By Melissa Sher
Open Letter to the Lexicographers at Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
Here’s the deal. You have lots of words in the dictionary. And some of the words describe someone who’s new to something. In sports, there are “rookies.” High schools and colleges have “freshmen.” Even the newly born are aptly described as “newborns.” Newborns can’t do a single, darn thing, and they get their own word.
You know who doesn’t have their own dictionary entry? New moms. It’s bold, but I’m going to take it upon myself to speak for every new mom ever to say that we deserve a word of our own. We want something to describe being a first-time, clueless new mother who doesn’t know what she’s doing, doesn’t yet have maternal instinct (but thinks she’s supposed to) and is still bleeding and wearing maternity clothes. Oh, and did I forget to mention that she’s a wee bit tired? I don’t want to do your work for you, but I was thinking she could be called a “neomamma.”
If you’re going to try to defend yourselves and tell me that the dictionary has an entire “mother” category in it, don’t bother. I’ve seen it. “Den mother.” “Earth mother.” “Mother Carey’s chicken” – which I first mistook for “Mariah Carey’s chicken.” If you had to take one entry out of the dictionary to make room for “neomamma,” my vote would be “Mother Carey’s chicken.”
I believe a new mother needs a word that differentiates her from the mother of a toddler, a preschooler or a teenager. There is also a world of difference between a first-time mother and a seasoned mom who just had baby No. 2 or, depending on what reality shows you watch, Baby 23.
If you need more evidence, I would like to tell you a little bit about the first morning I spent at home alone with baby Numero Uno. He was probably about six days old. My parents were gone. My in-laws were gone. My husband, who was in law school, was back in class. There was no one around to ask about potentially infected umbilical cords or strange-looking poops.
The big event on my first real day on the job was what should have been a nice, relaxing walk around the block. I had bought a sling that came with its own instructional DVD. But not long after I left the apartment, I decided that the fabric was smothering my son’s face so I took him out and just started carrying him in my arms. Of course, a woman holding a newborn, wearing maternity clothes and an empty sling is going to attract attention. An older lady stopped me. “Oh. How sweet? What’s his name?”
I’m going to tell you something I’ve never before told anyone. I’m only including this to help make my case. If you ask me to admit this publicly, I’ll deny it. I blanked. Her question stumped me. “What’s his name?” What was his name? I couldn’t think of it. The kid and I had only met earlier in the week. My husband and I had just named him. The name was still so new. It was like when you get a new phone number. The first few times someone asks you for it, you might have to read the number off a piece of paper. Or maybe you can’t recall if it’s “3423” or “3432.”
Only it wasn’t a seven-digit number, it was my CHILD’S NAME. After a couple of seconds – one second, two seconds, oh my God it felt like an eternity – the name came to me. But do you know what a “neomamma” I felt like? (See, how nicely that works?)
I walked back to my apartment and trudged slowly up the stairs, being careful not to hit my son’s head (or a soft spot!) on the staircase railing. When I opened the door to my empty apartment, I felt truly alone.
Fortunately, over time, I became more and more comfortable with my new role – and my new charge. Until one magical, yet unremarkable day, I shed my “neomamma” status and became, simply, mom.