x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Married life: New mums, don't doubt yourself

I get so worked up when inundated with unsolicited advice that, although may be well meaning, is mostly just ignorant and sometimes rude.

After a smooth flight from Abu Dhabi, the plane had just landed in chilly Amman. The city was blanketed in white fluff after a recent snowfall, and tiny snowflakes dotted the plane's windows. I was prepared; Baby A was bundled up well in warm and, as usual, pink clothing, and in my carry on, I had a jacket, blanket and adorable little hat for her to wear just before introducing her to the elements. There was no need to weigh her down with all that just yet, however, because we'd still be indoors for a while and I didn't want to overheat my sensitive child.

And yet, just as we stepped off the plane and began striding towards the immigration counters, I could hear an old, raspy voice calling out to me from behind.

"Ya binti, ya binti." I turned, and there, an old, bent woman was being assisted out of the airplane and into a waiting wheelchair. "Oh daughter," she called out to me, her voice warped with disapproval. "Wrap up that baby of yours, why isn't it wrapped up, it's cold, daughter, it's cold."

If I could just sit down with every mother-to-be, I'd tell her she must prepare to be judged, by all, and learn not to take it too personally.

I'm convinced that Arabs, in particular, just can't help it. It starts early, when you're still pregnant. What you choose to eat, what heel height you wear, where you go on vacation; there will always be someone out there more than ready to give their two cents, always unsolicited, and point out exactly what you're doing wrong.

When Baby A was six weeks old, my mother and I took her with us to the mall to run a few errands. As we were waiting for the valet to bring our car around (normal operating procedure in Jordan), Baby A decided to start crying, which, I have come to learn, is normal behaviour for a baby.

"I think your baby is hungry, she certainly sounds hungry," said a fellow shopper, one I've never met before.

"No, no, she's cold, look at what she's wearing, she's practically naked," said yet another stranger, one standing at least five metres away, with what I assume must be exceptional hearing.

"She might be hot," chimed in yet another random person, eager to take part in a conversation that I had yet to acknowledge.

"Don't carry your baby so much," said an old friend of my parents'. "She'll get used to it and then drive you crazy."

"You should carry your baby as much as possible in these early days," said a distant cousin. "Otherwise she'll grow up with emotional problems and never learn how to love."

"You shouldn't be using that brand of diapers," said a mere acquaintance who became a first time mother just a month before I did, but come on now, that gives her a superiority of knowledge, surely. "And you shouldn't put her down on her tummy, and I can't believe you give her that brand of milk, and oh my God, you keep the air-conditioning on in your house? Don't you know that can give your baby girl gas?"

Mr T can never understand why I get so worked up when inundated with unsolicited advice that, although may be well meaning, is mostly just ignorant and sometimes rude.

"You're going to ignore them anyway, and you are already very sure of yourself when it comes to Baby A," he says. "Why do you get so angry and let them get to you?"

Because somewhere out there is a new first-time mother not so sure of herself, perhaps, and not yet convinced that she alone knows the best for her child. She may not turn a deaf ear when everyone and their neighbour tells her how best to raise her baby, and that woman should know that it's all difficult enough without having to doubt herself as well.


Hala Khalaf is the deputy editor of The National's Arts&Life