By. Melody Gee
That’s where the truth lies, right down here in the gut. Do you know you have more nerve endings in your gut than you have in your head? You can look it up. Now, I know some of you are going to say, “I did look it up, and that’s not true.” That’s ‘cause you looked it up in a book. Next time, look it up in your gut. I did. My gut tells me that’s how our nervous system works. -Stephen Colbert, White House Correspondents’ Dinner, 2006
Of course, Stephen Colbert’s logic doesn’t work with facts, but it’s become an incredibly useful mantra for me as a new parent. My daughter just turned 4 months old. I prepared for her arrival by reading lots of books about pregnancy, birth, infant care, and even stuff about the toddler years, just for good measure. What I should have spent more time figuring out was how to look stuff up in my gut.
So I read all these books looking for what’s “normal” about sleep, feeding, illnesses, development—you name it. Because I was nervous and eager to learn how to be a good mom, I read everything about what to expect with an infant. Turns out that I read too much about what’s “normal” and so everything my daughter did ended up seeming weird.
She never seemed to fall within any average.
She was never “on time” with her development or her sleep or her milestones.
Looking back, of course, I realize I had a perfect baby with an easy disposition that I should have enjoyed more. But at the time, in my haze of fear, anxiety, sleep deprivation, irrational spousal aggravation, and newly shredded self-esteem, I was convinced that my daughter was off the mark, and that it was, of course, my fault. Deep down, I think I knew she was OK, but I let my head convince me otherwise.
Head v. Gut
When I got pregnant, everyone told me I would feel so in tune with my body, that I would be awash in maternal instincts, that all I had to do was listen to my body and it would know what to do. It sounded so easy that I was confused and beyond frustrated when I couldn’t. Then I realized that women are taught their entire lives not to listen to their bodies, or their inner voice. The lessons are everywhere. Don’t eat, even though you’re hungry. Keep working, even though you’re exhausted. Don’t speak up, even though you’re angry. Don’t tell the truth, because it your feelings aren’t as important as someone else’s. It’s a wonder that by the time we’re adults, we’re left with any gut feelings at all.
But, I’m a woman who’s learning to trust her gut.
Our doctor told us that babies don’t start teething until 6 months. At 4 months, however, B started drooling incessantly, biting everything, fussing, and waking 4 times a night. “I know it’s too early for this, but let’s just see,” I said as I grabbed a teething ring in Target. She chomped away happily, and offering it during a fuss calmed her down. She was teething, and I knew it!
Other than teething, another gut testing challenge of ours is sleep. She naps for maybe 30 minutes at a time and seems tired all the time. To help matters, we’re trying a routine, and it seems to be working. I don’t know precisely why, but it is…working.
Back when I was 7 months pregnant, I met a woman who, in talking about her motherhood challenges, said this: “When I finally decided that I would just look at my kid to figure out what she needed, I discovered that I did know what to do after all.”
I didn’t realize then how much her words would stick, and how right she was. Over the past few months, I’ve looked at B more, listened to her more. And, as a result, my instincts are getting better.
Of course, they still get challenged all the time by experts and other parents, but mostly by my own insecurities. Nothing like motherhood fills me with such intense contradictions of thought and feeling. Nothing else in the world makes me feel so powerful and so helpless at the same time. I have much to learn about my daughter’s coming months and years. I’ll certainly be checking with books and experts to guide us through. I’ll remember to check with myself too.