Got milk

So I was reading this really funny and insightful post on Notesoncrazy.com about trying to get milk from the hardware store. Where milk was supposed to be maternal care and nurturing and how you shouldn’t expect your mother to give you milk when she’s not a grocery store. Or something like that. It was insightful. I’m doing a really bad job at explaining this.

© Nicholas Watts - Fotolia.com

© Nicholas Watts – Fotolia.com

Anyway. I started to write a comment, thinking of making a joke about how I never liked milk anyway and maybe that would explain why I never go looking for milk. Or maybe why I don’t have any maternal feelings. I’ve always said I don’t have maternal feelings. I like taking care of people though. But no maternal feelings.

And then I suddenly got hit by lightning.

Well no, not literally. Just this bright flash of really painful light *inside my brain*. Thoughts connecting. Sparks flying. Maybe some short circuiting going on. It felt painful. It still does while I’m typing this, but for a different reason.

You see, other women always told me that at a certain age, I’d get over my disinterest in babies and suddenly I’d feel those maternal urges welling up. (Or like the men said, my ovaries would start rattling). And then I would be able to think of nothing else and end up having children and love them to bits. Happens to all of us, apparently. And I would be deliriously happy even though it would be the complete opposite of how I felt about babies now.

I turned 30 and those feelings didn’t happen. I turned 33 and thought I wanted to have babies with someone, but it seemed more like a feeling of sexuality and horniness, not maternal anything. And the guy turned out to be a jerk so that was a narrow escape. And then I turned 36 and I sort of felt like maybe I do want children? Because it’s kind of sad that maybe I will no longer be able to in a few years time. But not an urge or anything. I held my little nephew and even though he was the cutest baby I’d ever seen, it didn’t awaken any feelings in me. So I was right, I simply don’t have that maternal instinct. I don’t think puppies are all that cute either. Kitten are extremely cute, but just as cute to look at as adult cats. See? No maternal urges.

I even said of myself I must have faulty brain wiring for not going gooey over babies. Because that’s supposed to be biologically hardwired. Big eyes and big mouth = need to nurture. So I must be faulty.

I made jokes about having a faulty brain.

© MAK - Fotolia.com

© MAK – Fotolia.com

All that based on what other people were telling me I was supposed to be feeling.

And I never considered that maybe I feel things differently from others. Even when I started figuring out that maybe I’m autistic, I still didn’t think that this might mean I simply feel things differently from others. That it doesn’t mean I don’t have emotions. But that how others describe those emotions simply isn’t related to how I feel them.

Until I started making a joke about how I don’t like milk.

The thing is. I think I do have maternal feelings. They just feel different from what I’ve always been told they should feel like.

I want to keep a child safe inside me. I want to know what it feels like to be pregnant and grow and learn new things about my body. I want to feel a child’s first kick. I want to feel the pain of contractions.

I want to keep a child warm and safe and sheltered during those first confusing days and weeks in the big world outside, all the bright lights and loud sharp noises unfiltered and all coming at them at once. I know what that feels like. I want to help them learn how to cope with that.

© annems - Fotolia.com

© annems – Fotolia.com

I want to feed a child and learn what is yummy and what is yucky all over again. I want to see their personality develop in their likes and dislikes. I want to see if they like soft blankets and dancing in puddles as much as me. Or maybe they will like something else and I will discover that joy through them.

I want to support a child and teach them that it’s ok to be curious and enthousiastic and passionate. I will help them understand things without shaming them for not knowing things right away. We all have to learn new things. I want to learn new things as well through teaching and supporting a child in their journey of discovery. I want them to teach me as well.

I want to care and give love. Even if that love isn’t expressed the way some people say love ought to be expressed. I know my parents love me, even though they sometimes expressed it in odd ways. I’m sure a child will know I love them too. Just as much as I love kittens.

I have no idea what to call this feeling.

But I know how to describe the feeling that I’ve always believed myself to be cold and uncaring and not maternal, because I trusted that others knew more about emotions than me.

That feeling is sort of anger and grief mixed up. I think.

And too many tears to count.

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28 thoughts on “Got milk

  1. I think that there is a very stereotypical idea of what motherhood and mothering feelings are supposed to be. Personally, I’ve never experienced those feelings very strongly in spite of being a mother for 26 years now. Maybe that’s because I’m autistic. Maybe it’s because I didn’t plan to become a mother (at least not as early as it happened). Maybe it’s just how I am.

    Your motherly feelings are interesting to read because I feel they’re actually closer to the traditional expected feelings than mine are. My daughter and I have always been friends. She’s been a companion, even when she was little, which might sound odd. The closest thing to “real” mothering feelings I have is a very strong sense of protectiveness. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to keep her safe or protect her. I am literally a mother lion when it comes to anyone hurting her. But beyond that, I’ve been a really nontraditional mother and she still turned out pretty good.

