Instincts

When Amelia was about a month old and started to struggle with sleep, a well-meaning friend recommended I read a book called Babywise which outlined a strategy to get a baby on a schedule so they’ll know when to expect sleep and thus go to sleep. I devoured that book in a day, hopeful that the solution to my problem was in those pages and life would soon get easier. I implemented the steps the book outlined, but Amelia wasn’t cooperating with any of it. I was confused. The book said all I had to do was this, this, and this, and Amelia would be on a perfect schedule. I did this, this, and this, but nothing really changed. In fact, it got worse.

I racked my brain, trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Certainly I must have missed something. I scoured the internet for forums about the book and read hundreds of comments in hopes to mend whatever errors I had made. What I found only confused me more; everyone seemed to have different opinions about what worked. People even had opinions on whether or not the method itself even worked. I felt so lost.

Some of the most useful advice I got around this time was to trust my instincts. However, I wasn’t able to find it useful when I received it. In fact, it made me feel more hopeless. "What instincts?" I thought to myself. "I have no instincts. I’ve never done this before. I have no clue how to be a parent."

It took me almost the whole first year of Amelia’s life to finally understand that Amelia is not a formula. Books and websites try to tell parents that if you do this, this, and this, you’ll get the same definite result. But the only other useful piece of advice, true advice, I’ve ever received about parenting is that every baby is different. Babies are not formulas. They are humans. Some days they’ll be tired and they’ll nap easily and on time. Some days they won’t be tired and they won’t nap. Some days they’ll be tired but they still won’t nap. Humans have free will. They do what they want and feel how they feel and nothing anyone does can change that.

I felt such a relief when I finally came to that realization. I felt like I was finally at peace with not having control over Amelia. There wasn’t a logical reason for everything she did (and even if there was, it would be impossible for her to tell me), and that was surprisingly comforting.

Then I got cancer. And I read another book called After Cancer Care which outlined a strategy to keep cancer from coming back. I devoured that book in a day, hopeful that the solution to my problem was in those pages and life would soon get easier. Much like Babywise, there were steps outlined in the book which required me to revamp my entire diet and make time for meditation and exercise every day. What days I don’t spend 8 hours or more at the library, I’m a full-time mom of a 14-month-old who only takes one nap, so the extra time to buy, cook, and eat healthy food, exercise, and mediate is not something I have just laying around. At first, I tried to do it all anyhow, but after a month, I burned myself out, unable to keep up with the hard work of keeping cancer away.

I’ve gotten the same advice about cancer that I got about parenting—trust my instincts. Listen to my body. It’ll tell me what I need to do. But guess what? I didn’t hear anything. I have no instincts. I’ve never done this before. I have no clue how to keep cancer away.

I know in my head that it doesn’t matter what I do—that if cancer is going to come back, it’s going to come back; there’s no foolproof way to keep it at bay. I could follow that book’s instructions to a “t” and yet cancer may knock on my door yet again. I have to keep reminding myself that these books, like parenting books, are written after the fact, when everything turned out okay; they have the advantage to say “see, this works.” In my opinion, they got lucky that it worked for them (which doesn't, by default, mean it'll work for me). They don’t waste their pages talking about the doubt, the questioning, the hopelessness they faced as they conducted their experiments. If they did, they wouldn’t be credited as “experts” and they wouldn’t sell any books.

So I have to keep reminding myself to use my mantra for parenting Amelia on myself—I am a human, not a formula. I can do this, this, and this, but it will be no guarantee that life will turn out perfectly. I will have good and bad days, energetic and lazy days, healthy and toxic days. The best strategy is accept that I can't do everything and, instead, do my best and hope for the best.

That's my instinct, anyhow.