By Cheryl Amelang
We load up the car with a fresh human in tow. We drive slowly down the interstate to make it safely home. We’ve never driven with such precious cargo. They sent us home with a whole person and it is now our responsibility to keep her alive. They think we can do that! They tell us to trust our instincts. We wonder where we can find those. Were they born along with the baby, somehow transmitted to wherever instincts are kept? We arrive at home and settle in. We feel a bit lost. We change a diaper, nurse the baby, and attempt some sleep. They say we are supposed to do that, too. We dig deep for those instincts we hear so much about, hoping they can help guide us in the fog of those first days home. Day by day we figure out what works as we learn our baby, all the while wondering if our instincts have kicked in. Did we find them? Are we listening to them? Do they work?
“Instincts” are something that are talked about and we are told that we should trust them. I can’t help but wonder though, are we really set up to trust our instincts when it comes to our babies?
Let’s back up and start from the beginning. We buy a pregnancy test and watch closely as the second line gradually appears in the small opening. Pregnant! Hopes and dreams immediately flood our minds! There are so many things to do. Pick a doctor. Tour the hospital. Plan the birth. Buy a crib. Research carseats. Ask other moms about strollers. The list goes on.
We all have different experiences with how birth is talked about by family, friends, and others close to us. Most of us have never attended a birth and only know what it looks like on tv and in movies. It is usually an emergency, with lots of screaming, and the partner is probably passed out or being yelled at. It doesn’t look like a good time, but the truth is, we just don’t know how birth works. We only know what we’ve gleaned from others and the media. Some of us are afraid. Some of us know what our bodies are capable of. Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle.
As we move forward and our baby grows in our belly, we question everything we do. There are so many “rules” for pregnant women.
What to eat.
What not to eat.
Make sure we exercise.
How much is too much?
How much is too little?
Scared we will accidentally hurt the baby.
The kind of birth we should have.
Our ability to handle pain.
The desire to have an epidural.
What others think.
Is the baby moving enough?
What if my baby doesn’t turn?
Can I talk about my fears?
Etc. Etc. Etc.
It’s constant. Add in Dr. Google and we often feel scared and defeated.
The way the maternity system is set up can also make us question ourselves. Testings, procedures, ultrasounds, exams, sterile rooms, and ticking clocks can also make us wonder if our bodies and our babies will measure up. Will we pass?
Does all of this set us up in a way that when we take our baby home that we know how to “just trust our instincts”? I would argue that we aren’t.
“Just trust your instincts.” is only helpful to say to a woman if we give her the tools to believe she knows what’s best for her baby – every step of the way – pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. We have to listen, trust her, believe what she says, and understand her experiences. We have to have resources and support in place for her. We have to come alongside her and cheer her on. We have to give her confidence that she is the best person to make choices for her baby. She needs the space to believe that she knows her baby so intimately and that her instincts are trustworthy. Then, and only then, can we send mothers home with a fresh baby and tell her to trust her instincts because she now believes in her ability to mother her baby and how to trust herself. Trusting your instincts is just that, learning to trust yourself.