Quinn will be nine months old in two weeks.
I have never loved anything so much as I love this baby. I thought for sure that when he came home from the hospital, I would have gained a third child, a sibling in my affection to our existing two cat children.
Nope. From the moment he was born, I had one kid and two cats.
Parenthood is hard.
I knew it would be hard, but, damn, it is hard. It’s hard in a new way because as soon as we’ve hit a rhythm, he grows a new arm or a leg or all of a sudden starts puking small amounts of food all over all my clothes. And we have to roll with the punches. And they just keep coming.
Despite how hard it is — how hard it’s been — I’ve spent a lot (A LOT) of time staring at Quinn with little hearts in place of the pupils in my eyes. “Oh you darling, boy… oh how cute it is when you puke… how adorable you suckle… how hilariously you throw Mama’s phone on the floor!”
And you know why??
Oxytocin. “The Bonding Hormone.”
- During pregnancy, your brain actually grows tons of new receptors for the surge of oxytocin that is to come. These receptors grow in a specific part of the brain responsible for maternal behaviors.
- The very act of giving birth to your baby causes a surge of oxytocin.
- Any and all subsequent contact with your baby causes the brain to produce more oxytocin.
All of this adds up to hearts in place of pupils and a life that immediately rearranges itself to center around your newborn. You also feel loving and relaxed. All told, it feels pretty good. So you continue cuddling your baby because it feels good which leads you to love your baby even more.
Because a Hundred Billion Teeny Tiny Robots Told You To
“Our brains are made of a hundred billion neurons….[tiny] robots that respond to chemical signals.” (BBC.com.)
Teeny Tiny Robots that Respond to Chemical Signals. Like Oxytocin.
So that new feeling in my chest? The about-to-explode-with-a-love-that-cannot-be-contained feeling?
That’s a thousand or so teeny tiny robots talking to another thousand or so teeny tiny robots elsewhere in my body. The cuddles we’re sharing before bedtime cause a cascade of oxytocin in my brain and I instantly have hearts instead of pupils again.
Take right now, for instance. Quinn is asleep for the night. And all I want to do is to scoop him up and cuddle him. You know why? It’s probably a thousand or so teeny tiny robots that need their next oxytocin fix.
My brain is addicted to cuddling my baby. To nursing him. To gazing at him lovingly.
“No, that’s me. I love him!!”
We think of ourselves as making choices. Of having control.
“…Cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett considers our very consciousness to be ‘no more real than the screen on your laptop or your phone.’
“The geeks who make electronic devices call what we see on our screens the ‘user illusion.'” (BBC.com)
My user illusion is thinking that I have a choice in whether or not to cuddle Quinn. That I’m exercising free will when I rush from my last meeting to pick him up from day care, counting the seconds until we’re reunited and oxytocin floods my brain again.
No, from a biological perspective, that feeling of my heart bursting out of my chest was fated from the moment the sperm met the ovum.
My user illusion protests, “But it was I who made the decision to try for a baby in the first place!”
But was it? Or was it that hundred billion teeny tiny robots in your head?
“BAH!! Screw you. I’m going to have a beer and watch Nashville.”
Good choice, hundred billion teeny tiny robots. Good choice.