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Maternal Instinct

Shows up when it needs to

By Barb DukemanPublished 3 months ago 4 min read
Maternal Instinct
Photo by Shahbaz Ali on Unsplash

Birth alone does not a mother make. Those maternal feelings of love aren’t instantly there as we’ve seen in the movies. Weepy moms after 2 minutes of movie labor (and spritzed with pure water sweat) hugging and crying on their perfectly clean newborn were all lies. I supposed if movies depicted true births, the human race would have died off by now. After twenty-two hours of labor with no epidural, my son was born; he was cleaned by the nurses, wrapped up, and set on my stomach. I remember looking at him thinking, “So. Hello, you.” And then I told the nurse to get him off me because my stomach hurt from relentless labor.

I’m not proud of that moment. That could have been the Stadol talking, I don’t know. I didn’t think I was that much of a troll at the time. I do remember later having quality time with him, nursing him for the first time, and putting his diaper on backwards because I had never changed a baby before. My husband did a much better job than I did. Swaddled and frowning, D would look up at me as if to say, “Mom. Really? BACKWARDS?” I was facing a steep learning curve.

The nursing staff made sure the car seat was installed correctly after the diapering fiasco I demonstrated. Yet they still entrusted us with a baby, and we had no idea what we were doing. It was surreal when we got home the next day. Sure, there were parenting books and advice columns everywhere we turned, but we had a real-live baby here, and there were no more nurse buttons to summon an expert when we needed one. We just had to let him teach us how to be parents.

We quickly learned to distinguish his cries: hunger, pain, I’m bored, hold me, change me, etc. Nothing ever out of the usual there. He developed interests in ceiling fans and dogs early in life; as he grew up, the dog realized food fell from the highchair, and often, too. It was almost symbiotic – D smiled at the dog, the dog looked cute as a button, D dropped some food, dog became insanely happy, and floor was clean. Win-win all the way.

We took pictures of his every moment, before cell phones, before social media, before it was easy. We had both disposable and C-110 film cameras to capture these stages. He was extremely photogenic, and we have several thousand grainy photos to prove it. I did everything I thought was expected of a good, loving mother. He had the right amount of appropriate toys, enough books to fill a library, and everything he could dream of. Not a sibling in sight yet and a loyal dog by his side at all times.

I felt something was still missing. Talking with other moms, I noticed I didn’t have the same amount of deep attachment, of abundant concern, an inkling of motherly love for him. Yes, D was my son, but I was somehow off. I talked with my doctor about this, and his diagnosis was post-natal depression. I had all the classic symptoms and was prescribed a pill. Maybe that would do the trick. Better living through pharmaceuticals.

My mom said that in time, something would “switch on” and I’d know. I had no idea what she was talking about – what switch? This wasn’t in the books I read. I was supposed to feel that maternal love the moment he entered this world, and I felt a bit let down. Again I must stress: he was well taken care of, and his every need was met.

Or at least I thought.

I took D to a McDonald’s PlayPlace one spring day. He had turned two a few months earlier, and chicken nuggets were his go-to favorite meal. The PlayPlace, a giant Habitrail for kids, gave me a moment to breathe and steal some of his fries. He’d run around the area, come back for a nuggie and a sip of water, and then ZOOM off he’d go again along with a cabal of laughing, screaming kids. Ball pit. Climbing stairs. A rope. Giant tick-tac-toe. Tubes.

Tubes where he would sometimes spark out of sight. He might peek out from a plastic window up above after he’d climbed up. Then back he’d crawl around and come back for another bite or two of lunch. After a few minutes, I heard him cry from within the tube.

Not a “hunger, pain, I’m bored, hold me, or change me” cry. One I hadn’t heard before. The switch…

…turned on. Another boy was taunting and pushing my son around in that tube. My Mama-bear rose up inside of me, hackles raised (if I’d had that much hair), and I was ready to tear this other kid apart. I normally don’t sprint anywhere, but I moved oh-so-fast up the side of the plastic playground to reclaim D and bring him back down. When I turned toward the older bully, my brain got scrambled. I cussed him out, yelled at him, pointed my finger at him as spittle went flying out of my mouth. #sorrynotsorry

Then the bully’s dad got involved. He started yelling at me as if his spawn were delightfully angelic. Once D was safely on the ground, happily munching on his tepid chicken, I had it out with the dad. He needed to know what a [jerk] his son was for picking on child half his size. Dad was twice my size, but I stared him up as my nostrils flared and my crazy eyes appeared. The crowd of other parents were dumbstruck.

Once the restaurant manager came out and settled the issue in front of the frightened families, we were both uninvited back. Small price to pay for realizing that I’d DIE for this little boy. The maternal love was always there, and it took just this one moment to figure it out.

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About the Creator

Barb Dukeman

After 32 years of teaching high school English, I've started writing again and loving every minute of it. I enjoy bringing ideas to life and the concept of leaving behind a legacy.

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Comments (2)

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  • Rachel Deeming3 months ago

    Great story, Barb. I agree that motherhood is not a Pampers' ad. It's hard being thrown into something so intense and expected to get on with it. And that dad should have been getting his son to apologise!

  • Babs Iverson3 months ago

    You stood your ground!!! Good for you! Loved your story!!!

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