“A Mother’s Instinct” was the theme of the previous blog, but what do we understand by ‘maternal ‘instinct’? Maternal instinct is evident in animals, for example a zebra whose infant had died at birth observed trying to steal another zebra’s foal, so intense was her grief and inability to understand what had happened to her own. But haven’t we humans evolved beyond mere ‘instinct’ and are able to control our behaviour beyond our instincts, or are our animal maternal instincts still there, beneath the layers of training and tutoring and greater expectations for women’s lives beyond motherhood?
Giving birth is a physical process; we deliver the baby through the birth canal in much the same way as other mammals and, if our infant dies at birth our grief is as strong and painful, and as instinctive, as the mother zebra’s. Yet, as Poppy’s mother says, she felt out of sync with her peers, in as much as they seemed to deny any instinctive responses and wanting to offload their offspring as early as possible – why? When my first two babies were born in hospital, at that time they were routinely put in a bassinet on the other side of the room and I climbed out of the high delivery bed to retrieve them and bring them into bed, I was scolded by the staff and, like Poppy’s mother, was told I was ‘making a rod for my own back’. My third baby was born at home, with a midwife in attendance and all went well as I was able to follow my instincts and keep my baby close.
But not all mothers are imbued with maternal instincts. At a recent talk given by a member of What About the Children? one woman in her sixties said that she had felt no powerful surge of love when either of her children were born and wondered if she was unnatural? ‘It’ll come in due course,’ she was told and, although she grew to love her children, she never felt that powerful instinctive desire to love and protect them, so she employed a lovely nanny who looked after her children until they went to school. She was fortunate that she could afford to do this, but what happens when a less financially secure mother fails to bond with her infant? Maybe people like Poppy’s mother should be available to help new mums bond with their babies, though I rather feel that maternal instinct is linked to one’s own childhood experience and upbringing.
So, whether maternal love comes with the first rush of colostrum or whether it needs time and encouragement, or never comes at all, mothers should not feel that they are odd or unnatural in wanting to be close to their babies. We are all different in our responses to childbirth, but the main consideration is the baby’s emotional wellbeing Babies don’t ask to be born after all, and we owe it to them to provide them with the best start in life. 28/08/2019