I didn’t leave my firstborn with a sitter until she was 5 months old. Enviro-spouse and I left her with a neighbor, who was an actual nanny, to go out to dinner for two hours. It was the worst dinner of my life. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to drink. Most of all, I didn’t want to talk to E-spouse unless it was about the baby.
I called the sitter three times (and this was before the advent of universal cell phones). The third time, I heard my baby crying in the background. I insisted that we rush home. Immediately. On the way, I scolded E-spouse for driving us all the way to Tunnel Road—a full eight-minute drive from our home.
The maternal “take care of baby” instinct (or hormone or drug, whatever it is) is one strong motivator. Forget adrenaline: Mamaline — as I’ve christened it — puts adrenaline to shame.
In the process of birthing my first baby (or in this instance, having her cut out of me), I changed from a laid-back, nonmaternal, seemingly normal person to a rabidly protective, foaming-at-the-mouth crazy woman who couldn’t bear to be more than six inches from her baby.
From a survival standpoint, this maternal instinct makes sense. Because of our disproportionately large heads, we humans are born much earlier in the development process than most other animals. Thus, human babies need more care for much longer than say, lizards, which can catch their own dinners within minutes of popping out of their eggs.
My excess production of mamaline lasted about nine months, at which point the sheer exhaustion of constant vigilance, breastfeeding, sleep deprivation and multiple loads of laundry combined to make me so cranky that even the cat ran away when he saw me coming.
Slowly, I came to realize that the baby could survive for a few hours here and there without me. I also recognized if I didn’t start taking care of myself, my marriage and most of my friendships might not survive my baby-induced surge of mamaline.
I felt a similar maternal fierceness with the birth of my second child, but I mellowed more quickly, mostly because I couldn’t focus solely on him. I had a 3-year-old demanding some of my time and attention.
Part of the mellow with the second also came from understanding that though babies do need a lot of care, they’re tougher than they look. I recognized that I’d be a better parent if I got some sleep and didn’t spend the night getting up every 15 minutes to see if the baby was still breathing. I’d also be a better spouse, friend and person to talk to in the checkout line at Ingles.
As my kids have gotten older, my mamaline levels have stabilized. I’ve learned that I can’t hover over my kidlings every second of the day and night. In fact, most days I’m no longer with them for several hours. Of course, I still spend too much time imagining all the worst-case scenarios that could befall them (which, I think, is just part and parcel of parenthood).
Sometimes, I miss those early days of high-octane mamaline. But no one else does.
Anne Fitten Glenn is a freelance writer based in Asheville. She covers a number of topics (including parenting) on her blog, www.EdgyMama.com.