Care and Feeding

What if I’m a Bad Mom?

I’m pregnant, and I’m terrified I won’t be able to handle my baby’s crying.

A pregnant woman looking worried.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Jernej Graj on Unsplash.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m almost due with my first, so I’m in that “what if I’m a terrible mother” phase. I don’t deal well with loud noises, and I can have a bit of a temper. I’m mostly just concerned about how to handle the crying-baby phase. Any tips?

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—I Would Never Hurt My Baby, But!

Dear IWNHMBB,

I have been thinking (and talking) about your question all week, because it’s a vital one, and something that parents drastically downplay until it’s actually happening to them. Some hospitals show you a “don’t shake the baby” video. Some hospitals just tell you very firmly “don’t shake the baby.” Some give out excellent materials on this phenomenon. And lots of parents awkwardly giggle, because they would obviously never, ever, ever shake their baby.

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People do, in fact, shake babies. And once you’ve had a baby, you’re both extremely unlikely to shake one and also extremely likely to understand how it happens.

I do have practical tips for you (as opposed to “maximize your sleep,” which is exceptionally aggravating advice).

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Your baby’s cries are designed to make your brain explode and every nerve in your body jangle. That’s just how things are set up. Nothing to be done about that. Healthy, clean, fed, totally garden-variety babies sometimes just scream for hours. It seems like a flaw to me, but I didn’t create the system.

Start shopping for the best noise-canceling headphones you can afford (or earplugs if headphones aren’t in your budget). The baby will never know that you’re wearing them. You can listen to a podcast while rocking her and saying shusshssshhhhhhhh repeatedly. You know she’s crying, but that particular level of utter rage noise gets cut off. That is my first recommendation.

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My second tip, which your nurses and friends should tell you, is that if you start to get angry with your crying baby, you will:

Carefully put the baby down in her crib or bassinet or playard. Leave the room. Go somewhere you can’t hear her. Watch TV for 15 minutes. Take a shower. (This is my No. 1 recommendation, honestly, because you may not have showered in a few days, and the noise is actually soothing to the baby.)

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Just walk away. That’s the main point. Your baby is safe in a crib. Your baby is not going to cry to death. Put on your own oxygen mask, and don’t try to muscle through until you snap. Being with you is not the safest place for your baby if you are on the edge. Put the monitor on mute so you can just see the flashing lights, and sit in your doorway trying to breathe.

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You’re going to be fine. But also keep an eye on yourself and answer your postpartum checklist questions as honestly as you can. I’m cheering for you.

Dear Care and Feeding, 

My 2-year-old loves to kick us while we’re changing her diaper. Sometimes out of anger: “I don’t want my diaper changed” or “I want the other parent who is currently cooking dinner to do it!” or “I’m having a meltdown for no apparent reason!” Other times it’s because she thinks it’s fun, and she laughs about it.

We’ve tried telling her it’s not OK to kick, that it hurts us. (Occasionally she will apologize, usually with some prompting.) We’ve tried looking sad. We’ve tried leaving the room for a minute. We’ve tried standing off to the side where she can’t kick us, but if she’s in a kicking mood, she will shimmy over to where she can kick us.

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It’s less about the pain, though it does hurt sometimes. But it’s more about it generally not being OK to hit or kick people, all over the place while we’re trying to change you, especially when you’re covered in poop.

—Please, Stop the Kicking

Dear PStK,

Congratulations! This child is ready to be potty-trained. If she can apologize for kicking you, it’s time to get one of the thousands of books and start the process. If she does not like being potty-trained, you can tell your very verbal child that if you kick and hit people, you need to use the potty. It sounds like it’s becoming a fun game (only for her) and that she’s right on target for starting potty training.

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I’m very sorry about the poop.

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• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m 37, childless, and happily married to my second husband. I would like to have children, but I’ve had three miscarriages (the third happened last summer). I’m almost equally terrified of being an “aged primipara.” It doesn’t help my anxiety that we’ve gone from living near some of the best hospitals in the country to a state with absolutely atrocious maternal health outcomes.

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I’m stressing myself out that I need to get pregnant already or I won’t have a sliver of a chance at a healthy pregnancy. Reading about Alanis Morissette’s current pregnancy at 45 made me go, “Oh! See! You have plenty of time!” and also “Uh, yeah, sure. You have all the same advantages as Alanis, you nerd.” But it did give me hope! Would you mind pulling on that thread a little?

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—I’m Not Alanis,

Dear I’m Not Alanis,

We are officially not comparing ourselves to Alanis. Let’s talk about you instead.

I’m an advice columnist, Jim, not a reproductive endocrinologist. That being said, if you walked into a Manhattan or Los Angeles fertility clinic and told them you were 37, you’d be one of the youngest women in the room.

Maternal health outcomes in your state, though terrible on a national scale, don’t correspond at all to whether you will be able to conceive and carry a baby to term. I wouldn’t dilly-dally, but I certainly wouldn’t panic. Talking to the women in my family was a real lesson in both how many successful pregnancies were broken up by losses, and also how late in life our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had their final child (often in their 40s).

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If I were you, I would find a fertility specialist who is honest about outcomes, talk about your losses, and go from there. Three losses in a row is tragic beyond belief (my very great sympathies), but early miscarriages are so common that doctors (in my experience) don’t start suggesting tests until after three. To recap: You are not Alanis, so do not count on having a baby at 45. But you are also not about to collapse into a pile of dust.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 22-month-old is terrified of the swimming pool. We did swim lessons when she was about 13–16 months, but she never got over her initial fear and discomfort, crying through most of her classes (though it did subside a bit after a while). She doesn’t seem to enjoy water at all, even avoiding more than dipping her fingers in at the local splash pads near our home. She does love the bath, however.

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Should I push through with more classes now or wait till she’s a bit older and we can explain to her more and allay her instinctive fears? Why make her miserable right now if she hates and fears it so much?

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—Lessons When?

Dear LW,

WAIT, good gravy. Pick it back up in a year or two when she doesn’t remember being stressed out.

—Nicole

More Advice From Slate

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