I hear the saying “Just follow your instincts; you’re the mother so you know best”. An implication that a mother instinctually knows what is best, deep down in her heart. Um.. is this really true? Or am I just a freak of nature?
When Elena was born I had zero instincts. My mom was helping me out at first, and I peppered her with questions that first week.
“Should I wake her up to feed her? Should I just let her sleep? Does it spoil her if I rush to her side every time she cries? Do the cartoon characters go on the front or back? (Yup my first diaper change I got it backwards) How do I get her to eat?”
Really, it was bad. Looking back I am astonished I didn’t somehow damage Elena for life with my limited knowledge of baby care.
I knew two things: That I wanted to be a “good” mom. (Whatever that is) and I wanted to do things the “right” way. (Again, whatever that is)
I remember feeling overwhelmed at this little child I loved, but felt like I didn’t know her. I felt guilty because I didn’t really feel bonded at birth like so many people seemed to feel. And I was obsessively reading all this mothering material hoping it would help it come naturally.
That was six years ago. Since then I have two more babies. AND I am pleased to announce that I finally, finally, have a maternal instinct. Woot woot!
I was sick the week Brandt was born. Dog-sick, throwing up, and coughing.. Since my mental state was less than optimal, I couldn’t tell if I was in labor or not, and didn’t even tell Gene until it was way too late. We made it to the hospital, the mid-wife freaked out because I was fully dilated and ready to go. A couple of pushes later Brandt was born, and I felt nothing. Physically yes, but emotionally I felt nothing. I remember thinking “I should hold him because that’s what good mothers do, but really I just want to sleep”.
The next day my mother-in-law came to visit us at the hospital, and she made the remark “Well it’s all worth the pain now, isn’t it?” I distinctly remember thinking “No, it’s not worth the pain at all” but instead I said “I guess so”.
Then came the year of a fussy baby, and bonding with Brandt came v.e.r.y. slowly. Now, he is such a sweet kind-hearted kid and I wish I would have better memories of him being born.
When Madelyn was born, it was the polar opposite of Brandt. I wanted to hold her, and loving her wasn’t a choice I had to make, but it came naturally.
Instinctive nurturing did not happen for me like I thought it would. I guess I would say I learned how to nurture. I found my “instinct” through practice, and choosing to do what good mothers do even when it feels goofy and like I’m pretending.
Sarah Hrdy is an author who claims: “Mothers do not automatically and unconditionally respond to giving birth in a nurturing way.”
She says later: “A woman who is committed to being a mother will learn to love any baby, whether it’s her own or not.”
I found this quote to be consistent with my own experience, and I’m wondering what all your experiences have been.