Sunday, May 8, 2016

Trans-species Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms!!

Well, all the moms who care for their young.  Cuz I mean, that's a lot of hard work, and some species have totally opted out of that.  No judgments here.  As they say, "to each taxa her own" (or something). 

Cuckoo bird moms probably shouldn't celebrate mother's day

I've been lucky enough to see many dolphins being born, and raised by a mom or grandma. Those of you who have seen an animal be born and grow up under the loving and watchful eye of a mom or close relative know how incredibly special the experience is.  There is something really, really powerful about new life.

Animal care professionals get to see motherhood in a very different light.  And there are a lot of different opinions on the matter regarding how similar the human experience is to those of other child-rearing species.  Knowing that this blog is my opinion, and that while I do know a bit about this chosen field, I am not some super duper doctor with a Nobel prize or anything, I'm going to share with you the similarities between my experience as a mom and what I've seen in dolphins.

1. Morning sickness is the pits

You take that back!!!!!!

Like, really.  Most of the dolphins I've known go through a period of wonky inappetance a few weeks after they get pregnant.   Hormones is hormones.  Lots of progesterone makes your GI tract slow down and that makes most animals feel like Pukey McPukeypants.

I definitely sympathized with dolphins who went through their first trimester turning up their nose* to fish in some sessions, or refusing to do behaviors and generally looking uncomfortable.  And then I experienced it for myself and OH MY GOD IT IS AWFUL.  I've never experienced nausea like that before.  I spent three months in bed binge-watching Chopped as a distraction (side note: do not watched Chopped if you want to feel less nauseous). 


I tried looking up photos of what the baby looked like at 6 weeks, thinking that would cheer me up. 

"Oh, this overwhelming desire to turn my guts inside out will be WORTH it because LOOK AT THAT PRECIOUS FACE!" turned into, "Uhhhhhhh this kid looks like a kidney with black spots" which led to more nausea.

There is nothing that alleviates this except time, and your body not producing progesterone and letting the task up to the placenta to do that.  Ew.  So cut your lady animals some slack if they're all weird in the early stages of pregnancy.

2.  Babies moving around is cool and then it becomes terrifying

Aww look at you, you little miracle, you!

One of my favorite stages of dolphin pregnancy is right towards the end of their second trimester, when you can feel the baby moving.  I just love, love, love that.  I don't know why.  I've never been like a baby freak either.  In fact, until I had my own kid, I was terrified of babies and basically pretended they didn't exist until they could poop in the toilet consistency and/or could hold a job.

But baby animals moving around in their mom's tummies?  LOVE.  Guests felt the same way; in interactive programs, the participants would always beam when they got a chance to feel a dolphin calf tumble around inside their mom.  It was another special way to connect people to the animals we love and want to protect.

Me with a preggo dolphin!

However, as the pregnancy progressed towards later stages, the dolphins started acting really uncomfortable.  They'd lie there, twitching at each calf movement, eyes squinty, as if bracing for the next impact of the growing life inside of them.   This must really suck for dolphins, because of the whole rostrum thing.  I've seen fetal dolphin rostrums pushing through their mothers' sides more than once.  

If dolphins had facial expressions

When I started feeling my kid moving around, it was super cool until she got huge, and started kicking various vital organs (of mine, not hers).  What got me through the most uncomfortable stages of the third trimester was knowing that dolphin moms had it worse than me: I didn't ever have to worry about a bony rostrum jabbing me in the spleen. 

3. Labor is....

In an itty bitty living space

Long? Intense? Incredible? Painful? It's different for everyone.  

We often say that dolphins have a "short" labor, but we really only start the timer when we see flukes just starting to stick out of well.  Obviously, labor begins long before the flukes are out.  The kid has to get down there, and that takes a lot of labor.  But dolphins have no facial expressions, and they just keep swimming.  Maybe they do some crunching or arching, but for the most part they seem basically unaffected.  Maybe inside their heads they're like, "AHHHHHHHHHHH!" or "Wow, how miraculous is this thing that is called childbirth."  

But for me, I thought it was nuts how strong my body was.  And then it made me pissed, because if I could do what amounted to endless crunches for 60 hours I'd definitely have an 8 pack, right? WRONGGGG  

Or I could always photoshop those in

4. You will kill someone if they touch your newborn baby


Okay listen, there is a crazy shift in hormones when you give birth.  You're laughing one minute, and crying the next.   I've experienced mood swings this serious twice: once when I watched Stepmom, the second is when I finished the most delicious bowl of mac and cheese I've ever had.  

I'm crying

We know as zookeepers that one of the most dangerous times to interfere with a female animal is when she's got babies...especially just-born ones.  No one would be surprised if you got seriously injured (or worse) if you gave a new mom any notion that you were a threat to her baby.  Obviously, some moms are more chill than others.  Some mellow out more when they get older.  But I can totally relate to that almost uncontrollable feeling that you will literally rip someone into 67,000 pieces with your bare hands if they do anything that could hurt your kid.

5. You are really, really tired.  Like, no, I'm serious.  Babies take sleep and make it disappear, never to be seen again.  


....but dolphin moms don't sleep AT ALL for a month after their calf is born, so I have no right to complain.

6. Being a mom is really awesome

Yes, mommy wants the coldest one.

Yes, it's a lot of work.  Your brain has been re-wired, because that is what makes you want to take care of a defenseless little thing that a) increases the chance of you getting eaten and b) requires every nanosecond of your time.  They are cute, and your brain is built to love them fiercely....whether you're a human or a dolphin or an elephant, etc. 

Brand new baby dolphin and her grandma!

Love is a biochemical situation, responding to environmental stimuli.  That doesn't make it any less special.  Or spiritual.  It's a mechanism that allows our species to experience one of the most amazing things in the entire world.  It's what makes me giddy right now, sitting at my work computer and thinking about going home and seeing my daughter smile (while farting, probably). 

Fun fact: "Duckface" is actually "poo face". 

Watching dolphin moms teach their babies how to play with toys, how to navigate their habitats, how to interact with other dolphins...and eventually, when they are older, how to  raise their own babies, is one of the coolest things I've ever witnessed.  

And now that I'm beginning my journey as a mom, teaching my kid to do things (like walk, or vacuum), it's even more special.  I don't care how much of it is instinct.  It's still special. 

You don't have to be a mom to a human to be a mom.  I know many of you out there are moms to fur/feather/scale babies.  Not to mention the love and care we give the animals we know at work.  Today, wish ALL moms a happy mother's day, including the non-human ones!

*Rostrum, SORRY

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