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First Time Mum - by Aimzster

A mother with no maternal instincts?

February 5th 2009 00:10
When other mothers urge me to trust my maternal instincts, I have to laugh. The kind of laugh you’d give if someone solemnly told you, hand over heart, that George W Bush was a terrific president.

You see, all my instincts, maternal or otherwise, ran away from my control freak of a mind ages ago. I thought they may merely be buried within the depths of my over-analytical mind and would re-surface once the bub came out, but nope. Ten weeks on and I’m still looking to my husband to tell me if bub is crying out of hunger or needs to fart. So when I’m told not to worry, from the community nurses to the fellow mothers on the parenting forums I’ve inundated with questions, because mothers know best, I mentally count the number of items I’d half-jokingly suggested to hubby to give bub up for adoption.

So what happens when a mother has no maternal instincts? She pores through books, scours the forums, tie up the phone line with calls to Karitane and Tresillian helplines and begs mothers in her mothers’ group to spend a whole day with her in the hope they may find the on/off button on her baby.

baby joshua

One testament to my lack of my maternal instincts was the dogged way I tried to follow the routine in Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book, lured in by the phrase, ‘babies thrive on routine’. On paper, it sounded simple enough. Wake baby up at 7am for a feed, keep awake for up to two hours, put to bed for an hour, wake for a feed at 10am, up for two hours, down for two hours, you get the drift. Ford assures that if mothers stick to her routines, the baby will also get the drift and you, too, can be a contented little mother. After two weeks of following the routine without much success, not only did my hair start falling out but bub developed an attitude problem. Once he picked up on my anxiety and frustration, he took on the stance very much like his father’s when he thinks I’m picking a fight with him for no reason – arms stiffly to the sides, bottom lip tucked under, head bent slightly forward, eyes looking at everywhere but me. When I complained to other mothers my failed attempt with Ford’s routines, they gently reminded me that bub isn’t one of those dolls that automatically close their eyes once you lay them down. Then they reminded me to trust my instincts. Its on the tip of my tongue that my instincts are telling me to flee as I sit in the darkened corner of his room, staring at the wriggling, swaddled bundle so small in the wooden cot, biting my lip anxiously as a series of brief nasal sighs inevitably heightens to a wail.

What frustrates me even more is the seemingly effortless way other mums seem to be handling their bubs. There’s one who cuddles her baby for a few minutes before putting her in her pram and the baby remains blissfully asleep while my bub is shaking and rattling his pram like an old train car, screaming his tiny lungs out that in the end, I’d have to pick him up, depriving me of a slice of the cake the same mum baked that morning.

Every week when we meet up for mothers’ group and I ask them how they are, I have the sadistic hope that one will say, “I’m exhausted. I didn’t sleep. Baby just wouldn’t stop crying”, but the answer was always, “Pretty good, actually.” I immediately hide my jealousy that they can all look so bright-eyed and alert while my possetted hair is in a messy bun and I’m sure there’s a piece of chocolate I’d wolfed down for breakfast clinging to the corner of my mouth.

Am I really the only one cursing and stumbling my way through the dark at four in the morning and through this early stage of motherhood?

The only times I come close to having a maternal instinct are the times when bub wakes up, sees me and his big brown eyes crinkle up and he lets out a pip-squeak of a laugh. Only then do I feel this overwhelming surge to laugh out loud and cuddle him close like a fragile teddy bear.

But if I have to have another person advise me to follow my maternal instincts…


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16 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by Cibbuano

February 5th 2009 01:54
I guess there's little you can do - everyone's child is different, set from birth?


Comment by Waysouth

February 5th 2009 02:45
It's ok. I remember reading one time (Garcia Marquez perhaps? something in Spanish) about a mother who was grateful when she realized that maternal love was not instinctive, it is a love that comes about during the companionship of raising them.

Comment by Tania Crivellenti

February 5th 2009 03:17
My instinccts are probably worse than yours as I didn't even get a child until now but honestly, you sound so normal and reasonable to me! Its like people creating definitions for modern art, you believe it if you want. I think most of the mums are not sure if the kid wants to fart or something, but who cares! They will say it guided by a mixture of general impressions, guessing, reasoning and yes, instinct, but in the end if it's wrong they will just say: oh! this time it was poo not fart... and everyone will still think she knows it all. You sound so inteligent to me that I'm sure in no time you will get them, the other mums, thinking that you got it about this instinct thing and they will come to you for help!

