when I’m not doing the right things so that I know you need a diaper change instead of a feeding, or that you need to go to sleep instead of being played with. You are not a “good baby” in terms of convenience, but that isn’t a good baby to me. That is a baby that I would worry about, as it is normal to need and to want.
Yes, you eat “just breastmilk” because there is no need for anything else. I passed up the formula samples, declined to “supplement” something that needed no supplementation, will not start solids until there is the readiness and demand, and do not need to “top you off” to make you sleep longer than you are able. There is nothing wrong with “just”, nothing wrong with “only”, nothing wrong with not fixing the things that are not broken.
I understand now what I wish I had understood from the beginning. Questions are sometimes just to make conversation. They do not require soul searching. They do not require me to wonder if the way I’m doing things is the “right way”. Questions about weather are sometimes a good thing, in case I forgot to pack my umbrella. But questions about feeding are never really necessary.
You see.. When something is wrong with your baby, you will know without those questions. Milestones missed, diapers suspiciously absent or strong-smelling, a baby that lightens in your arms instead of growing. You will know when there is something wrong as long as you listen to your baby.
So I don’t really listen to the questions anymore. I’m too busy listening to you. And you tell me that you are just fine.