Is Mothers Instinct a real thing? Those of us who have experienced it will say “Yes, without a doubt”. It’s born at birth and is cultivated through intimate mother-baby time. It’s every woman’s birthrite, but it can be derailed if the right support isn’t in place.
Is Mothers Instinct biological or intuitive?
I would say both. We spend nine to ten months growing an entire human being within our body, and from our body (bar a small essential amount of donor DNA). The physicality of this being is part of us, plus for nine months the personality forms within us as the soul embodies. So why on earth wouldn’t we have a strong sense of knowingness with our child? A baby grows within the mothers body for a reason – because she is hardwired to love, care for and protect this tiny human. And Mama, don’t you ever doubt that!
Is your body your barometer?
What if your body played a key role in the experience of Mothers Instinct? Pregnancy and birth are powerful teachers in learning to trust ones body. They give us the perfect opportunity to shed the societal chains that teach us the opposite.
I personally learnt a hard lesson early on, by trying to read your child with your head first you can easily miss something vitally important. Mothers Instinct is something felt deep inside, it comes from a place far more acute than logic. And yes, the logical mind can be a nice back up, but if it’s used first it can easily justify away and override essential and sometimes subtle messages from tiny person.
In my case our daughter was desperately trying to indicate she was hungry. We didn’t have a proper latch and she was hardly getting any milk for four days. Even though I was receiving so many messages through my being daily indicating something was not ok, it took her losing her voice for us to finally realize something was terribly wrong. Thankfully we had the right support including top-up breastmilk from my best friend. And after an angel of a lactation therapist got us back on track she gained a kilo in one week. It takes a long time to release the guilt from something like this. If I had followed my instincts I would have phoned the midwife and voiced my concerns within 24 hours after my milk had come in.
After ignoring my Mothers Instinct for that first week I now respect whatever comes up, whether logic is involved or not. And yes sometimes my sense can be a bit exaggerated (anxiousness can rear its head after your baby has suffered from severe dehydration), but I soon catch myself, soften and move back to my place of honest perception.
There have been times when I’ve lost a sense of being in tune with my baby for an hour, or even a day and it felt disorienting to say the least. When I need to reignite it I bundle her into my arms, hold her close, breathe in her scent, be still and simply soften (physically, mentally and emotionally), allowing myself to descend back into that special place of connection with her, and with myself.
Trust in self
You are your baby’s mother for a reason. I promise you are able to trust yourself no matter how often you think you can’t.
Every woman has a depth, an intelligence, a perception and a love that goes a million times deeper than is generally socially acceptable (unless you have found your ‘tribe’). One of the main reasons for our beautiful but often unfathomable feminine design is the fact we need all of these interesting elements to be able to read our children well, and to be able to provide for them, protect them and guide them through every kind of situation. We don’t know what life is going to hand us but we do need to be as perceptive, adaptable and responsive as a hawk to help our little people to thrive.
Yet from the day we start our period women are often bombarded (even subtly) with a societal norm which infers we should not trust our bodies, our minds, or our intuition. We are often labeled as complicated, irrational, hard work, paranoid, neurotic, unreliable and so many other derogatory terms that indicate there is something wrong with the female make up. We are told to go on the Pill to control our hormones, as “it will solve our problems”. The only thing that’s actually ‘wrong’ is the fact that our dynamic constitution is far too profound and subtle to squish into the rigid box of the ‘socially acceptable’ normality. “Controlling hormones”, doesn’t solve our physical or emotional challenges, longterm it simply makes them worse.
A friend of mine, an integrative women’s wellness GP, recently attended a medical conference on women’s hormones. The presenter started out by saying, “Wouldn’t it be so much easier for everyone if we just did away with the menstrual cycle altogether?”. I am not sure who he was referring to when he said “everyone”, but personally I am grateful for the important information I receive through my changing hormonal states.
I have spent many years learning to trust the clear signals of instinct and intuition that flow through my body. It took time to shed layer after layer of harmful beliefs. During my pregnancy I discovered I was able to take quantum leaps in this department. And my birth was certainly the cherry on top. But trusting your perception in relation to another human being – your child, can only kick in properly once you hold them in your arms, feel their skin against yours, and breathe in their scent. Then the big work begins, ‘trusting in yourself’ takes on a whole new meaning!
When mothers step out of the socially expected norm, they thrive. When women leave the ‘should’ zone and start trusting their innate knowingness a whole new world unfolds.
Can the acuity of Mothers Instinct be cultivated or derailed?
Instinct, trust in self, and intuition can quickly transform into anxiety, neurosis and paranoia if not supported by biology, community and environment (Is that enough groups of three for you? Hahaha).
So many of us are bombarded with ‘shoulds’ throughout our pregnancy, birth and postpartum. When more people are countering instead of supporting our Mothers Instinct, it becomes easy to question ourselves. It takes summoning all of our (often previously untapped) ass-kicking strength to realize who we are and what our truth really is.
Recently I heard a beautiful story of a gorgeous gentle woman finding the strength to veto her sons upcoming circumcision. Not only did she tap into her power on a whole new level, but her husband actually respected her strength and soon realized he agreed with the choice.
