How can you best prepare to navigate your birth experience? There are those that will follow their instincts and trust in what they think or know their bodies are capable of – which is great! There are others who will consume every last shred of evidence they can get their hands on and make decisions accordingly – also brilliant. So how can you marry the two options – trust in your instinct or follow the evidence?
In an ideal world, mums to be would be fully informed of the choices she could make during pregnancy and labour. The information would be presented in a non-biased and non-threatening way. (1) She could take the time to assess the different options and be listened to and respected for her choices even if they went against current medical advice. Of course this does happen for many women accessing maternity care however for some the experience may feel different. So what is going on?
What is ‘instinct’? Do we all have it? And why is evidence important if we have instinct?
“an innate, typically fixed pattern of behaviour in animals in response to certain stimuli.” (2)
Women are built to birth because we have done since the dawn of time. Our limbic brains run on hormones which when undisturbed will run the dance of labour and birth in almost magestic normality. Women who birth undisturbed demonstrate instinctive behaviours without being told to – they breathe through their noses and mouths, they sway and move, they moan and crouch, they seek privacy and dark, they adopt comfortable positions to ease their labour and birth their baby’s – they instinctively hold and stare at their newborns and smile the smile of love. So yes, in some respects we all have an instinct to birth.
We tell mums to ‘trust your instincts,’ ‘of course you’ll know what to do’, ‘trust your body’ but at the same time bombard her daily with messages of how she can’t trust her instincts or her body or her baby. Time and again mums say that they didn’t really believe they were pregnant and it was so reassuring to see the scan picture. And from that scan we get growth charts and EDD’s and progressions and expectations and neat box ticking exercises which gently erode mums confidence that her body and baby are built to work together. Society tells mums what to eat, what not to eat, how much alcohol to drink or not drink, vitamins to take, activities to avoid and those to take part in. Is it any wonder that mums own instinct becomes harder for her to hear?
But sometimes it’s not as simple as just listening to your instinct, your instinct may tell you that a c’section is the right decision for you, that induction is ready for you – how do we balance the evidence we recieve about pregnancy and labour with our own instincts about what is right for us?
“the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.” (4)
Untangling the evidence can be a mine field. But it’s always worth asking questions of the evidence presented whoever is presenting it. What does the absolute risk versus the relative risk (5) how does this fit with your personal comfort with that risk? What do your instincts say at every point of gathering new information?
“Risk is a very personal concept and different women will consider different risks to be significant to them. Everything we do in life involves risk. So when considering whether to do X or Y there is no ‘risk free’ option. All women can do is choose the option with the risks they are most willing to take. However, in order to make a decision women need adequate information about the risks involved in each option. If a health care provider fails to provide adequate information they could be faced with legal action.” (6)
Balancing Instinct and Evidence
So where does that leave you? The mum approaching her labour to meet her new baby, perhaps over whelmed by the amount of evidence, advice and stories being fired across your path. The first thing to do is take a step back and have a big breath of air! (7) You’ve got this, you really do (8)
Secondly, make a plan – you don’t have to leave your instincts and evidence to chance, understanding your options means you have options. (9) Book a class (10) understand what it means to give birth and have a think about your options, where to give birth, how to manage your birth preferences, get your birth partner prepared. Balance your personal level of comfort with risk give your circumstance – don’t just go with the flow, after all you never know who’s flow you might end up going with.
Take the time NOW, this side of labour to consider the evidence and then when you and your baby are ready listen to and trust your instincts which will be the perfect balance of mind, body and soul for your labour, to meet your baby.
Lots of Love,
Written for Daisy By Fi Hennessy, our Sheffield teacher.