With the birth of my first child, the uncharted territory of motherhood stretched out endlessly in all directions. I had no idea what a mother-child relationship should be in its nascent stage. While I had a good rapport with my own mom, whom I was lucky to have living close by to help us out with the baby, I didn’t feel secure in my knowledge of how to raise a child. I leaned heavily on my imagination: what did a positive, nurturing experience look like? Mine looked like a world where I heard my newborn say things to me. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but I swear I heard my infant utter actual words, mostly in the form of criticism.
In those first few weeks of my daughter’s life, I had no clue and barely any instincts to rely on. I knew I could care for a baby, if we’re talking strictly about survival, but other than depictions of motherhood in the media all my knowledge was in the form of advice, most of it unsolicited. Other mothers’ anecdotes served as the foundation for what I maybe could expect from life with a newborn. And I don’t recall anyone else sharing that they thought they heard their newborn say things to them.
So if you think you’re living in a real-life version of Look Who’s Talking, you are not alone. Here are some things I swear my baby has “said” to me:
I’ve always loved this word. It just has a festive ring to it, and it elicits taste memories of deliciousness. In the incessant babble that was my waking baby’s pastime, I thought I caught her uttering this word, mostly when I was craving Mexican food, which was often because breastfeeding around the clock made me constantly hungry.
You know the “waaaah” part of a baby crying? Sometimes it would fall in between other random sounds, like “aaaaaah” and “beeeeeyaaaaah” and the next thing I know I’m hearing my infant proclaim “I want beer” and I don’t blame her.
This was my working mom guilt playing tricks on me, I’m sure. My kid never verbalized this phrase until she was a toddler. At that age she had a better command of language, and the wisdom to know how it would crush me to hear her beg me to stay at preschool drop-off. But since I was conflicted about leaving my baby when I went back to work after 12 weeks of maternity leave, just when my daughter was getting interesting and fun, I’d hear her say, “Don’t go” in between her oblivious gurgles.
I am not imagining that my baby said this, or at least said something that sounded like this when I made a move to put place her in her carseat or stroller. She absolutely hated getting strapped in when she was a newborn and, as soon as she sensed it was about to happen, she’d put up a fight and call for my disappearance (or so my exhausted mom brain thought).
After hours of being home alone with the baby on maternity leave, I started to hallucinate that my newborn uttered this phrase. Of course, it was only two in the afternoon and it would be another five hours until my husband actually got home, but thinking it was going to happen at any moment got me through the rest of the day.
I know this was just my baby gurgling, but I swear she was looking at my hair, saying “a curlicue,” as if to compliment my ‘do. I guess that’s what I needed to hear, knowing what a hot mess I was. I can't lie, it took a while before I was keeping up with the changing and the feeding and the rocking and I found our collective rhythm during my maternity leave.
As much as I was anticipating hearing my firstborn say “mama” I can’t for the life of me remember when she actually said it. I know that she called for “dada” before she ever called for me, and maybe it was during that period, when she had mastered her father’s name and had yet to utter mine, when I would conjure up the words, “Hi Mama” as she cooed from her crib. If I listened hard enough, I could make that phrase out (or so I thought).
After a few weeks of living with my newborn, I was starting to be able to decipher her distress signals. Her hunger cries really did sound like she was yelling “hungry” at me. Something about the catch in her voice as her whimpers grew to wails, depending on how long it took for me to get her latched on made it sound like language and not just screaming.
As a new mom, I needed to feel needed. Knowing my baby counted on me for basically everything helped to ensure that our decision to have a kid was the right one. Because, honestly, there never seemed to be the perfect time to have a baby. We just decided that we felt ready enough to be parents. So whether my baby actually uttered this phrase (she didn’t, I know, I know), hearing it, in my mind at least, was comforting in those early days of being so unsure if she and I were a good fit.