Even for those who have not had the personal experience of staying home to take care of an infant full-time, this tongue-in-cheek term does not need much explanation. For those who have had this experience, the term comes across as all too real.
“Baby-jail” constitutes the experience of being homebound with your infant as you navigate the potent cocktail of difficult occurrences that make up a large part of caring for your baby.
The one that immediately springs to mind is the row of nights where three hours of sleep in a row seem like a far-off luxury, as your baby continues to wake up wanting to feed, cry or just hang out. Other notable mentions are when hours are spent trying every conceivable rocking position to quell crying spells, when you have to change so many diapers you half-expect Al Gore to pay you a personal visit admonishing you for destroying the planet, and when you wonder whether the food purée splatters on your clothes, walls, and furniture can be passed off as postmodern art.
For those of us mothers who breastfeed, the feeling of being tethered to the infant becomes literal, as you have to be continuously available for babies’ often erratic feeding patterns. Cluster-feeding, anyone? Pumping breast milk can allow you to skip some feedings, but the time you save feeding is eaten up by the time that has to be set aside to actually pump and store the milk.
All in all, caring for your infant can easily mean you become more homebound than you ever envisioned yourself. In the three months now since my son was born, I have been able to have an outing (with him) less times than I can count on two hands (and this includes his four pediatrician visits) and without him less than I can count on one (this includes late-night quickie Target runs). Granted, this is partly because my son was born on the cusp of winter and taking out a young infant for extended periods of time in such low temperatures presented more hassle and potential harm than it was worth, but nonetheless, home is where baby is most comfortable, and where you, therefore, are as well.
This bears no semblance to my life pre-baby.
Having previously lived in Toronto, Hong Kong, London, Boston and now living in New York City for the past two years, jumping on the subway and diving into the many facets of city life was commonplace for me. Social interactions were countless, as was the solitary time I spent enjoying both the beauty and messiness of city life. A life that was once lived outward has become inextricably inward. So the term “baby-jail” seems apt, yes? In short, no.
Very soon into motherhood I consciously decided I would never use the term “baby-jail.” Now, I am not for a moment suggesting that being the primary caregiver for an infant isn’t exhausting, frustrating or even sometimes boring, or that staying home to care for an infant can’t absolutely give you the most intense cabin fever you have ever experienced.
However, what I am suggesting is that words matter. They matter a lot. The connotation here is of being forced to be somewhere one does not want to be or being unable to escape this setting. Of course, when the term “baby-jail” is used, it is said in jest without much association to the aforementioned perspective. However, while thoughts manifest in words, words that are repeatedly used also loop back into our thoughts.
Being mindful about my word choice made me realize that using the term “baby-jail” frequently in my speech throughout the day may make me extra tired as I wearily eye my breast pump machine at 3 a.m. It may make my eyebrows extra furrowed, as I have to turn down yet another social invitation to an adults-only event. And worst of all, it may make me less present during this time with my son as my mind wanders to what all that lays beyond the confines of our home.
Which is why I decided to trade “baby-jail” for “baby-bubble.”
“Baby-bubble” acknowledges the enclosed nature of the experience, but reminds me that it is, after all, a private, glorious world my three-month old son and I share. It makes it a little easier to put up with the trials and tribulations of early motherhood, because the walls around me are not thick and grey, but light and multicolored. I can still see out at the world I once frequented while I choose to stay within this sphere and give my son all that he needs.
Living in a “baby-bubble” also reminds me that this time is fleeting and soon the bubble will pop, as my son grows older and no longer requires such intense care. This grounds me in the present moment as my son and I look deep into each other’s eyes and together build a bond more powerful than I have ever experienced.
Author: Zainab Kizilbash
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Author’s own