If you are already a mother you have undoubtedly experienced those times in which you “just knew” something was either the right or wrong choice for your child. Or perhaps you expected something to happen just as it did long before the incident took place. Maybe you told your family about this feeling, or maybe you kept your sense to yourself. It could be that you acted on this feeling as the primary force influencing your decision making. Or maybe you second guessed yourself, thinking you were being irrational, plain fearful, or too anxious and you didn’t act on the feeling. Whatever may be the case, it is likely you have had those moments, and most of us more than once.
In a society very dependent upon science and technology to give us information about our bodies, our lives, and the choices we should make in preconception, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, and mothering, many of us have learned not to trust our inner stirrings. We often feel we are deceiving ourselves. Or somehow this womanly art of intuition is a hokey hinderance to our getting on with our life and making sound choices. We begin to try to ignore ourselves and what are bodies are trying to tell us. Some of us later regret that decision. Some of us will regret several decisions before we realize that there is something to that voice within. And then others of us will wish the voice would quit nagging and making them second guess the advice of others.
In pregnancy, birth, and mothering, intuition is heightened in most women. It is a protective instinct as much a part of our survival as the ability to run or seek out food. If a mother intuits danger or feels stressed in any way, it has the potential of interferring with the progress of labor. In most cases labor will stall and contractions will not be effective. In nature, this would give the mother time to flee from danger or find a more protected birthing place. Judith Lothian RN, LCCE, PhD writes about the consequences of disturbing the laboring mother in the Journal of Perinatal Education (Summer 2004).
We are just beginning to understand the hormonal orchestration of labor and birth, and this provides a foundation for understanding the importance of “not disturbing” the physiologic process of labor and birth. In early labor, catecholamines (the stress hormones) have the potential to stop labor. When a woman is very frightened—of pain, of the hospital, of the unknown—labor fails to progress. Contractions can become very strong and difficult to handle or, more typically, they become weaker. In both instances, the contractions become ineffective.
-Judith Lothian, LCCE
We called my obstetrician, a sensitive man with whom I had worked in the hospital for several years. He suggested that my husband and I go into the hospital. The only problem was that all I wanted to do was stay on the floor on my hands and knees. Moving anywhere seemed to me the most unnatural thing I could think of. It went against every instinct in my body.
I didn’t have a bag packed for the hospital, so my husband ran around and put some underwear, a nightgown, and a toothbrush in a bag. Then he tried to get me dressed, out the door, and into the car. He nearly had to carry me. Left to my own instincts, I would never have left my position on my hands and knees on the floor.
Our bodies tell us many things about whether or not we are having a healthy pregnancy, whether we are being supported appropriately by those around us, what positions we should be in to help our labor progress (as with Dr. Northup in the above paragraphs), when our babies are hungry, or if they need to be held. This is our natural ability as mothers to tune in. It goes with thousands of years of genetics and tradition in birthing and mothering. However, when it is interfered in whether by necessity or by environmental pressures, it has the potential to completely render us helpless as birthing women.
Women choose to give birth in hospitals because they believe it is “safer” than birth outside the hospital. In fact, laboring and giving birth in most hospitals create a set of physiologic responses that actually occur when we feel unsafe and unprotected. In the typical hospital environment, women are disturbed at every turn—with machines, intrusions, strangers, and a pervasive lack of privacy. The shadow of “things going terribly wrong at any moment” follows women from one contraction to another. Together, these fears contribute in powerful ways to the release of stress hormones, moving women into an attitude of physiologic fight or flight. On an intellectual level, a woman may believe that the hospital is a safe, protected environment, but her body reacts quite differently. No matter what her head says, her body gets the message loud and clear. Her body responds on a primal, intuitive level, kicking automatically into fight-or-flight mode and dramatically altering the process of labor and birth. In choosing modern medical “safety,” women are stressed physiologically, which makes labor and birth more difficult. The lack of attention to women’s inherent need to not be disturbed in the typical hospital environment has set the stage for an almost 27% cesarean rate, the routine use of epidurals in labor, the high rates of augmentation of labor, and the high incidence of instrument deliveries in the United States.
-Judith Lothian, LCCE
As a labor support person (doula), childbirth educator, and mother, I have been witness to the awe inspiring motherly intution. I have watched women move their way through labor, following the lead of the pain and sensations they were feeling, moving their babies into the birth canal. I have been with women who “knew” their babies would need special help, even when the pregnancy seemed completely normal, and chose to birth in the hospital environment suitable for that. I have known women who “knew” they were in labor before there were any outward signs. I have known women who “knew” they could safely give vaginal birth to their baby and did eventhough they had been told the baby would be too large.
I “knew” in my first pregnancy that one of the obstetricians in the practice of seven, where I was being seen at the time, would be the one to deliver my daughter eventhough she was not my choice or my regular doctor. When the day of my daughter’s birth arrived, it was she who walked into the room. Despite the sick feeling it gave me, I did nothing. I thought it was all in my head, and I was treated very poorly by her. In my second pregnancy, I had very strong feelings that my baby needed to be born before labor actually began. ( I also had very strong feelings she would be a boy, and she of course she surprised us as a girl! 🙂 )
When a woman is left undisturbed, she feels safe, and she is allowed to follow her intuition, the dance into motherhood (birth) is an empowering experience. The question becomes, can we be supported by science and technology without denying our motherly intuition? I believe that we can. When we and those around us rely on our bodies to do the normal work, our instincts to clue us in to special needs, and science and technology to correct the anomalies when they do occur, we will have balance. At this time, many American women are birthing in a system that is unbalanced. Educating ourselves about our bodies and our options are the first steps to reconnecting with our sixth sense of intuition. It is the beginning of seeing ourselves as the one who is doing the work of delivering our babies and those that care for our needs during the process the guardians of our safety. It is tuning into our intuition in pregnancy and birth that can serve us greatly as mothers throughout the entire life of our children. In our modern society, it would do us good to embrace the wisdom of our bodies, and to utilize modern science and technology in the instances where necessity calls for it, or where it would enhance our experience. Nature did not render us flawed, helpless, or incapable of bringing forth life into this world.