My Maternal Instinct Didn’t Come Naturally

(c) Can Stock Photo
(c) Can Stock Photo

Some people told me a certain “maternal instinct” would be born in me after I gave birth. It wasn’t. Perhaps it kicks in for some women, like a hormone surge, but that certainly wasn’t the case for me. Becoming a mother changed me profoundly in an abstract sense but not at all in a practical sense. I was clueless and though I am learning day-by-day, I still remain clueless in a fundamental sense.

People told me there were certain types of cries. There was the “I’m hungry” cry, the “change me” cry, the “I’m tired” cry, and I would intuitively know which cry was which. Not me! I changed my son’s bone-dry diaper in response to what turned out to be the “I’m tired” cry. Often, to add insult to injury, my son would pee directly at me as soon as I got his dry diaper off. I fed him in response to the “change me” cry and I put him down for a nap in response to what was the “I’m hungry” cry.

From a mother’s instinct perspective, I was and am a disaster. I have a certain type of motherhood dyslexia that is cushioned in good intentions and a perseverance that can defy logic.

My mother’s intuition didn’t kick in when it came to my olfactory senses either. While I was pregnant with my first son, some moms told me I would be able to recognize my child by his smell. I was fascinated with the stories of all the mothers of different species in the animal kingdom recognizing their offspring based upon smell.

It never worked that way for me. Both of my sons smelled like Desitin or Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo most of the time. I recognized those smells distinctly, but unfortunately since so many other mothers had my same shopping habits, I could easily have mistaken their kids for mine based solely on the sniff test.

My lack of that basic maternal instinct or intuition or sixth sense or whatever left me insecure much of the time. When my oldest son was about 2-and-a-half, I brought him to a birthday party. It was chaotic and overcrowded with children everywhere, spilling into the hallway of the Manhattan apartment building in which it was being held. I tried to make polite conversation with the other parents, but I spent most of the party distracted. I was forever on the lookout for my son. The one I couldn’t find by smell or recognize by cry.

After about an hour or so, my anxiety overtook me and I decided it was time to go home but I couldn’t find my progeny. I panicked quickly as I scanned each room asking random parents if they had seen my son. One overly calm father of three who was nursing his 4th or 5th beer responded to my hysteria with, “Hey, just pick another kid. How about a girl?”

So my maternal intuition has never kicked in and I am no longer expecting it to. Perhaps I will develop it as a grandmother.