A Mother’s Love – The Instinct to Protect

I recently had a traumatic experience that brought home the universal power of a mother’s love and the overwhelming instinct to protect her child.

The departure point for this story is our dog, Nelson. Nelson, a German shepherd mix who we rescued as a 6-week old puppy weighing 7lbs, is now an extremely sweet, loveable and not-so-bright 100lb lap-dog (or so he thinks). As our babysitter says, Nelson is “all about the food.” Constantly on a diet because of his tendency to put on weight – he follows me around in the kitchen for anything that might fall on the floor and is always looking for an opportunity to steal food, though he will settle for napkins, tissues or wrappers if nothing else is available. Although his size is intimidating, his nature is not. He is gentle and long-suffering as, over the years, my son has laid on him, pulled his tail, tried to ride him, grabbed his face, and pulled up on his ears saying “Look Mom…Batdog!”

But Nelson is actually a dog. A fact I couldn’t escape last week when I walked into the backyard and saw, or rather heard, a bird swooping and screeching incessantly above Nelson. I was dumbfounded for a moment until I noticed that Nelson was entranced by something on the ground – something moving. At that point I yelled out “NO” and started to run….but Nelson and his instincts were too fast. As the baby bird flapped, he pounced – large jaws snapping – while the mother continued her plaintive screeching.

I didn’t make it in time. As I realized this, I stopped halfway and felt the pain of the mother bird pierce me to my core. I admit that I doubled over and fell to my knees, sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop crying for several minutes. I had seen dead birds before, but what made this experience so traumatic were the mother’s frantic, and ultimately futile, efforts. I swear I felt every moment of the past nine years when my son was injured or sick or upset: when as a newborn he spent 3 days in the NICU hooked up to tubes and monitors; when he was two and needed stitches for a gash in his forehead; when he was three and was so ill he threw up all over me twice while on holiday in Germany; second grade when he fell out of a tree and broke his arm; at his old school when bullies teased him and he cried every morning on the way to school.

I think my husband thought I was nuts when I told him about my reaction. Maybe I am. But before having my son, I didn’t believe…would never have believed…the power of a mother’s love and instinct to protect her child from harm. I guess this power transcends all – culture, race, language…even species.

By the way, it took me a while but I eventually forgave Nelson. After all, he’s one of my babies too.

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team


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