photo: iStock
I took my toddler to the mall with me last week. My husband decided to tag along this time, and before long, we found ourselves standing before a play pit situated in between the rushing crowds. This play pit, by the way, is like catnip to kids. Kidnip. I have no earthly idea why because it's basically a set of steps that descends into an empty space, save for one lonely ceramic turtle.

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But this turtle uses some sort of silent wizardry to lure unsuspecting children onto its back, where it then compels them to jump off. My not-quite-two-year-old fell for its charms. Of course she did. She climbed up in her socks, stood up, and began perilously slipping off. Before I could even formulate a coherent thought, I half screamed, half swan-dived into the pit of turtle despair to try and break her fall. When suddenly, two arms circled my waist and gently tugged me back so that their rightful owner could whisper, "Babe, calm down. If she falls, she falls. That's how she'll learn. Why do you get so crazy about stuff like this?"

Oh, dear husband, if you know what's good for you, you will not. call. me. crazy. Because I'm not. But then, how else to explain the sweaty palms and the rising waves of a panic attack when I watch my baby soar through the air in a "big girl" swing without my embrace to keep her safe? 

Or the intense, stomach-clenching pains I feel when I hear her cry out in the middle of the night from an unhappy dream? Or, even scarier, the intense drive to override my self-preservation instincts and put myself in harm's way if it means protecting her from something she can't see or understand?

Turns out, we're NOT crazy. It's all science, ladies
How we feel about our children does indeed differ from our male counterparts. From the moment we become pregnant, our brains literally change. As The Atlantic reports, "gray matter becomes more concentrated. Activity increases in regions that control empathy, anxiety, and social interaction." Our bodies are essentially building hi-rise condos in areas of our brain that were once quiet suburbia. So "those maternal feelings of overwhelming love, fierce protectiveness, and constant worry begin with reactions in the brain."

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That's not to say that our husbands and partners don't love their kids. Of course they do. Fiercely. But for men, these kind of brain changes only happen when/after they're deeply involved in caregiving. That overwhelming anxiety around our children's wellbeing and the intense instinct to mother and protect? It exists in women even before the baby is born. 

Yes, biology has wired us up this way. Our children are a part of us. I mean that both figuratively and literally — because our brains aren't the only pieces of us involved here. Science has found that our kiddos leave us with their cells long after they've left the womb. Y chromosomes were found in mothers who had given birth to sons, decades later. 

And even more mind-blowing? Those cells can stick around long enough to become functioning parts in our own body. In other words, your daughter's cells can actually become part of your cardiac tissue. A piece of her, lingering and beating, in the very place where love dwells.

So dear mama, you are not crazy. You're in good company. And you're doing great. I hope you know that.