While pregnant the first time, I carried a lot of worries about what life as a mother would look like. I logically knew there would be less sleep and more expenses and, like, diaper changes and stuff, but I didn’t stress too much about the parenting part. Our culture fed me this idea that once I became a mom, this “motherly instinct” would kick in and I would just inherently know the right thing to do in any given situation. After all, mother knows best.
I took comfort in this. It lulled me into a sense of safety knowing this instinct would kick in once the baby came and all would be well. I mean, this parenting thing couldn’t be that hard, right? Lots of people became parents.
And then I became a parent. And I held this child I’d been growing in my body for nine months, and my skin prickled, and I sobbed with joy, and I knew my life would never be the same again, and I was so, so okay with that. I felt a lot on the day I met my child, but not some lightswitch of parental instinct. Maybe it would come?
When they sent me home from the hospital, I remember pretending to be prepared and confident while on the inside I was a torment of worry, wondering how in the hell I was going to keep this baby alive when I hadn’t even managed to work brushing my own teeth twice daily into a routine.
What were these people thinking, sending me home with a human? Couldn’t they see I had absolutely no idea what I was doing? Where was this instinct I’d been promised?
It didn’t get any better. Everything was hard. Everything was learned. Nothing was automatic.
Childbirth? My body may have instinctively gotten the process going, but my babies came into the world with skilled professionals and modern medicine in the form of a glorious, glorious epidural.
Breastfeeding? Latching? Trigonometry to me.
Thank god for diapers with convenient labels like “Front” and “Back” so I didn’t look completely incompetent in front of the nurse I felt like I had to prove myself to.
Even bathing my newborn at home for the first time was hard. His soft skin became dolphin-slick once wet, and I worried I’d fumble him like a football. I kicked myself for not taking notes while the labor and delivery nurse bathed him so adeptly in the hospital sink.
Getting my kid to sleep literally anywhere besides my arms and the car seat became a complicated scientific process of independent and dependent variables – maybe the fleece pajamas will help, let’s try white noise, maybe if I set him down so, so gently, like a bomb…
At one point, I remember googling “help i am a mom with no maternal instinct what do i do”
I felt a lot of shame about this. I really, truly believed I wasn’t a good mom because it was so hard for me and none of it felt natural.
But I’m thinking differently now.
Maybe parenthood feels so hard because parenthood is so hard. And what I believed was supposed to be instinct actually just ended up being really, really hard work on my part. And, like, a lot of love and commitment to do best by my kids.
After all, you don’t become a good parent by simple instinct. You become a good parent by showing up again and again. By trying and failing, learning and unlearning. You tap into your village and resources and commit yourself to raising the next generation to be braver and kinder and more prone to grace than judgment. Biology shouldn’t get the credit for the hard work – that was all us.
So, I proudly affirm: I have no maternal instinct.
But I am still a good freaking mom.