Comment by katyzzz

February 5th 2009 03:18
Don't compete, just cuddle, feed, love, stroke, eat the cake, invite grandmas to visit, listen, you can be selectively deaf, do the washing etc when dad gets home to watch bub, the second one will be easier.

Keep him clean, he'll do all the elimination processes himself and love every minute of it, just think it won't be long before he'll be playing with it.

Have some time out for mum, forget the housework, praise the abilities of others that way they'll let you alone.

Soldier on, babyhood doesn't last for ever. And sleep whenever you can, be it morning noon or night, whenever bub will let you.

Leave Mrs. Perfect to get on and do her own thing, praise her skills and she might even give you a piece of cake to take home. which you can gobble down when no-one is looking.

Comment by Sara Dobson

February 5th 2009 04:45
Hi Aimster,

Forget mothers instinct. It only goes so far as making you love and want to do the best by your little bub. (By the way is that your bub pictured? - Cute!).
Forget the books, all babies are different, try out things some may work others won't.

I had no idea what to do with a baby, but because mine was born nine weeks early and was in hospital for a few weeks They taught me everything in terms of feeding and caring for her. And sent me home with strict instructions.


Don't compare yourself to anyone else I used to think that the other women in mothers group looked great and I was the only one with black rings under my eyes, and a dirty tshirt I couldn't be bothered changing.

It is only after a year I realised them that 2 of them had post natal depression and just managed to hide it, and used to look around the group and feel guilty that they weren't as affectionate with their bubs as some of us. So every one is different. Never assume that everyone is coping better than you they all have their thing.

People go on about routines but I never had any, apart from feed play sleep. I looked out for the first sign of tiredness (that is text book)and put her to bed. I never woke her up, she got up when ready and I fed and played her. So sometimes she slept for 3 hours between feeds, some times 5 or 6. I think because I have been laid back so is she.

People who say a mother instinctively knows what her baby wants when it cries are wrong. One thing I would really reccomend though is looking at the dunstan Baby Language DVD. Unfortunately it is really expensive for 2 DVDs that are only 5 mins long and you only need to watch once, but they are helpful.

Check ebay I sold mine on there a few months ago there are quite a few copies and they will be in good condition because they would only have watched once.


The only times I come close to having a maternal instinct are the times when bub wakes up, sees me and his big brown eyes crinkle up and he lets out a pip-squeak of a laugh. Only then do I feel this overwhelming surge to laugh out loud and cuddle him close like a fragile teddy bear.

That is mothers instict. Good luck hang in there you are doing great. I didn't do house work for about 4 months, and there were certainly no cakes being baked in our house. Now go to bed for a couple of hours.


Comment by Aimzster

February 5th 2009 05:01
Cibb, I wish they'd come with a manual.

Waysouth, hey, that's a great way of putting it!

Tania, thanks for the vote of confidence. I'll remember that the next time I feel run-down and a failure.

Kat, that's what I keep telling myself, that he'll grow up so fast that I'm going to want those times when I was able to hold him close to me and he depended on me for everything.

Sara, I tried Dunstan's one but I found only the 'ow' one was similar to my bub's cry. You're right, I'll just have to go along with the flow and see where it takes me. I think, in the end, I need to relax. It's all about me having too high an expectation of myself and the bub. God knows how I'm going to turn out when he becomes a teenager. PS. Yup, that's him in the pic.

Comment by Janet Collins

February 5th 2009 07:28
I think all "how to" books that deal with human interaction including how to manage people (yes, adults) can often give advice that doesn't work with eveyone. Some things work with some people and some don't.

I suspect it's the same with babies!

Comment by Michelle Sweeney

February 5th 2009 07:50
I am not particularly maternal but somehow found I just muddled through. I just did what felt right, stayed away from books and television and somehow despite the odds, my now almost 4 year old is pretty well adjusted and normal.

Comment by Aimzster

February 5th 2009 09:02
Janet, Michelle, sometimes I regret having 'studied' up on what to do with newborns. There are so many contradicting advices that it confused me even more. I now realise the best approach is to listen to the baby. What galls me is that so many ppl offering advice have no kids of their own!

