Robin feeding worms to baby bird

Nurturing our nestlings intuitively

My family has been bitten by the birding bug. What started out as one finch feeder hanging on a crepe myrtle is now a half dozen or more feeders of various sizes, shapes, and contents hanging like Chinese lanterns across our backyard. While this festival of feeders and seed mixes has cost more than my last H-E-B grocery bill, it’s been worth it. Watching the birds has taught me a lot about life and about being a mother.

Momma birds sit on their eggs for hours on end; then once the nestlings hatch, naked and unable to feed themselves, the parents (dads, too!) get busy finding food to fill their babies’ ever-hollow stomachs. Though the babies can’t see, they instinctively stretch open their beaks—which are bigger than their whole head—to receive what momma or daddy has to offer.

I’m always looking for ways to connect what I see in nature to my life as a mother. What can I learn from these creatures that I can apply to motherhood? As I watch birds parenting, I am reminded that when our babies are born, they require concentrated care and feeding, just like the nestlings. Most of us don’t have to hunt for food, yet we provide for our baby’s sustenance—often every two hours during the night. The thought of those days makes me happily weary.

When my daughter was born, even before she was born, I went on the hunt for every book I could find on how to mother an infant. I stayed up nights and worried about whether I could be and do all the things the books said I should: read to the baby at least twice a day, put patterned baby bumpers in the crib to stimulate her thinking, play classical music to increase her mathematical aptitude. I laugh as I write this, but back then, you couldn’t have told me that I was going overboard and that these things might not really be necessary. Babies have grown up just fine for centuries without such aids.

What I’ve learned about motherhood from the birds in my backyard is that there is a natural rhythm in mothering. Our role as moms of newborns is to spend the time we have available with our babies and ensure that their physical needs are met. Of course, those physical needs include touch and making an audible connection by talking and singing. I’m not a psychologist or pediatrician, but it seems to me that that’s the unadulterated sum of our job as mothers to newborns. No fancy décor or equipment required!

If I had to do it all over again, I would have tuned out all the noise from the media telling me how I should mother. I would have put most of the books away and nurtured my child in the way that came naturally to me. It still would have been hard work; anything is when you’ve had only four hours of sleep. But I would have lowered my anxiety meter about ten decibels had I focused on this one simple truth: Babies just need food, changing, and parents’ closeness in the first few months of life.

Like the cardinals and finches and wrens I’ve watched, I would have gone with my instincts on how to nurture my newborn daughter. It’s as simple as that.

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