When I was in hospital on bed rest awaiting the birth of my (most likely) premature baby I became fascinated with Albert Einstein. There’s not much to do on bed rest, so I suppose even nuclear physics, or the history of stamp collecting in Uzbekistan could have garnered my attention.
I googled famous preemies one night to bolster my faith, and there at the top of every list was Albert Einstein. It’s hard to resist the hopeful irony – the man who doctors considered an imbecile who would never amount to anything became one of the most influential people of the 20th Century. Every day I would read a quote he had written. There are so many to choose from, but the quotes that resonated were the ones that combined his love and understanding of beauty with his logical scientific mind. This one, below, is my favourite:
“Instinct and emotion will always overwhelm logic and reason.”
For me, the power in this simple understatement lies in the fact that it was written by a scientist. A man of logic and reason, who actually believed in the human ability to know something intrinsically and without proof. And now, I think, I understand why.
When I first went on to bed rest the doctors had given us no hope at all. They kept saying, kindly if not ineffectively, that it wasn’t my fault. That sometimes these things just happen and we don’t know why. Eventually something inside spoke to me – directed me – and I took a leap of faith in believing everything would be okay, somehow. I let go of the dire predictions and instinct took over completely. The feeling of responsibility, however, never really went away.
Years later I still recall the feeling that weighed me down so heavily, though I have gradually learned to push it away. When something happens that hurts your child that is beyond your control but caused by your body there is no quick fix. Because the instinct inside me tells me everyday, loud and clear, that my purpose in life is to protect my children. It cannot be turned off or even silenced, only ignored. For a while maybe. All the logic in the world can’t overcome it.
As Albert said, (I feel as though we’re on a first name basis now), Instinct always trumps logic, and the instinct of most parents, especially most mothers, is too strong to ignore.
There are so many people out there for whom parenting is not the ride they expected, and many of them most likely don’t really know how to separate the instinct to protect, (which often means feeling guilty or afraid), from the logic that reminds them they are doing the best they can for their children. Amongst the myriad parenting choices that separate us on a day to day basis, this instinct unites us in ways we often can’t articulate.
What this means is that when we feel judgement from any number of sources, (and there’s plenty of it around), we have to fight against our instinct in order to protect our confidence. A mother that can’t breastfeed may know, logically, that she’s doing the very best for her child by bottle feeding. But her instincts tell her she’s getting it wrong because she’s heard a million times that ‘breast is best.’ A mother who suffers a birth trauma (like prematurity) which may permanently affect her baby knows intellectually that she isn’t to blame, but instinctively she is reminded that her body was meant to protect her unborn child and it failed, whether intentionally or not.
As individual parents instincts are vital. But as a society, we should be able to see reason and apply it on a case by case basis. Reason, of course, is free from judgement. And when we allow a culture of judgement and emotional negativity to prevail, we reinforce every insecurity parents inherently have. We force each other to fight our protective instincts for our children in order to remain confident parents.
Sometimes, emotion can divide parents. Sometimes it can lead to judgement. But sometimes, if Einstein’s suggestion is correct, we need to listen to the instinct that connects us all and remember to leave the judgement at the door. Because that instinct which unites us makes us better parents.