It goes without saying that once you become a parent, your children come first. I think it’s an innate, uncontrollable feeling to want to shield them from any harm, and that you’d do anything for them. This is a powerful feeling, knowing you’re their number one protector.
The flip side of this is that although I feel like a protective mum, a superhero to my baby, I also feel like a bit of a helpless citizen. I’m by no means a saint or a martyr but I’d like to think that I do my bit to just generally be a good person.
Before becoming pregnant and having a baby, I used to give up my seat (on the rare occasions when I actually managed to get one) on the train for those who needed it more; I’d help people carry heavy bags; open doors and generally just do small things to try to be a “nice person.” I stopped once to offer a plastic bag, packet of tissues and a bottle of water to a lady throwing up on the pavement one morning. (I hoped that karma might be working and if I ever threw up publicly I’d get the same treatment, however, when I had morning sickness and threw up outside Tesco one day, people just looked a bit disgusted and gave me a wide berth!)
I now find that even these small gestures are beyond me when I’m out and about with my son.
In my early stages of pregnancy, I tried to help a man lift a pram with his child in onto a train and ended up really hurting my back. (That’s when I realised the warnings about not lifting heavy things when you’re pregnant isn’t because of a “women are delicate wallflowers who can’t do anything” attitude, but because the ligaments in your body actually become softer.)
Another time, a small suitcase had been abandoned in the middle of a road, causing cars to dangerously swerve. None of the pedestrians waiting at the crossing were doing anything about it, so I really wanted to just dash across and remove it. However, at eight months pregnant, there was no chance of me “dashing” anywhere – I was moving slower than a hippo stuck in mud.
I thought that once I’d had my baby and my body was back to its normal self, I’d be able to go back to doing small good deeds. However, those days seem long gone. I no longer hold the door open for anyone when I’m out with my baby – it’s difficult enough getting through a door with a pram, never mind holding it for someone else. I can’t help people with heavy bags as my arms are already laden and aching trying to juggle a hefty baby and a changing bag that holds more contents than Mary Poppins’ valise. I don’t stop to see if the person looking puzzled at a map needs help with directions as I’m too busy praying that my baby stays asleep for a few more minutes.
My husband’s car broke down a few months ago when it was snowing, and pre-baby, I would have gone out to him with some food and drink and warmer clothing. Going out with a newborn in the snow though seemed like a terrible idea, so I prioritised the baby and stayed indoors with him whilst my husband waited for hours, bored in the snow.
I also feel helpless towards new mums.
Having gone through the sleep deprivation and constant worry myself (who am I kidding – I’m still going through it!), I was determined to be a good friend when my friends started having children. My intention was to go to their house and look after their baby whilst they slept or had a shower, and I’d make them a cup of tea and do a bit of tidying for them so it was one less thing they had to worry about. In reality, I always have my baby with me, and rather than doing anything helpful once I get there, I just sit feeding my son and try to stop him crying once he’s been set off by hearing a newborn cry. (The Mexican Wave of baby crying is real and terrible.)
Although putting your child first is of course the right thing to do, I still feel like I need to explain to strangers and friends that I’m not being ignorant or selfish, but that actually it’s really hard to help others when you need to be holding or next to your baby at all times and need to put their safety and comfort first. I know there are bigger things to worry about or feel guilty for, but it’s a strange transition to go from being helpful to helpless, and having to rely on the kindness of strangers rather than being the Good Samaritan yourself.
I tell myself that as long as I teach my child to be kind to others and help when he can, then at least others will reap the benefits from his kindness in the future.