In other words chose carefully (intuitively) the people you want close to you during the fourth trimester. Don’t go with the ‘shoulds’, surround yourself with people that really mirror your deepest ethics. The good news is there are people out there that will support you, you just need to find them. But it does take ruthless honesty with ourselves to realize that even some of the best intentions from people close to us, may actually be harmful. If you can’t find ‘your people’ within your close vicinity use social media. I have a few groups of women I hardly see in person but I stay intimately connected to.
For the first 6 weeks our hormones are designed to thrive if we bath in the intimate mother-baby bonding time. Holding baby close most of the time helps mothers and babies to fall in love with each other, and in turn anchors Mothers Instinct. It’s perfectly healthy for you and your partner to be the only ones to hold your baby during this babymoon period. Your new little person is wide open, you are your baby’s filter. But as they strengthen physically they also become more inquisitive into the big wide world and want to engage with other people and new things. Again it’s up to your instincts to feel out the graded exposure for your baby.
Pregnancy and birth are major hormonal rollercoasters but so is the commonly forgotten postpartum. Hormones and the nervous system are amazing parts of our physiology that can either enhance and anchor our instinct, or confuse it completely. Now that your baby is finally in your arms this is s time to deeply nourish ones hormones and nervous system for your babies sake and certainly for your sanity and wellbeing.
‘It takes a tribe to raise a child’ means the tribe needs to look after the mother (and the father) and then the baby will thrive. It does not mean – take the baby away from the mother when she isn’t ok and it certainly doesn’t mean give it a bottle of formula! Mother’s need support, taking the baby away doesn’t help the mother or the baby, it simply diminishes a mothers (probably fragile) belief in herself. If people are going to be helpful they need to attend to your needs so that you and your partner can attend to the baby’s needs. And for sure once in a while it helps if someone you trust holds your child while you have a good cry, but only if you ask them too!
The babymoon and in fact fourth trimester are really a time for cacooning. This is the time to connect and cultivate this new relationship with your child and with yourself and your partner – everything is different, magical and delicate during this time.
Take your time, don’t put pressure on yourself to engage with the outside world, or take on unnecessary responsibilities too soon. Ask for support with shopping, errands, cooking, cleaning, whatever needs taking care of. I promise you its worth it for your wellbeing and the long term wellbeing of your child.
The basics needs for healthy hormones and nervous system are:
- Sleep when the baby sleeps (unless you aren’t tired)
- Drink lots of good quality water (you are hydrating two people now)
- And eat nourishing organic food at least every 3 hours (you are still growing your baby!)
But there are other profound ways to support these internal communication systems:
- Skin-to-skin cuddling
- Baby wearing
- And eating the placenta. Yes you heard me right – the placenta!
The civilization of society has managed to phase out something that helped women to thrive postpartum (and does for all mammals) for hundreds of thousands of years. If there is one thing that can really balance the hormones and nervous system it’s the organ that nourished and grew your baby. The hormonal and nutrient support provided by this incredible organ is beyond comprehension. Every woman who has had their placenta dehydrated and packaged into neat little capsules will tell you this is the best postpartum boost. Especially the mama’s who have a previous birth story to compare it to.
New moms are so often bombarded with a basket full of ‘shoulds’ by well meaning people. You may be told to let the baby ‘cry-it-out’, or “Just give them a bottle”, “Don’t co-sleep it’s dangerous”, or “Don’t hold them too much you will spoil them”, or even “You should only feed them every two hours”, or some other codswallop that came out of the Victorian age. In fact Queen Victoria herself refused to breastfeed her own children (she proclaimed she was not a cow) and they were kept in the nursery with a wet nurse from day one. Interestingly she suffered from horrific postnatal depression with all nine children.
Today the percentage of postnatal depression, postnatal adrenal fatigue and postnatal Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are climbing at a shocking rate. These issues do not fall out the sky and land on a woman, they take time to build up. The foundation is laid before pregnancy and fed through pregnancy, birth and finally postpartum. This tells us clearly that what society has been encouraging women to do has certainly not been working for them. And it hasn’t been working for their babies or their relationships either.
There have been many bizarre concepts that have weaseled their way into mainstream parenting over the last two hundred years, many of which still exist today. Dangerous people like Doctor Spock insisted that meeting a babies demands would create a spoilt child. Considering a baby doesn’t have an active frontal cortex it is completely impossible for them to manipulate or conduct any form of calculated behaviour, and therefore its certainly impossible to spoil them. In fact a baby doesn’t even realize it’s separate from you! Babies function from their limbic brain and they have one trajectory, to meet their primal needs: food, sleep, warmth and love. Oh and lets not forget burping and nappy changing. As far as behaviour they will cry if their needs aren’t met or if they are overstimulated. If a baby cries its simply experiencing some form of difficulty. And yes babies cry for attention, they need to slowly grow and anchor a sense of being safe and secure within this new world – to the point that children pretty much see parents as god from day one, we are the centre of their universe.
Come back to self
So you may need to ignore some dusty old fear-based beliefs, or ask a wise stranger for help, but most importantly create the space to simply listen to your Mother’s Instinct. Do what you need to do to nurture it. Spend time in nature with your bairn and breathe in the age old wisdom of the trees, rocks and ocean. Find your tribe, they certainly exist and share your vulnerabilities with those you trust dearly. It’s all in you, all the wisdom, intuition and direction you need. It’s just about giving yourself the space to cultivate and listen to that profound, powerful, compassionate Mother’s Instinct.