06/16/2015 12:04 pm ET Updated Jun 16, 2016

Maternal Instincts

There is one thing I know for sure about being a mother, and that is what having maternal instincts really means. When I was pregnant, I envisioned what I believed motherhood would look like for me.

I imagined myself with glowing skin that no longer needed makeup, a pair of beautiful-pendulous nursing breasts, my hair blowing in the wind, my perfect child held close against me in a sling made of hemp, and, of course, the serene nursing sessions my daughter and I would share while I gazed pleasantly out of the window.

Not even close! The only thing that was somewhat accurate was the description of my breasts that now slide into my armpits when I lay down. Pendulous definitely sounded sounded much better.

Everything else looked more like something out of a zombie movie. After sixteen hours of labor, and a completely natural childbirth (even three stitches WITHOUT anesthesia), the marathon had just begun! My daughter ate every two hours as expected; but who knew it would take 30 minutes to feed her, five to burp her, five to change her, and then 20 more to put her back to sleep! That left me with just about 45 minutes to sleep between nursing sessions. What about the other 15 you ask? I usually spent those crying or scrubbing the offensive smell and sweat out of my armpits that arose every time I heard my daughter crying.

Needless to say, my skin wasn't glowing. I went from showering twice a day to showering twice in four days, and as my husband puts it "was lucky if I had the time to 'Febreze' my pits." You could see the pores on my face from across the apartment. The bags under my eyes accented my bloodshot eyeballs, and I always had a look of terror or compete shock on my face. Oh, and as for the hemp sling? It figures that I give birth to a child that screams in any type of carrier that I put her in.

Sleep deprived, starving, nervous as hell, sore as hell, and my kid won't let me carry her in a sling, it seemed as if a breakdown was on the horizon. Alas, I always found the strength to carry her around in one arm and became quite the master of squatting down to pick things up while holding her in the other. I had never felt so worn down or clueless.

I had no idea what to do when she cried. I would burp her, change her, bounce her, bounce her sideways, sing to her, run the water at full blast with her ear close to it, you name it! I must have looked like a lunatic. BUT....some nights I eventually figured out what calmed her, and got my 45 minutes of sleep in. I quickly learned that my idea of motherhood was beyond skewed, and so was my idea of what maternal instincts really meant.

So this is what I discovered. Maternal instinct doesn't mean that you give birth and are suddenly graced with a set of tools that allows you to translate what every cry means. It certainly doesn't mean that you know exactly what to do, even when you can figure out what the cries mean. And, it doesn't necessarily come naturally. But, what it does mean, at least to me...., is that no matter how tired or hungry, no matter how frustrated or discouraged; you will do anything, for any amount of time, even if you haven't slept in three weeks, to figure out what you must do to make your baby feel comfortable and happy. Even use 'Febreze' in your armpits if you have to, and that to me is what maternal instincts truly are.