Instinctive nurturing, truth or myth?

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.

6 thoughts on “Instinctive nurturing, truth or myth?

  1. I could have almost written this post. Thank you for making me feel more “normal.”My bonding with my kids happened very slowly. I have had to LEARN how to be a nurturer and to really see my children’s hearts…it did not come very naturally to me.I have a LOT of guilt and “What is wrong with me?” over this whole subject.Over the years (and 3 kids later) I have learned to accept (mostly) the person that I am and try to be the best Mother I can be. God has really given me much more of a love and a heart for my kids, but I still feel like I am doing a lot of floundering.Our one kid in particular I don’t really “get.”  hard for me to understand him. Is there something wrong with me that I don’t “get” him??LOVED this post. Could very much relate!  God made us all different, and I have long been trying to figure out why I am not a “normal” Mom.  I guess we all have our strengths and I hope through God’s grace those can be maximized and my weaknesses be minimized.Thanks for putting yourself out there with this!

  2. We quickly found out the Doctors all have different advice.  We’ve raised many children and my wife follows her instincts.  When the child was under 6 months we did everything we could for the infant.  -everything. 

  3. I felt like a lot of the physical caring for babies was instinctive for me. Or maybe it was because I had younger siblings that I practiced on. However, caring for my child’s emotional well-being is much, much harder for me. I hope I am (slowly) learning, but it’s not something I am automatically good at.As much as it seems like we might not be insinctive nurturers, did you ever look at how men relate to babies versus a woman? There are exceptions on both sides, of course, but we women were given a little more instinctive nurturing than the men, I think!

  4. Very good post, as usual.I did not bond easily with my first newborns either.  I can remember my husband saying about our first: “This boy doesn’t even LIKE us!”  It took him forever long to smile for us.  You feel like you pour your very life into this child with no return.  By the time I had my 4th-6th babies I understood things more and enjoyed the tiny baby stage because I relaxed about it.I think we’re all created differently, though.  I am with friends who just can’t keep their hands off of a newborn baby.  I loved my babies most (I hope it’s not indecent to say that) when they were more like a year or so.  And I think 3 and 4 year olds are da bomb.  I think loving and nurturing our children is kind of like what goes into marriage.  Sometimes it comes naturally and other times it’s a choice we make.  I like the last quotes from the Sarah lady.

  5. @richlyblest – Yeah, I think having no younger siblings could have a lot to do with it!  I’ve never thought a whole lot of caring emotionally for my children, it seems that at their age, physical care is emotional care. Good thoughts.

  6. Fascinating quotes by Sarah Hrdy.  I know for a fact that I bonded much more quickly with my first foster son than with my first biological son. 

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