    I think you would make an excellent mom if that opportunity comes. 🙂

    • Thank you. I have a very strong nurturing and teaching side, which I use a lot in my work and in relationships. I feel the same way about having children. I would feel the same way about a stepchild or an adopted child, but then I’d miss that knowledge of what it’s like to be pregnant which absolutely fascinates me. So I guess that all combines into maternal feelings. But it doesn’t feel like an urge or a need or something fluffy and warm. Not at all like I’ve been told it would feel like. Especially since I am far more fascinated by the concept of emerging individuality than I am about having something that’s “mine”. I never quite understood that bit.

      Thank you also for your last remark. I think I would be a good mother if I had a good partner to stabilise me and to mitigate some of my perfectionism. As a single mum, I don’t think it would be a good idea. My own mother agrees with that assessment. I’m just too obsessive.

      It just hurts so much. I still can’t believe how much of my emotions I have tried to model on other people.

  2. I never had the typical dreams of getting married or having children that other girls seemed to have. I do remember thinking that if I ever had a child, I would make sure to explain things to them so they weren’t as confused about life as I always was. Now I have a son, and I wouldn’t trade him for anything. It has been a difficult road, but 11 years into it I am so thankful I have him in my life.

    • That sounds so much like me! I don’t have any illusions about how difficult it is to raise a child and that it’s not always unicorns and rainbows, I’m glad to hear that you’re happy and thankful!

    • Thank you for taking the time to read it! It’s very personal for everyone, of course, but I hope that it will help others examine their own real feelings instead of assuming that they should feel a certain way.

  3. Oh, man this hits hard, on so, so many levels. Firstly, it’s beautifully written. Secondly, I just kinda want to reach through the ether and give you a hug (if you’re a hugger). But this .. “because I trusted that others knew more about emotions than me” … this is so, so important for all of us to really, really hear.

    My daughter has trouble labeling emotions. That leads us to try to help her to do so, since it seems like an important tool for her to be able to describe to others what she’s feeling. But in helping her, we end up guessing a lot, assigning a lot, assuming a lot. We say things like, “Wow, you look frustrated,” or, “Gee, I know that when X happens to me, I feel Y.”

    But every time, I pause, and I try to table my assumptions or at least couch my language because I know full well that she experiences the world differently than I do. That what may look like frustration from the outside might feel like something else entirely on the inside. That just because Y is my reaction to X, or even a typical reaction to X, it sure as hell doesn’t make it the only or “right” one.

    I want her to know that what she feels is VALID. That it may be a different expression of a feeling or it may be a different feeling entirely, one that I simply don’t have the lexicon to help her describe, but that it’s okay to feel it, whatever the heck it may be and that whatever it is, it’s just as real as anyone else’s version.

    This is why I get so bent out of shape by the whole “autistics lack empathy” crap. That’s why I write stuff like this in response to it …
    And it’s funny really (in a not funny at all kind of way) that we talk so much about the inflexibility, the rigidity of those on the spectrum when really, isn’t it US, the so-called neurotypical population, who are stuck in this frightfully narrow rut of perception? Isn’t it us who insist that autistics conform to our version of .. well, everything? Isn’t it us who are really so rigid in our thinking as to be capable of dismissing the idea that other ways of processing / thinking / communicating / experiencing are wholly invalid? That’s pretty remarkable (and, in its practical application, horrifying) stuff, isn’t it?
    And this ..
    Time and time again we hear and we see that the manifestation and expression of the human experience is different for those of divergent neurotypes than it is for neurotypicals. It is expressed, well, a-typically. But because we don’t recognize the expression as the same as those manifested in and expressed by our neurotype, we dangerously dismiss the possibility of its very existence.
    I’m not sure I’m even making sense anymore, and I really, really don’t mean to be taking up so much space here, so I sincerely apologize, but the pain and the longing in this post is just so … well, I wish it didn’t have to be. I wish someone could have said to you, “This is how I experience maternal urges, but it may be very different for you.” And I hope that we can do that now.

    Thank you for writing this. You’ve just changed my back-to-school letter to my kid’s team and for that I am grateful. And I pray that you find peace in all of this and I really look forward to reading more.

  4. P.S. that might have been the longest comment in the history of the world. Please don’t feel obliged to publish it 🙂

    • That was a magnificently written comment and of course I’m publishing it because. WOW. Wow wow wow. THANK YOU. I don’t have words to tell you how wonderful it was to read your comment. 😀

  5. Pingback: trust | a diary of a mom

  6. I just want to say that I’m not on the spectrum, never had that strong rush of “maternal urges”, never was in that “can’t think of anything else” mode. And when my son was born, one of the best pieces of advice given by a friend (and veteran parent) was, “Don’t worry if you don’t suddenly fall in love with your baby. Not everyone does, and you’re still going to be a good mom.” I had always heard about that thing where some women say they looked into their newborn’s eyes and were suddenly out-of-control-in-love. Never felt that. Two kids, now teenagers, love them tremendously, but not in the way that people always describe it.

