Sacred Feminine &
Sacred Masculine

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Maternal Instinct
By WhiteCrow

I realized today that there isn't a post specifically for Maternal Instinct in the Sacred Feminine. It seems so obvious we all overlooked it in our discussions? Cinn suggested a question, to get the topic rolling along: " Can you share an experience where maternal instinct came into play and what happened as a result?" I think it's a good place to start.

This is very "every day," but I've been thinking about that moment for a week now. I didn't see it as maternal instinct, but it was. Last weekend the family went skiing. My oldest daughter is 12. She is very petite and whisper thin. She and I were skiing down an intermediate run. She is a strong skier so this run was easy for her. I stood on top of the slope watching her form as she skied down the hill. She was doing fine so I started to ski down. I wasn't watching her anymore and when I looked up I realized that I just missed one big collision - I could sense it; as a skier you just know those things.

The down skier was my daughter. There was a tall man standing next to her uphill from her and a larger man sitting downhill kneeling with a snowboard still attached to his boots. I skied to my daughter and placed myself between her and the snowboarder. I asked myself why I did that instinctually as I sized up the situation, and it was clear that was the best position to put myself between these people as the snowboarder collided with her and the man standing uphill to her was protecting her and lecturing the snowboarder about how he was out of control. When I stopped, the man was reading the snowboarder the riot act - and I was glad he did.

My daughter took a very painful fall, her skies were uphill 15 feet from her, and she was stunned and very scared. The snowboarder, much to my chagrin was in his 30s - he knows better than that! He said nothing. He was mute. He just took the verbal chastising from the man. I commented that I didn't see what happened, and asked what happened. The man didn't say anything (yes, the 30 year old snowboarder was a man too, but I struggle to call him a man because he was so immature and selfish - the standard of today, I'm afraid). The boarder then sounded off as if one in authority and said "right here, you're looking at someone who saw it all" as if mister smartypants finally had a platform on which to speak in his defense. I didn't give him the chance, and without missing a beat, I said to the snowboarder, "oh, so you saw her coming down the hill and intentionally hit her?" I was stinging and unapologetic. I felt all my mother power harnessing within me.

However, once that came out of my mouth I thought perhaps I shouldn't have said that. But, I didn't take it back. Needless to say the snowboarder was utterly speechless. Instead, I realized this was a teaching moment for my daughter, the snowboarder and myself too. I paused, assessed my daughter and then turned to the snowboarder and said, "The least you could do is apologize." The result? The snowboarder was stumbling all over himself and his words, apologizing in full sentence after full sentence and into a full paragraph, specifically identifying what he did wrong, that he should have been in control, that he should have given my daughter more space (she had the right-of-way), and that he was going too fast. I asked my daughter if she heard that; she did. I thanked him. Well, he kept on apologizing.

My daughter pulled herself together well and her courage came back. The snowboarder? Well, I hope he slowed down and tried to keep himself in control before he really took someone out and injured their spine, and hopefully he learned a little bit more about interacting with people respectfully (but who knows about that part).

I've been thinking about this for a few days. Right off the bat, I really wasn't sure there was such a thing as maternal instinct for us humans. I'm still not totally sure. If you define instinct scientifically every human female has to have that instinct...I'm not sure that's so. But, then again, allowing for genetic, psychological and hormonal anomalies and cultural influence, it may be so, but buried or skewed in some.

But then....I remembered when my daughter got hit by a car. She was 9 or 10 at the time. I was working out at my friend's exercise shop and my daughter and my friend's daughter, who themselves were (and still are) best friends took off across the street to get sodas and snacks at a gas station there. They no sooner stepped out the door and there was a downpour. One of those that pummel you almost to the ground. They were almost across the street, having checked both ways, of course, when a car came around the corner and didn't see them. My daughter's friend had made it across, but the car winged Sar. I hadn't seen this as I was working out, so when Sar's friend came running into the shop yelling "Sarah's been hit by a car!" I leapt off the Nautilus machine I was on and ran out the door in my stocking feet. The seconds it took me to get to her side were the longest in my life.

People were gathering around her as she lay on the ground, but I pushed my way through and hovered over her checking her out. It poured. She was confused and wanted to get up, but I wouldn't let her. I hovered, protecting her from people and the rain as best I could, calming and soothing. Someone had called 911 and we heard the ambulance pulling up. I remained so glued to her. I can't tell you... She was extremely lucky to come away with bruises and a slight concussion.

Before we took her home from hospital I made a real pest of myself asking the doctors and nurses if they were absolutely sure she was okay. I was normally calm and very intentional dealing with medical professionals. But I was not my usual rational self. I had to know and be sure she was reeeally okay.

But that instant...that moment that I heard that she had been hit by a car....it was like a switch went on inside me someplace. I did and said things that I know I normally would not have. I was super-protection-mama and you'd better take care of my baby right if you know what's best for you! Trumpeter Swan protecting her precious one. So. I don't know.

When my oldest was a tiny newborn, about ten days old, I went for my first journey outside since the birth. A short stroll, around the corner to the mailbox, and to the corner store for a little snack. Just to get out, to get some movement after being fogged in (emotionally, physically, meteorologically) for 10 days. The baby was sound asleep in the bedroom, my mother was in the house, and she was vacuum cleaning in the living room.

While I was out, the baby apparently woke up and started waking and whimpering, but my mother didn't hear it over the sound of the vacuum cleaner. But her breasts felt as though they were filling with milk (a 'let-down' sensation, common to nursing mothers, triggered by the release of oxytocin). When that happened, she knew the baby had woken up. She switched off the vacuum cleaner, and sure enough, the baby was awake. Not crying loudly, but that quiet whimper sound that babies make when they start to wonder where everyone is.

