To pregnant women:
“It looks like a Japanese anime character.”
—your childless-by-choice friend when you show her your first ultrasound picture of the baby inside you. Your friend doesn’t touch the picture; it dangles from your fingertips in the space between you until you finally put it away. This is your first inkling that all of your relationships in life—every single one—will be altered by becoming a mother.
“Oh my god, you’re huge! Are you sure you’re not having twins?”
—a dear friend and mother of two, uttered when you are five months pregnant. And not having twins.
“I was in labor for ___ [24-72] hours and had an episiotomy/a C-section/an epidural that didn’t take/a third-degree tear/bled all over the floor/nearly died/all of the above.”
—one of your husband’s employees
—your husband’s cousin
—various other women who may or may not enjoy terrifying first-time mothers with their gory delivery-room tales
To women between pregnancies:
“You can have them back for the next baby. ☺”
—your sister, sent to you via text three weeks after you miscarry, requesting that you return the stroller and car seat she gave you so she can give them to someone else.
To new mothers:
“Is he sleeping through the night yet?”
“He’s eating AGAIN?!”
—your mother-in-law. You learn quickly that everyone watches and judges everything you do and they comment on it openly. Your mother-in-law thinks you feed the baby way too often and that swaddling is cruel, your father doesn’t like how you carry the baby in one arm so that you have one hand free to do everything else you’re still required to do, your father-in-law thinks the baby swing will kill your newborn, your sister is horrified at how loose you’ve left the harness on the baby’s car seat and fixes it for you. Good news: by the time the second kid comes along, no one hassles you any more.
To mothers of young children:
“Be sure to enjoy every minute, it goes soooo fast…”
—perfect strangers in public. Without exception, said when your children are crying and kicking and you are working hard to suppress the urge to scream at them and/or become violent. You will become so tired of hearing this that when the middle-aged man—an actual man!—at the farmer’s market interrupts you repeatedly to speak these words to you as you try to detach your wailing, boneless toddler from the concrete all while you hold onto the baby’s stroller and a full peck of peaches and try desperately not to lose your shit, you turn to him and say in a quiet and hostile voice, “No mother of young children wants to hear that. Ever.” He shuts up, probably because you look like you might punch him in the face. And you peel your kid off the ground, wheel the stroller to the car, and go home, where you and your kids will enjoy fresh peaches and you will allow yourself a little smile at the memory of that man’s face.
Coda: What to Say
“You are doing the most important job in the world.”
—an older woman in the library parking lot, when she sees you carrying your screaming toddler sideways across your body like a plank. She reaches out and touches your arm as she passes you, a kindness you are unprepared for, and you wrestle your little boy into his car seat and then cry while you sit behind the steering wheel.