    Your feelings are your feelings, and no one can tell you how to feel them, or whether you feel them, or what they are. They’re yours.

    • Thank you so much. Copying has been my way of coping with social rules for so long, it’s kind of confusing to realise I don’t have to do that with emotions. This is something I’m working on.

  7. thx for sharing this post…in different ways, i’ve run into the same wall of beating myself up for being “broken” or “faulty”…only to realize later, I simply see, think, feel in my own way. you put words to that awareness perfectly here, such a terrific post. i wish this could be given to the world, your writing here…mandatory reading for the human species…so that more people could understand that there are many, many ways to be…and creating rigid definitions of “normal”, of this or that, just does more harm than good…anyway, you make this point so well, thx again.

    • Thank you as well for leaving a comment. It means so much to me that my own struggles with this issue might inspire others. That awareness of not being faulty, just different… is the most important thing in the world I think. And that’s not just for autism but for every thing that a person feels sets them apart.

  8. Wow. Such a heart wrenching post. Thankyou for sharing. I think too often society expects people to act/think/feel a certain way and all of us, neurotypical and neurodiverse learn that they are supposed to feel something because “everyone” feels that way, which is often based on a hererosexual, middle-class, white, neurotypical norm, that not even people who are heterosexual, white, middle class, etc fit into. (Sorry for the run on sentence).

    I am one of those people who has had intense maternal yearnings since I was about seven and my little sister was born. I have always loved and wanted children. I am almost 26 and don’t know yet when I will be able to have a child and it tears me apart sometimes. I see a child and mother and burst into tears. Even in a society which expects most women to have maternal feelings, people my age also don’t quite understand why I feel it so strongly…And that can be hard. I undertand that people feel differently. I do not expect others to want children and respect their feelings about it, as I wish my feelings were respected too.

    I have learned and continue to learn over the years that I can’t compare myself to others. I feel very intensely about a lot of things and that is okay. I experience the world in a particular way and that is unique and wonderful and that is what is wonderful about all of us, difference. Even though it sometimes feels like the world is trying to stamp difference out of us. Finally, I loved your description of your feelings about having children, these are also my hopes and dreams. You are a great writer, and that last line was so wrenching. I am very glad that diary of a mom linked me here today. Wishing you the best, Jessica

    • Different is awesome. I was nodding my head at this:

      Based on a heterosexual, middle-class, white, neurotypical norm, that not even people who are heterosexual, white, middle class, etc fit into.

      We all do it, we all judge people in how much they are like us. We all try to build communities that way. But sometimes we need to stop and think about different, too.

      By the way, thank you for sharing your emotions. It must be so hard trying to explain that wish and desire to other people when all they comment on is your age.

      • Yes, I think community with others like us is also important, especially for the connections it provides and the feeling of belonging. But as this conversation shows it is important to consider difference and how we draw boundaries.

        I think my experiences around future motherhood are also compounded by the fact that I am queer and am sad that I cant biologically mix my genes with my partner’s. I am coming to terms with it and know that family is love not biology, but it’s still hard. Either people do not want me to have children with another woman or do not understand some of the legal, financial and biological planning that will have to be part of making a family for me. (Something that also affects many heterosexual couples too).

  9. This was beautiful. Thank you for writing this. I am not autistic, but my son and brother are, and sometimes I wonder if I have “shades” of autism. You see, I never felt “maternal” either. I thought it meant you had to gush over babies and always want to hold others’ children and make cutesy noises. I realized in time that I did have what it took to be a mother…it just looked different than to some other people. I too was fascinated with the process of being pregnant, and felt such a fierce protectiveness and love. It wasn’t warm and gushy…it was strong and true.

    Thank you for sharing your voice…

    • Thank you for commenting! It feels good to know that I’m not the only one! I like how you’ve described it as strong and true. That isn’t to say that warm and gushy is bad somehow, it’s simply a different experience. Emotions shouldn’t be normative.

  10. Thankyou.
    This made a lot of sense to me – both the idea that being maternal doesn’t have to match other people’s descriptions (or outward appearances) but also just articulating the idea that just because you don’t experience an emotion in the same way as other people doesn’t mean your feelings are somehow ‘wrong’ or ‘less’.

    • I’m glad to hear it made sense to you! Sometimes I ramble a bit and this was a highly emotional thing for me to write (but don’t ask me what kind of emotion because I haven’t the foggiest, lol). I’m gradually coming to a place where I can start naming and categorising my own emotions, on my own terms, but I still have a long and probably fairly rough road to go. It means a lot to have you (and all the other people here!) give me encouragement by reading and commenting. Thank you. 🙂

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