Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the best mummy of them all? This is the question most mothers ask themselves but are too afraid to ask out loud because there’s a magical instinct all mothers have, an instinct known as the maternal instinct. While mummy may know best, a lot of the time, she has no clue about what she’s doing. She makes decisions based on intense research from Dr. Google and by asking the people around her if she’s on the right track.
People have a great misconception about new mothers: they’ll know exactly what to do when they get their children and know exactly what to do the first time they lay their eyes on their little gems. I for one can attest to this myth, the day I gave birth to my precious son I kept looking at him wondering how the hospital was going to let me go home with him because I felt inadequate and had no idea what I was doing.
I remember the nurse showing me how to wash him and I gave her a frightened look and nodded a few times as her words disappeared into thin air. My newborns cry alone made me emotional, and helpless, I remember thinking “what the hell have I done?” but those were silent thoughts, thoughts that I was too afraid to say out loud because motherhood was meant to be an innate feeling that would guide me through the trials and tribulations.
The truth is just like any relationship, motherhood does not come with a switch that you flip on. It takes a lot of research and advice from your grandma who will give you sober advice but at times irrelevant since times have changed, you’ll need guidance from your best friend who warned you not to get kids but here you are now. Long story short, you shouldn’t feel bad if motherhood didn’t come naturally to you because it’s a myth.
The idea that the ability to provide care is exclusively innate, automatic, and exclusively female is false. When a woman experiences something else during the early stages of motherhood—shock, anxiety, uncertainty, rage, perhaps together with joy and wonder—it leaves her feeling broken. And it excludes so many other types of parents from the narrative.
This is not to say that there’s not some biological explanation as to why mothers seem to be more aware of what their children need. My experience has been validated by what we now understand to be true regarding the “parental brain” in science. It demonstrates how the first several months following childbirth are characterized by hyper-responsiveness in new parents. To care for their infants, they must go through a rigorous learning process that involves learning to read their cues, react to them, anticipate their needs, and know how to meet them. That doesn’t happen because of a fixed pattern of behavior or a strict instinct; rather, it happens as a result of an adaptation process, which is by nature highly taxing. The brain undergoes significant change during the first few months of parenthood, which is influenced by hormones as well as the intense inputs that newborns offer.
My perception of myself as a mother changed once I learned about the parental brain. It wasn’t damaged. I was modifying it. But as I read more, I grew irritated and wondered why I hadn’t heard this from all the information on Google I got or the advice I got from the judgmental mothers.
I can’t blame mothers for thinking anything different, how am I telling you that what mothers have practiced for generations is inaccurate? The concept of maternal instinct has been held for so long because the notion is consoling since it holds up the possibility of falling in love with a child at first sight and provides a measure of assurance in the face of uncertainty. Parenthood causes us to feel transformed, with aspects of ourselves reflecting the protective “mama bear” and the loving “mama bird,” and we experience this in others as well.
There’s a science that explains how our bodies change during pregnancy and after birth. However, there’s no real scientific explanation for what this so-called maternal instinct is. Maternal instinct, in my opinion, is a perfect example of misinformation—a myth that persists despite being demonstrably false until it becomes ingrained in our minds. However, it is not grounded in science. Its origins are in religious ideals of mothers who are completely devoted to their role and unselfish. There’s a difference between maternal drive and maternal instinct, maternal drive is described as the motivation of female animals to care for offspring.
On the other hand, some individuals believe that a woman’s maternal instinct indicates her desire to have children. More frequently, the term “maternal instinct” relates to the idea that a woman’s instinct for nurturing will come naturally after giving birth.
It’s not unusual for women to struggle to feel connected to their infant or have a sense of “motherly love” toward them just after birth, according to a 2018 study that investigated attachment between new mothers and their babies.
The argument that maternal instincts exist because of hormones doesn’t make sense because a lot of things are done right after birth just so that mothers feel connected to their children. The research that investigated attachment between new mothers and babies found that for many of the study subjects’ women took up to a week to acknowledge feeling a true connection. In some circumstances, that link didn’t form for months.
The reality of postpartum depression, which can make the bonding process more challenging or delayed for mothers who battle with it, adds to the complexity of this subject. It’s difficult to balance emotional stress when caring for a newborn.
A painful birth that prevented you from holding the child right away, a birth that wasn’t as pleasant as you’d hoped, and the startling reality of raising a baby are all known problems that might delay maternal bonds. Quite common, these disconnection sensations are. But because of social expectations that a woman should bond with her child right away, many women who didn’t feel that connection right away showed guilt and shame in a variety of studies.
I need you to know that being motherly is a process and years of practice. I need you to understand that to become a mother is like a career, you have to keep doing it for so many years that it becomes a part of you, that it becomes natural, and just like a career you might hate it or you might love it. The reality of parenting might easily overwhelm you, and that’s normal. Just be aware that there will be hitches, regardless of how idyllic your ideal parental experience was supposed to be.
Even though you just completed a nine-month pregnancy, you need to understand that every baby is unique, and you are both still getting used to one another.
The idea that you have a natural mother instinct may be appealing, but it has a flip side that can keep you from asking for assistance when you need it. Even if you’ve never cared for young children before, you’re setting yourself up for failure if you try to uphold the concept that you should be able to do everything naturally.
When you struggle with a particular job, like nursing, introducing solid foods, or even potty training (which are all normal problems), you’ll judge your performance by a fictitious standard that is hard to sustain. Similarly, assuming that “maternal instinct” is a naturally occurring force in women who give birth misses the fact that fathers and foster parents are equally capable of providing for their children’s needs. Instead of believing in maternal instinct, embrace the perspective that it takes a village to raise a child; ask your friends and family for assistance when you need it. Ask your mother, friends, or other family members who have experience if you’re having trouble nursing. You can also look for a lactation consultant who can give you individualized attention and support. Can’t seem to get the perfect swaddle? If it doesn’t work, try again or get a wearable baby blanket. You shouldn’t have to go it alone because there are many solutions available.
In the end, understanding that you’re not faulty for lacking some magical powers that help you keep it together, accept that you’re learning and that’s ok. Motherhood is a process, it takes practice and a relentless spirit that is willing to do it over and over again no matter how hard it gets, and that’s why good mothers are described as strong!