If we are to mother instinctually, there are lessons we can learn from instinctual beings caring for their young.
Recently our family has started fostering dogs and cats for our local Humane Society. We provide shelter and care for these animals and the organization provides food, medical attention, and supplies for them until they are adopted out to their "forever homes". Two weeks ago we were asked if we would like to care for a Mama Cat and her four 2-week-old babies. We agreed with squeals of "awwww!" from our boys, and okay...my husband and me, too.
Over the past two weeks, we have observed, held, and got to know our little feline family. During this time, I have felt like a postpartum doula by helping keep Mama Cat's area clean and tidy, providing cool drinks and healthy meals, limiting the amount of visitors, and giving her a break every now and then by playing with the kittens while she gets a few moments to go to the bathroom in relative peace. (Yes, even in the feline world a mother cannot pee alone. "Mew! Mew! Mew!" at the door of the litter box THE.ENTIRE.TIME! I could relate too well...)
Not only could I relate to her lack of privacy in the restroom, but by observing this amazing mother in action, I found myself relating to more and more of how she was tending to her babies. I found lessons in her calmness, her watchful eyes, and her balance of meeting her needs along with the needs of her children. If we are to mother instinctually, there are lessons we can learn from this instinctual being caring for her young the way nature intended.
Below are five lessons I have learned from Mama Cat that can be helpful for new mothers looking to intentionally nurture and nourish their babies from that instinctual place.
As I got to know Mama Cat over the first few days, I began to notice a look of relief when I opened the door to greet her. After cleaning her area and providing her with fresh food and water, she normally meowed, got up from where she was, then headed right to food, water, and/or the litter box while I held the kittens. Could she have ate, drank, and did her business without me there? Sure, of course! However, the importance of accepting help during that postpartum time so that you can meet your own basic needs, not have to worry about keeping the house clean or cooking food, and devote your time and energy into recovering and bonding with your baby can make a world of difference!
Baby's gotta eat when baby's gotta eat!
No matter where she is, what she is doing, or who is around, Mama Cat drops down and lays down on her side to let her four nurslings get a snack when they come pawing up at her. No resentment, no worry about us watching, no schedule...she just nurses calmly on demand. Too many pressures are put on both baby and new mothers to "get their babies on a schedule". When in reality, nursing on demand (in public or private, with or without a cover, morning, noon, or night) is the healthiest thing for both the baby and the mother's recovery, bonding, and growth.
Trust Your Instincts
When our dog was introduced to the little feline family, Mama Cat kept her babies closer to her the rest of the day. When they ventured out from the laundry room where they are housed, she would come meowing at them and pull them back in by the scruff of their neck. At one point she had relocated them behind the washer until she felt she could trust us to know when to let the dog in and out of our house and keep her babies safe.
There will be times when something in your gut tells you to not have your baby around certain people, be it doctors, child care, or family members. Trust your instincts and keep your baby close if that is what is in your heart. No amount of hurt feelings is worth overriding your instincts as a new mother. They are there for a reason, even if we don't understand at the time what that reason might be.
Children will be loud and active...there is no need to make a big fuss over it.
As the little kittens grow, their need for wrestling, batting at one another, and biting anything that moves in front of their face increases. Mama Cat just takes it in stride as she eats her food with four kittens lunging at her face, tail, and each other. There's no time-out. No shaming or telling them to be still or quiet. They are just doing what kittens do and she's cool with that.
It is good to understand from Day One that babies cry. They cry to communicate needs...not to manipulate or to make your life miserable. They also soon squeal. Loudly. For the pure enjoyment of it or just to hear their own voice sometimes. The earlier we as mothers can understand that, the more we can meet their needs by planning where and when we take them places that loud communication might not be looked highly upon, or the more we roll with it when they choose to communicate in those places. They are just doing what babies do...no need to be upset about it.
Also, as our children grow, the more that we can understand our children's needs for movement, rough housing, and active play, the easier it is to provide outlets for them to meet those needs without it being a big deal. We were at my husband's 84 year old grandmothers house yesterday and she had a treadmill. The ONLY way that everyone had a pleasant visit for the three hours we were there was because they could go and walk on the treadmill for awhile, then rejoin the calm adults in the small living room with many breakable things down low. If she didn't have a treadmill, we would either not stay as long or taken them out to play in the rain. Children will be rowdy...it is normal, developmentally appropriate, and healthy! No need to make a big fuss over it.
Make Time for Self Care
Although Mama Cat nurses on demand, takes paws to the face while she tries to get a drink, and has four kittens in her sight at all times, she knows she needs love too. When I open the door to great them, she is the first one out to come up to me for a pet. She needs connection and to be cared for and she's not afraid to ask for it. She also rests when she is tired. She isn't up tidying up her litter box, she sleeps when the babies sleep. Which is often.
Too many times in our society we try to be independent or self-reliant, feeling too vulnerable and afraid to let people know when we need help. This is not only as new mothers, but for most people in general! As mothers, we often put ourselves last in the hierachy of family needs, when in fact filling our cup first would be the most effective way of maintaining a healthy, happy, functioning household. By making time for self care, you are giving back to your family tenfold.
Amber Sparks is a Postpartum Mommy/Baby and Family Yoga Teacher and Mama to two boys, ages 4 and 6. She and her boys tend to her foster pets, along with a dog, bunny, crested gecko, and an assortment of fish that call her house home. She blogs at Heart Wanderings.