Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mammal Wisdom

A basket sits in a safe corner of my kitchen, where a mama cat snuggles her three nurslings. She comes out for food, or for a quick wander outside. At night, she catches mice in our kitchen.

 Her babies never cry because they're hungry or lonely. She is always there, ready to nurse them before they cry out. She nuzzles them and keeps them clean and warm; they sleep in a cozy heap of safety and security.
 Her approach to parenting has made me reflective of my own days as a mother. With my firstborn, I just sat and held him; I'd prepare a snack, make sure my book was within reach, and would sit down to nurse him. He'd doze off peacefully in my arms, and I'd just hold him until he woke up. I'd do bits of housework when I could, but saw it as my job to nurture him.

Along came my second child. I had a non-verbal two-year-old on my hands as well, so she quickly found her thumb, and napped on her own. She often travelled in a sling or carrier, and was physically with me as much as possible, though not as much as her brother was.

My third was a different kettle of fish; you can read about it by clicking the Making Peace picture to the right.
I've been thinking of the 24-hour cure prescribed by my midwife when Margot wasn't gaining weight. For 24 hours, I snuggled in bed, skin-to-skin, with this new human, nuzzling her head, smelling her, kissing her, closely examining her little body. You see, with two other small children in the house, I'd barely had time to get to know my new child. This was a blessing and a revelation to me, to really savour her. She nursed and slept, I read and dozed, and was catered to by my loving family.

It seems to me that this is as it should be! My mother always warned me about getting out of my pyjamas after giving birth. She said that as soon as I started wearing real clothes again, everyone would expect that I was ready to resume all my normal duties: laundry, cooking, cleaning. As long as I stayed in my pjs, I was seen as someone who had just given birth, and encouraged to rest.

It seems a shame to me that women in our culture are back at the gym after five weeks, back to work after six weeks (at least in the US), boasting about how their child sleeps through the night at two months. A baby isn't SUPPOSED to sleep through the night at two months! Waking up to nurse every few hours reduces the chances of SIDS occurring, and allows more of that all-important snuggle and bonding time (whether the baby is breast- or bottle-fed).

It is a shame that new mothers receive swings, saucers, bouncy seats, and Bumbo chairs (all devised to set a baby down), instead of a beautiful sling that would allow her to be hands free AND give her baby what he really needs: her scent, her warmth, her heartbeat.

It seems to me we rush the whole process. It is fleeting and precious, and all we want to do is get out of bed and resume our normal lives.

We have a lifetime to be "normal". If I were to do it all again, I'd take a cue from this mama cat. I'd cuddle and purr, kiss my babies, snuggle in bed and rest all day if I felt like it.

I'd bask in the beauty of being a mammal, and would turn my human brain off for a bit: the brain that says I must get my pre-pregnancy body back, I must have a clean house, I must get dressed, I must train my baby to sleep on her own, I must sleep through the night therefore I must train my baby to sleep through the night.
It seems to me that this mama cat, without ever having read a parenting book, has got it all figured out.


  1. I love this post. You are sooooo right! And those are some adorable kittens. Humans rush to make their young independent, often at the expense of the psyche of the young. More mommies need to take a look at how other mammals do it!

  2. I think it's because the cat hasn't read a parenting book! She is blissfully unaware of the crap that is out there.

    Gorgeous kittens.

  3. How sad is it that Baby wearing is a lost "art"?
    Those are awfully pretty babies there.

  4. Stephanie, how I wish you were around to give me this wisdom when I was a new Mom and scared. All I ever heard from people was "you can put her down, you know." Almost like I was doing something wrong by holding her all the time. When she was 6 months, and she didn't like to be put down, people would tell me it was because I had held her too much. What is TOO MUCH when it comes to loving and nurturing our children? Will I die one day and say "well, at least I didn't hold my baby too much"....sigh. With my doula work, I only hope that I'm conveying a positive message to other Moms who may be confused and scared

  5. Oh, babies. It makes my uterus ache, even seeing babies of the feline variety. Holy cow kittens are cute.

    We rush mamas far too much. We should really stop doing that!

  6. Very insightful post -- although I did giggle at the first cat photo because I'm pretty sure I looked much like that nursing my boys in the wee hours: body taken over by a hungry babe, tired as can be, glazed over eyes, but oh so happy.

  7. kittens are just achingly cute.Really.
    I was blessed with a mother who nursed my three siblings and I into toddlerhood 45 years ago. It made a huge impression on me and how I mothered. I didn't keep much " materially" from my children's infancies just one sling I cannot part with.
    Professionally I work with pre/postnatal moms all day and I love seeing those who fall into marsupial parenting. Life just flows better!

  8. Ahhh,,, beautiful! Am going to share on facebook. What a lovely reminder to keep things 'animal' xx

  9. In the earliest days of parenthood, my path took me further and further from the way I was raised and the way that all those surrounding me thought my daughter should be raised. I began to support myself by saying, "If it doesn't feel right, it probably isn't." It's by ignoring our instincts that we end up far from where we should be. What we should be ignoring is other people's misguided views, invariably expressed as concern for mother or child.

  10. You said it! It took me three children to finally say, "If my gut is telling me it's not right, it isn't"...and I've never been wrong. We tune out of our instincts at an early age; I always teach my own kids to listen to that little feeling/voice inside it instinct, intuition, God, conscience...whatever you call it, trust it!

  11. Your banner is sweet too! :)
    Kittens are adorable and your words are full of wisdom.

  12. I love the photo of Mama Cat cuddling her babies! It's so true, everything that seems "normal" with our babies in these modern days seems so very unnatural when it comes to the nature of infancy. I got a crib, bouncy chairs and infant seats for my firstborn from well-meaning family and friends, and they were fine apparatuses to store all my unwashed laundry in as I held my sweet one to my heart in a sling.


  13. That's such a beautiful post -- I want to be more like your cat.

  14. Those little kitchens are beyond cute. My told me a story of how their cats mother died and their dog thought that the kitchens were her babies. That being said the dog raised these kitchens.

    -Zane of ontario honey


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