Comment by Janet Collins

February 5th 2009 10:05
Yeh! You only have to think how our mothers and grandmothers and all those before coped before there were these "How To" books on bringing up baby.

Throw the books out if they aren't working, I say!

Comment by Cheryl J

February 6th 2009 08:23
You sound exactly like every single first time mother I have ever met so don't worry at all! The mothers in the mothers' group are probably all covering up their own insecurities and wondering why everyone else is doing so well

Maternal instinct is pure bunk. I have no kids but I was a nanny and I had to teach my friend how to old her daughter, how to rock her, to pat her bottom to soothe her. all of the things they say 'come naturally'. They only come naturally if you've been around babies and she had never even held one for more than 5 minutes before.

All of my friends said they thought they would go insane in the first 3 months out of worry that they were doing everything wrong, sleep deprivation and the constant sound of crying. Hungry crying, wind crying, sleepy crying, I want cuddles crying. It takes time. You'll get there. You love your bub and that's all that matters.

One thing I have noticed though is my former 'control freak' friends have more problems than the 'go with the flow' ones. I'm sure the only reason is it's hard when you lose control when you are so used to having it. Relax, breathe, sleep whenever you can and try unconventional stuff. I know one that gets her baby off to sleep by vacuuming and the other by standing in front of the clothes dryer rocking the baby...she's done a lot of washing...maybe I should take mine over

You sound like a great, normal mum to me!


Comment by Dawn Ellis-Lopez

February 7th 2009 19:50
Here's a dirty little secret: I had the exact same problem when Lili was born. Even weeks after I brought her home, I found myself staring at her and trying to go through the list in my head: Is she hungry? thirsty? dirty diaper? cold? hot? frustrated? overstimulated? understimulated? tunny hurting? gassy? needing snuggles? needing to be left alone?

I was a wreck, especially when she decided that the night before an interview or especially long work day was THE night to wail and scream and fuss and want to be walked around the floor in the famous Mowgli In The Tree position (where the baby is laid tummy-down on the forearm and bounced gently with a palm in the stomach - great for gas and colic, sometimes).

The only reason kids don't come with instruction manuals is that they're all different, but I can say this:

The tides turned when I realized that I needed to make the conscious decision to fall in love with her. Most folks believe that this is an automatic thing, that "moment of magic" when the baby is born and some little light bulb goes "DING", but sometimes that's just not the case.

Give it a shot. Really concentrate on the meaning of "unconditional love" and on giving that to your bub. Let your heart reach out to him. Real-ize that loving is really a choice, and you can CHOOSE to fall in love with him.

I can't tell you why it works, but it does. I've dealt with a lot of women in your situation (as I said, myself included), and this works. There is no book or forum or advice that will "make your instincts work", but falling in love is a great first step to bridging the gap.

Comment by Damo

February 7th 2009 22:36
The first baby is the experiment.
They do not come with instruction manuals.

The most important thing you learn is how hard your worked to raise you.

Then you slowly build the skill set required to raise children.

Comment by Mrs M

February 11th 2009 02:06
Hi Aimzster,

My first piece of advice is to get rid of the Gina Ford book. Kids need routine but her very strict guidelines I think are ridiculous.

Ask your community nurse to give you a sheet (if she hasn't already) that shows how long generally babies can stay awake for. That's about the routine I followed with all three of mine. When they started to get tired, into bed they went.

Wrap the baby if you want to.

I didn't do controlled crying until my kids were all about 10 months. Until then I would usually cuddle them until they were pretty close to sleeping and then put them down.

I didn't really follow books I did use instinct. I think you have instinct, it is just being stifled by books.

The one book I thoroughly recommend is Robyn Barker's Baby Love. It's brillant.

Don't forget that sleep deprivation can exacerbate situations. It's hard in the beginning I know.

I'm usually suspicious of mother's groups to be honest and I never attended one. I see the merit in them, but for me a group of mothers isn't a source of comfort.

Just like everyone has a horror birth story. It's not hard to find horror mothers' group stories.

The only other thing I did routinely was hold my baby upright for about 10 mins after a feed (if awake of course) to relieve any reflux.

You're still writing and that's great

Love & stuff
Mrs M

Comment by Anonymous

January 16th 2010 06:03
no such thing as instant mothering instinct in my opinion.. not so sure it just kicks in after birth either.. if you were likely to have a kid in the first place wouldn't it require some instinct to want to?

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