Every time Jack has even a low grade temperature, I go into panic mode. As a nurse, I know that fevers are actually a good thing. They are your body’s way of getting rid of foreigners that are trying to take over. By increasing the body’s temperature, organisms that don’t belong are (in a nutshell) heated to death. The nurse part of me says, “Becca? What’s your frickin problem? He’s fine. Take a chill pill and go to bed.”, but the mother part of me says “No. Way. We CANNOT rest until the tiny human is back to normal. It is your JOB. It is YOUR fault if his temperature increases to 104 in his sleep.” The mother part always wins. Any other kid and I would give them some Tylenol and check on them in the morning, but Jack? Jack is MY kid, and the only way to get any sleep is to sleep in his room and listen to him breathing.
Rick said to me today as I was getting Jack up for the 3rd time since putting him to bed last night, “Do you think we are making him sick by being too worried that he is sick?” By “we” he totes meant “me”, but he has a good point. If I hadn’t been so worried about him, I would have slept in my own bedroom and not responded immediately to every little cry he made. He probably would have gone back to sleep on his own and been totally fine, but what if? What if I hadn’t been there at 3 AM to check his temperature of 101.3 and give him Ibuprofen and what if I had waited until 6AM and it had reached 104? I know I sound like a crazy lady as I type this, but I seriously cannot help it. I’m not usually insanely paranoid. This must be mother’s instinct, right? Rick loves our baby. He would never want our boy to be sick or feel bad. He and Jack are two peas in a pod, so why can he sleep all night? Why doesn’t he freak out every time Jack has a runny nose? Is it some sort of evolutionary development that forces mothers to ensure their babies’ good health? Is it hormonal? I had to do what I always do when I feel crazy. Research and justify. I’m not crazy. I’m just a post-partum primate.
I don’t want to get too scientific here. After all, this is supposed to be entertaining, but I found a few interesting studies that made me feel better about my irrational episodes of mommy panic. In an article called “Mapping Maternal Instinct”, Cynthia Epps confirms my assumptions. HORMONES. It’s fun to blame our mood swings and hunger cravings on hormones, but guess what? They’re like. Real. And they like….do things, and there are a few that women have in much higher quantities than men. A couple little ‘mones called prolactin and oxytocin. They live (where many other hormones also live) in your pituitary gland. In laboratory studies, rats who had their pituitary glands hindered would completely ignore their litters. When the gland was restored, the rats suddenly began nurturing their pups. In case you didn’t know, we aren’t rats, so we would probably do the right thing and take care of our babies even if our hormones weren’t exploding love juice all over the place. However, we might not have that deep emotional feeling that tells us to protect our babies like we are fighting off predators.
Prolactin is the hormone that stimulates milk production. It also acts as a endorphin, giving the mother a calm and euphoric sense of being. This makes so much sense considering how frickin’ painful breastfeeding can be at first. The feeling of tranquility and “motherness” is what makes a normal human being go, “Yes, little angry blob. Wrap your slimy little mouth all over my already chapped nips and get some nourishment. I’ll just be here….cringing. Wondering why God hates me.” Oxytocin is the reason that after the little munchkin latches and the milk flows, you suddenly feel sleepy and relaxed. While prolactin is the boss of breastfeeding, oxytocin seems to be working several jobs at once. When you breastfeed, oxytocin is released, but you don’t have to be breastfeeding to release oxytocin. Dr. Ruth A. Lawrence writes in her book, Breastfeeding, that oxytocin is released anytime the mother even thinks about her baby. When she smells him, feels him, sees him, or hears him, oxytocin rushes through her body producing what can only be described as the intense emotion of love.
Remember, these hormones are released from your pituitary gland. Well, guess what? A research study in 1997 by The Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London, found that in the third trimester of pregnancy, the pituitary gland doubles in size and remains that large for about 6 months, postpartum. Okay, so my baby is already a year and a few months old. My pituitary gland has gone back to it’s regular size. Why, then, am I still so obsessed with his every move? Why do I freak out when he doesn’t poop twice a day? WHY AM I WORRIED HIS BEDROOM IS TOO HOT AND HE’S SWEATING HIMSELF INTO SEVERE DEHYDRATION?!?! And why isn’t my husband?
Before I go into my spiel about moms versus dads, let me say this. My husband is a wonderful father. My dad is a wonderful father. I know lots and lots of great fathers who love their children very very very much. Got it? Good. Okay. Here it goes: Moms care differently for their kids than Dads. To the fellows reading this, I want you to think about something. When your baby cries because he’s hungry, do you instantly panic and shove a snack in his mouth while you make him something nutritious to eat to fuel his tiny little angel body because you can’t handle the thought of his hunger? Okay. Now, when you smell poop, do you immediately HAVE to change his diaper because you worry that he is uncomfortable and could immediately develop a painful diaper rash? What about when he wakes up in the morning and cries for you to get him? Do you feel the need to rush in as quickly as possible so that he doesn’t feel like you’ve betrayed and abandoned him? If you answered “Yes” to these questions, and you are a man, then I take it back. Just for you. Although, I don’t think you are the norm. I’m not saying that men don’t love their children. I’m definitely not saying men don’t want their children to be fed and clean and happy. I just don’t think most of them have the physical and emotional feelings at the same level as their female counterparts, and I actually think this is a good thing. I think this is how is is supposed to be. I need my husband to say, “Hey! Psycho! Our kid is FINE!” every once in a while. Yin needs a yang. (You my yang, boo)
A study was done in Italy on brainwaves in men and women when hearing a hungry baby cry. For about 10 minutes, they listened to white noise when BAM! A nice loud hungry cry from an infant comes on. Women, whether they had a child or not, experienced major changes in brain patterns immediately, while men, had no changes. Isn’t that insane? While men had no reaction to a stranger’s baby, it has been shown that men develop new neural connections when they have their own baby. Men also experience hormonal changes post-partum. Most men experience decreased testosterone levels when they have a baby and also have increases in oxytocin and prolactin (although not as high as women). While prolactin in women is primarily used for milk production, the purpose for it in men is unknown, but it is speculated that one reason is bonding. It makes sense. From an evolutionary standpoint, women are the ones who must be around to nourish their babies. Men, while not necessary for daily care had to have felt some sort of connection in order to keep them around. I’ve even read that newborn babies look more like their fathers for the first few weeks in order to promote father/baby bonding. Although, I’ve also read that that theory was not proven. It might be that mothers just say their babies look like their fathers to encourage bonding.
I totally believe in gender equality and all that, but it really does seem that child-rearing is hardwired into women’s biological make up to a greater extent than men’s. Hormones might be the guys who get the ball rolling, but there is a point when their work is done. They are always present, but levels go back to normal after the infant stage is over. Hormones can literally rewire the brain, creating new neural pathways and at times even thickening gray matter. This is one reason meditation has gotten such a good rap in the medical community. Studies have shown that meditating releases dopamine, seratonin, oxytocin, and other happy hormones. If done regularly, these hormones can literally rewire the brain and make the person happier with life in general. They are also responsible for rewiring both mothers’ and fathers’ brains. The power of hormones is so astounding. People like to make fun of them as if they aren’t real. Without them, we wouldn’t get pregnant, maintain a pregnancy, or even care about our infant. They can make us happy, sad, and all emotions in between.
So, lady, when you feel like you’re going to lose it when your child has a fever, and your husband politely reminds you that you are acting like a crazy person, remember this: You are a crazy person…and that’s perfectly normal.