My latest post for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Ich. Heute. 10 vor 8. blog. Read it in German here
This morning during breakfast at a beautiful house in the Cap d’Antibes my husband told me to step away from my phone. I was googling green poop again. I am a new mother and, like any of us who became parents after the widespread adoption of the internet, Google is both my saviour and my nemesis, able to terrify or calm me, depending on how confident I am feeling in my parenting skills at that millisecond. I say millisecond because this morning after I had been assured that the faecal matter of my child was perfectly normal (I checked the photo galleries), I had to search again. Just to double check.
Like the contents of a baby’s diaper, parenting is full of surprises. The only constant is change. Google is surprisingly good at predicting what surprises I’ll be searching for - the autocomplete masterfully deduces the topic after only a few letters: from the basic ‘is my baby sleeping enough?’ to the panic ridden ‘how much psychological damage will a pacifier cause’? The quantified self movement has also joined the parenting game, offering apps to measure every last wink of sleep, urine and formula to best optimize a child’s well being. Forget the mommy-wars, other judgemental mothers are nothing compared to a clinical bar graph.
I fell trap to a breastfeeding app, shouting across the apartment for my husband to “find my phone quick!” when I’d managed to get a latch. I dutifully logged every feed with the care of a scientist searching for the cure for cancer. God forbid I let fifteen seconds of feeding go un-measured.
Despite all the data telling me otherwise, I panicked a regular basis that our baby was about to waste away. I spiralled into full-blown addiction, checking the app almost constantly hoping for a stroke of data-driven insight into my child’s level of contentment. As much as I had hoped those data points would give me the confidence that our baby was feeding enough, they only made me more anxious.
I realised I’d hit bottom when started thinking about exporting the data into Excel for more detailed examination. At that point I removed the app from my phone and took a step into the unquantified unknown. A day later, much to my surprise, my baby was still alive. Indeed, she was growing, happy and filling a large dustbin full of nappies. It was almost as though people had been raising children without the aid of technology for thousands of years.
In an effort to simplify we often make things far more complicated. Oodles of data from apps cannot offer well being. Indeed, the wealth of information carefully suggested by an ever more intelligent google can gaslight any good-willing parent. Two months into parenthood I feel lucky to have grasped that the answer to almost any “is this normal” question is invariably “yes,” but there are likely many Internet forums to convince you otherwise. The only way to retain sanity is to embrace uncertainty and trust your gut. There is no algorithm for parenting. It’s time to rely on myself and my partner, especially when that means putting the phone away to enjoy a sunny day in the south of France with our beautiful daughter and her green poo.