26/06/2018 17:38 BST | Updated 26/06/2018 17:38 BST

When Your 'Mother's Instinct' Doesn't Work

I didn’t know my son was seriously ill - what if 'mother's instinct' is just another myth?

Katy Mann
Me and my boys (Charlie on the left)

Everyone has heard of mother’s instinct. It’s well-known that when you become a mother you get this magical power, that you can spot when your child is ill, especially if there is something really wrong. It’s instilled into you as soon as your baby is born that you will have this instinct.You will know. 

Except what if that instinct doesn’t work? What if it doesn’t kick in? What if your baby becomes ill and you put it down to just a general bug but really they had a very severe form of meningitis? 

Well that’s what happened to me. I didn’t know my son was seriously ill. My mother’s instinct failed. As a family we were all ill so I had no reason to think anything was amiss with my three month old son. The difference was, that at the end of the week we all got better and Charlie’s illness developed into meningitis. He died a week later. The signs of meningitis are very similar and there was very little difference in his behaviour than from the illness that preceded it.

I’ve spoken to enough people who know about meningitis in a medical capacity to be satisfied that it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. He had an extremely bad strain of it, pneumococcal meningitis. One of the worst. I still feel a huge amount of guilt though. Why didn’t I know he was seriously ill? Why didn’t I have that instinct that something had changed in his body? Should I have known the signs? 

Mother’s instinct is just another part of the mummy guilt we all feel. It’s another addition to the list of things mums should have. Nobody talks about a father’s instinct. What if instinct is just a myth and actually it’s good luck and good timing that some people pick up on things that others don’t? 

I’ve spoken to mums in parenting groups who say the same thing. So why do we feel so much guilt about it? Why do we, as mothers, feel the pressure to know what doctor’s don’t? Why do I beat myself up that I should have instinctively known he was in danger, when even the health professionals didn’t know? 

I hope there is someone reading this who has felt the same as I have and knows they are not alone. It happens to other people too. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. We’re human, we miss things. When you have a small baby you are a sleep deprived, hormonal mess. It’s hard to think past anything other than feeds, sleep and nappy changes. 

“Trust your instincts” is all you hear when you have children. Whenever my children get ill now, I am unable to trust my instincts. My experience has taught me that not all illnesses are harmless and they could die from them. My first reaction to any illness is to take them straight to A&E which of course is a massive over reaction. Thankfully I have a very sensible husband who calms me down and keeps me relatively sane.

My mothering instinct failed me once. How do I know it won’t fail me again? I don’t and I have to live with that. I just need to let the go of the guilt and accept, like all the other mum’s out there, I’m not perfect and that’s ok. We’re just doing our best, whether we have great instincts or not.

For signs and symptoms of meningitis contact Meningitis Now on 0808 80 10 388

To read more about Charlie read his story here