Against Small Talk and Platitudes

Oh, first-time parents. I don’t know whether to ruefully smile at your naivete, or smack you upside the head. This morning I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of a first-time mom and a friend of hers. They were sitting next to me at the coffee shop, conversing at normal, overhearable volume. It took a considerable amount of self control for me not to interrupt them. Their topics were the kind of ignorant platitiudes that drive me up the wall. (Hence this rant.)

1. Kids are going to get sick sometime, so even if they’re babies, they’re just building up immunity.

Why this is ignorant: while technically true, it fails to take into account that babies are smaller and more vulnerable physically than bigger kids. Their lungs are smaller, and ear tubes shorter. The older a kids are when they get sick, the better their bodies will handle it, barring extenuating circumstances. I.e., if a baby and an older kid who get sick at the same time, all other things being equal, the baby will get sicker, and for longer. For example, if a baby gets a cold, it often leads to an ear infection that won’t clear up on its own. A bigger kid might just get the cold, no complications. Also, if your baby gets a cold now, its immune system is depressed, and less able to fight off additional exposure to viruses in the short term. This situation is exacerbated in winter by more exposure to people and less exposure to sunshine (vitamin D) and fresh, copious amounts of air.

My interpretation: no need to be paranoid, but take reasonable precautions to prevent your baby from getting sick. Don’t let a sick person hold them, or at least without washing hands. Don’t take your baby around other kids who are drippy and sneezy. And for all kids, respect guidelines like keeping kids home 24 hours after fevers or vomiting.

2. “You know where your baby is in the bed.” I’ve found this vague defense of bed sharing is ALWAYS voiced in the second person, and followed by a variation on “the only cases where kids are rolled on is when someone is obese, drunk, or both.

Why this is ignorant: _I_ had an experience where I did not know where my baby was in the bed. My elder son was a challenging baby. He cried a lot and slept very little, in spite of swaddling, frequent holding, co-sleeping, and other platitudinal solutions. I was sleep deprived and not recovering properly from the birth. In desperation one night, I took him out of the co-sleeper bassinet, nursed him till he fell asleep on my chest (I was on my back) and fell asleep myself. My husband came in a short while later and woke me. I’d rolled over. My son was no longer on my chest or in the vast expanse of bed in the middle. He was between me and the edge of the bed, face down over the small crevice where the edge of the bed met the co-sleeper. Had the co-sleeper not been there he would have been on the floor. Asleep, _I_ had no idea where my kid was in the bed. I was not obese, or drunk. So taking a baby into bed was not for me, and I didn’t do it again. WARNING. SUPER SAD STORY AHEAD. STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW. A former co-worker of mine took a nap with her new baby. Not obese and not drunk. Woke and the baby was dead, either through SIDS or suffocation. The mother killed herself soon after. (Maybe after hearing someone say “oh, you know where your baby is in the bed.”)

My interpretation: Throughout history, lots of people have bed shared with infants with no ill results. But some babies have died from it–parents drunk, obese or not–and not every single person “knows” where a baby is in the bed, especially when sleep deprived with a newborn. Your experience is not someone else’s, and it’s not a thoroughly researched double-blind study with zero casualties. Sharing the bed with my baby wasn’t for me. Maybe it is for you, but use the first person and don’t generalize.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure I’ve said these things. I’m not immune to small talking; I probably still say things like them. BUT. I have learned that just because I can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it isn’t true for others. Rather, it’s a failure of imagination and lack of experience on my part.

One Response to “Against Small Talk and Platitudes”

  1. thalia Says:

    Shit I wish I hadn’t read that story. I was resistant to co-sleeping on the ‘why take that risk’ angle, but did do it several times in the end, usually in the morning when the baby woke at 5 and I wasn’t ready to get up. I’d take the duvet off the bed, put myself in a position with my arm behind my head and the other over the baby, etc etc. I never slept well because so nervous, but I did sleep, and in the end I felt ok with it. If I’d read your story first, I would not have done. That poor, poor woman.

    Re the immunity thing, you are both right and not right, and it depends on how old the baby is and whether there are any other issues going on. I would be rabidly protecting my six week old, my six month old less so. And one of the reasons big kids get sick for a shorter time is that they’ve got related immunity already so they can fight it.