It is quite common in war and disaster areas that women start lactating even though they don't have a nursing baby, if they are in an environment where there is a young child. My family, who lived in an occupied country during WWII has plenty of experience with that; aunts (childless ones too) who started lactating when food was very scarce during harsh winters.

Many women also have let-downs when a non-familiar baby cries in a public space. Many women, even if they don't have let-downs, also state they have a strong urge to take the baby and hold/touch it when it cries or otherwise indicates distress. Even if the mother is right there and responding with milk or touch.

Maternal instinct can be an extremely visceral reaction, even to women who don't have children (women who haven't physically birthed a child or experienced pregnancy). I also don't believe that maternal instinct is stronger for a mother's own child - but instead that maternal instinct is the instinct a woman has for children, whether they are her own or not.

I had one experience stand out in particular. When my son was about 8 weeks old, from one moment to the next he started to scream. In a way I hadn't heard him scream ever before. Even though my mother was there, my husband was there... nobody was good enough for my baby. I needed to be with him, until he stopped screaming and the source of the screaming had been found.

26 hours later we found the source. He was allergic to the gel in diapers, and had blisters *inside* his rectum. Each strain on his rectum burned like crazy. But for those 26 hours, I didn't leave his side, I maintained physical contact with him at all time (that was a visceral need to touch him, not a belief or anything that I should hold/touch him), my body didn't need to eliminate and I didn't sense any hunger or thirst. Thankfully I had my mother to have the maternal instinct to ensure that my body was cared for while I cared for my own child.

Mouse ~I'd forgotten about that let-down reaction. I haven't been around babies much in many, many years. But I remember having that reaction once when I was working at a children's bookstore and there was a tiny infant in the store bawling like crazy. Its mother plopped everything down on the floor in an aisle in the middle of Legos, Brio and magic kits to nurse it. Yup. Visceral is the word and my body reacted immediately. And definitely touch, yes. I can still feel little arms around my neck and cheeks against mine from time to time and the feeling I get is centered deep within me. Oh, and smell can be a great stimulus. How many people have you heard go on about how good a baby smells? This definitely works for men, too. Something about that baby pheromone stimulates us to protection. Sun-warmed child does it for me, too.

I think I agree mostly with Mouse, except for one reservation - you cannot expect a girl to feel like a mother, regardless of species. I had a friend who bred dogs. Her one little dog was the perfect mother. She'd even take in the pups and kittens from other females. A neighboring family had a young German shepherd who fell pregnant far too young, before her owners even realized she was old enough for "such things", being a rather dog-ignorant first time owners. Anyway... the shepherd was barely a teenager and her reaction to her pups was horror. She gave birth and ran. She would not go near the pups. The dog breeder's dog actually dug under the wall to get the puppies herself. She was already lactating and feeding them when they found her... with her HUGE foster babies. She was a little bitty Maltese. I've seen other animals react like that and all of them (one horse, another dog and a cat) were very young when they had their first babies. I wonder if there's a lesson there for our modern society dilemma of teen pregnancies?

Mouse, I really liked this because it echoed my own feelings and thoughts: “Maternal instinct can be an extremely visceral reaction, even to women who don't have children (women who haven't physically birthed a child or experienced pregnancy).” And: “WI also don't believe that maternal instinct is stronger for a mother's own child - but instead that maternal instinct is the instinct a woman has for children, whether they are her own or not.”

It's only very recently (last two months) that I've realized how excessively maternal I've been in my life. When I was in my 20s I did suspect I was a naturally maternal type, but when I voiced such thoughts to friends/family the reaction was either amusement or a certain outraged, "You? You're single - what would you know about maternal feelings?" So I found ways to excuse myself to myself. Mostly denial and blocking it. It's taken me another 20 years to take that all out of the locked box inside me to deal with. I relate very strongly to several of the stories told here, but the children involved weren't mine by birth. Looking back... most of the time my strong protective maternal reactions brought me more heartache and trouble than anything else.

I do remember the moment I locked it all up and buried it. When my cousin fell and had concussion I was the one who held her all the way to the hospital. I was the one she threw up over and who had to keep her awake. I was the one who helped the nurses get her cleaned up and into a bed... until they realized I wasn't her mom and turfed me out the ward because I wasn't "close family." That was the day I realized I needed to stop loving other people's kids. I was 28. I tried my best to squash it down, but I now realize it just oozed out in other ways. I tend to mother my own mother and I also tend to mother my friends. (It drives my mom and some friends crazy.. I'm working hard to stop doing it) I don't, thank goodness, mother my spouse, but then he has strong maternal instincts himself and tends to mother me!

Which leads me to Swan's last comment - yes, it works for men too. My husband goes weak around babies and small critters of any species. He's highly protective and also incredibly gentle. It's one of the things that drew me to him - how wonderful he is with kids of all species.

I love what has been written so far. Couple of things that ran through my mind. Not all animal mothers have maternal instincts, thus the number of adoptive parents in shelters and zoos... I'd have to look back through Jane Goodall's stuff to see if there weren't also examples in the wild. And...maternal instincts in my mind aren't just limited to children, although that is a universal draw. I find my maternal instincts being triggered by my parents now, as they become less like the parents I knew, and confused more and more often. I find that I'm looking out for them. And part of the maternal instinct isn't just about protection, it is also about letting go at the appropriate times... So I find I'm now dancing the dance in reverse. I think maternal can come out for anything we believe needs protection, care, mothering.

Wynn, Good point about mothering being an instinct that draws us to care for anyone of any age who needs mothering.

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