Maternal Instinct?

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Categories Attitude, Balance, Difference, Fear, Grief, Parenting, Relationships

I think on some level, I’ve always wanted to have kids.   But, I wasn’t in a rush.  I’m the person who is a little unsure of how to hold my friends’ infants when I first meet them.  When we go over to friends’ houses who have kids, the kids often look at me and ask where my (fun-loving, young-at-heart, AKA-more-fun-to play-with) husband is.  While I can connect with older ones, I’ve always felt a little ill-equipped at dealing with kids before they can talk about their emotions, or at least tell me what they want or need.  Even a few weeks ago, my husband pointed out to me that I drooled over a woman’s super sweet pit bull, while she also pushed a stroller and I hardly even looked at her kid, all while sporting a big pregnant belly.  What the heck is wrong with me?!?  This has always been an anxiety of mine: should I still have kids, if this is the case?  When do those “maternal instincts” kick in? What do I do if I have kids and I feel like it doesn’t click?  What if I don’t like spending time with preverbal kids?  The anxiety has only heightened since getting pregnant, yet not feeling that instinct kick in yet.

I’ve explored this with other colleagues in the mental health field, and I find I’m not alone, particularly on the front of feeling more comfortable when kids can express themselves.  (Yes, my kids will probably have a feelings wheel in their bedroom before it’s entirely appropriate.)  A friend who is a mother of twins, and also a therapist, explained a similar feeling to me when her kids were about three.  She said she is “still waiting for her moment to shine” as a parent.  She told me her husband seems to have shone while the kids were young, and, given her background, she’s anticipating that her moment is when her kids are adolescents.  I related to this so strongly, and ever since have secretly hoped my husband can carry us through until our kids have an emotional vocabulary.

This week, I’ve seen a different side of myself come out.  We have had an 11 and a half-year old black lab that my husband had before we met, and I had a boxer-pit bull mix who is now 7 and a half-years old.  These two girls became fast and furious friends when we introduced them four years ago when my husband moved to the area and we ended our long-distance dating.  They never fought, my girl shared her space with the newcomer right off the bat, and our hearts were warmed daily by their instant connection.  On Monday, we had to make the decision to put down our older dog.  I could write an entire separate (and somewhat unrelated to MoMs issues) blog post about the pain of this decision and the heartache that goes with it.  But, I’ll spare you (and myself, the tears welling up again).

A few friends and family who have known my fears about being able to connect with kids when I have them have always said that they see a maternal gene in me when I’m with our dogs.  But, the skeptic in me thought that this was what people said when they don’t really see you as a “mom” type and just want to make you feel better.  However, this week, the momma bear, protective part of me has come out in so many different ways.  One part of me has been grieving the loss of our older, sweet girl, while the other part of me has kicked into caretaking mode of our younger girl, in full-force.  I haven’t wanted to leave her for a second, and have brought her to work with me, spoiling her, letting her nap on the couch in my office and giving her treats.  When I left her last night for the first time since her friend left us, I cried all the way back to work, texting my husband about the sad face she made, the refusal of the treat I gave her, and all the other signs I saw in her that she was not handling the loss well.  Sure, some of this could be the hormones of being 31 weeks pregnant with twins, or me projecting my feelings onto the dog.  But, she is definitely not herself, and knows that something is off.  I can’t shake the knowledge that she has spent more of her life with her old friend than without, that she has not lived in our current house without a canine friend, etc.  Today, having too full of a day to have a dog in my office, I’ve asked my mom to go check in on her, and I’m planning on bringing her back to work tomorrow.  Am I overreacting?  Maybe.  But, it hit me that there IS a maternal gene in there, wanting to protect the surviving “child,” ensuring that she’s still happy and that life can go on as normally as possible for her.  (Until, of course, in 6-7 weeks, we bring home two little bundles of joy that she’ll sniff until her heart’s content and she’ll likely be demoted on the priority totem pole.)  It just may surface differently than it does for others.

The other dynamic shift that has felt bittersweet, is the ability to take care of my husband again.  I haven’t loved the part of pregnancy that puts you in the spotlight, requires you to need help from others, and essentially be more vulnerable than other times in your life.  Since our elder dog spent 6 years with my husband before we met, he has countless memories with her that I’m not in, and got to see her in her youthful, bouncy days.  While we’ve both been grieving, it’s been so nice to step out of the “patient” role for a moment and be there to help him process this event and what it means for him.  This, too, gives me hope for my caretaking gene.

This whole event has made me realize that it’s not black and white: you don’t either have or not have a “mom” gene.  I like the way my friend looked at parenting, as all of us having moments when we may “shine” more than others, which often has to do with the skills we bring to the table, and those we develop along the way.  I’m so grateful to have a partner who can naturally run around the backyard with a couple three year olds or play hockey in the living room with a five-year-old.  But, I’m also grateful that I may have skills that might be helpful in times when others may lose patience.

How did others fare with new babies who may have once worried about their ability to connect with kids?

Katie lives in the Chicago area with her husband and surviving “child” dog.  She’s 31 weeks pregnant with twins and hopes she knows what to do with them once they’re here.  

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3 thoughts on “Maternal Instinct?”

  1. We have two dogs, and I think I got them to fulfill my need to be maternal before I had kids. Now that I have kids, the dogs are back to being dogs again. I do feel guilty about it, but there really aren’t enough hours in a day, and at least they have each other. Maybe you can get another dog to keep this one company. You might be too busy to even take care of yourself when the twins come :(

  2. Sorry about your dog. :( But, I appreciate your honest post! Don’t feel ashamed of feeling that way. I did. And many do. Because, even as often as you watch your nieces and nephews, dogs, friend’s kids, or whoever, the fact of the matter is that they are not your kids. And I am not very emotional as a person, which I think we often assume means I won’t make a very good mother. But, mothers come in every shape and size, and just because you will end up mothering differently than others, does NOT mean you aren’t doing it right or that you don’t have those maternal instincts. You will get them I assure you. Because, gosh are babies cute, especially when they look like you or the husband! And you love them, even when you are dogged tired and being drove up a wall.

    Also, I understand the “shining” moments idea, as I have often heard myself wishing my kids were older, so I could relate to them better, etc. But, I forced myself to stop doing that, because I didn’t want to miss out or hate the current moment, but learn how to make the best of it, surprisingly myself, learning how I can shine (to the best I can) in the moment.

  3. The bond with my now three year old twins has grown over time. I remember sitting down soon after they were born, wondering about my new role, my emotions towards them etc. I didn’t even have dogs, so I had no idea if I’d be able to care for them as they would fully need.

    It all came. And then the circumstances /challenges change, and it is only more and more interesting, and there is more and more love, if that is possible! Allow the process to unfold at its own pace:) you are already their mum caring for them in your belly.

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