I had a hearty conversation with a good friend recently regarding some of my transitions into motherhood. She asked if a lot of my mothering deeds were “instincts” and expressed some concern whether those instincts would turn on for her when she had her own. This conversation stuck with me for awhile as I kept ruminating over which were basic motherly instincts and which were not. Because I see this friend, one of the most considerate, caring, and intentional people I know, and I was confused. If anyone would have this motherly instinct turn on, it would be her.
So then I had to ask myself why I believed this, and what exactly is this motherly instinct?
The motherly instinct is not immediately knowing how to breastfeed. Sure, I can pop that boob in now and read and play on my phone while feeding my munchkin without thinking twice now… but that’s now. There are lactation consultants for a reason and I needed one to grab and steer me those first days in the hospital. The motherly instinct was biting my lip and flinching each time I fed that first month when it felt like daggers were shooting out of my body. It was dealing with chafed, chapped, and bleeding nipples. It was walking around with extra padding because I was constantly leaking. It was waking up every 2 hours to feed so that I could build up my supply to make sure my baby would be sustained soon enough. It’s devoting the first 30 minutes of my day to pumping to make sure my supply is always enough and when it’s not, that there’s enough of a frozen stash in case ANYTHING happens. The motherly instinct was pushing through the immense pain and learning curve because that pain meant nothing compared to the peace of knowing my baby is fed.
It’s not knowing how to change a diaper. I’ve changed hundreds of diapers because of the age gap between me and my young brothers. Yet that first night in the hospital, it felt like I had never seen something so small, so delicate before. I was a deer in headlights at that moment and I’m so thankful my sister was staying in the hospital with me because she took charge and changed that diaper while I literally just stood there staring in panic. The motherly instinct was laughing off the first few blow outs as poop streamed up my baby’s back and through his onesie. It was shrieking and shrugging it off when baby peed during mid-change and got urine everyone. It was consoling myself when baby had the first hint of diaper rash and rolling up my sleeves to pull out the diaper cream. The motherly instinct was embracing pee and poop all over myself in an effort to learn how to keep my baby warm and dry.
It’s not giving up desires to socialize. I had to process what this new lifestyle looked like knowing that my weekends and weeknights were never going to look the same again.It’s not instantly like that scene in “sex and the city” when they go to Connecticut to a baby shower and find a bunch of moms who feed their social bucket by just talking about their babies to others moms.It’s not looking at people at a social gathering walking and prancing around where ever they want and freely engaging in dialogue with whomever they want and not feeling any pangs of jealousy. The motherly instinct is actually wanting to prance around hands free, but accepting that there is a baby strapped to me in an ergo carrier and I can only walk through wide aisles of people because I will not risk my baby getting bumped into some corner or table. It’s not looking at evites and pictures on social media and not having any speck of FOMO. The motherly instinct is allowing myself to feel that moment of sadness, but then feeling even more FOMO over the idea of missing any big milestones. It is embracing “the new normal”. It’s looking at some of my old cocktail dresses and night time clothes and tucking them away to fill my closet up with even more leggings and extra large tunics and sweaters. The motherly instinct is letting go, embracing, and adapting a new lifestyle, a new community.
Seriously, it is not knowing how to clip nails! The motherly instinct is not confidently grabbing clippers and attacking those razor sharp nails that for whatever reason grows at lightning speed. Almost 6 months later I still feel like the hero in the last 20 minutes of almost every action movie where they have to cut the right wire precisely in order to save the universe. The motherly instinct is hovering over my napping baby with beads of sweat accruing on my forehead each time with my tiny baby scissors and giving myself a pep talk that I’ve done this over a hundred times now, I can do this again. The instinct is being able to care for the most basic needs, however daunting that task is, for the comfort of baby.
Because ultimately, that motherly instinct is simply love. It’s loving someone more than you can imagine and almost beyond what you can control. It’s a love that stretches past anything, particularly one’s own self. And because that motherly instinct is not about knowing how to breastfeed or change a diaper or whatnot, it looks different in every family. That’s why for one family that motherly instinct is sleep training and teaching her baby how to be strong, independent, brave, and aware of his/her own limits, surroundings, and needs, and for another that instinct is pulling that baby close and nestled up against her chest to feel warm, safe, and secure. That’s why for one mother she will stay at home and devote not just 9-5, but pretty much 24 hours of her day and sanity to caring and giving their baby their basic motherly needs that the baby still yearns for even after leaving the womb, and for another why she will be gone from 9-5 to make ends meet and show her baby what fighting for each day looks like.
The motherly instinct is not fully knowing how to do all this, but pushing past the challenges, embracing the poop, learning the lessons along the way because every heart beat reminds you that it’s all worth it. So if you’re wondering if that instinct will turn on for you one day, the fact that you even care to ask convinces me that it already has.