Your instincts are your greatest mechanism against harm. In an era of apps and notifications, we – as a society – have becoming reliant on outside stimuli to tell us how we feel and how to act. We have become algorithmic: if x then y, but not if a or b. The internet is a wonderful, terrifyingly accessible tool that if not used carefully and with a level head can even override our greatest mechanism against harm.
Instincts, maternal instincts, animal instincts, your gut, whatever you want to call it – if we listen, acknowledge and respect our instincts, we can be in control even in the most out of control situations. What does that mean?
*This will be a two part post, in light of the fact that May is Mental Health Awareness month.
“Life is like music, it must be composed by ear, feeling and instinct, not by rule.”
― Samuel Butler
Life is a series of choices. We choose between flats or heels in the morning. We choose whole wheat or white bread. We choose the people we prefer to spend time with, partner with, sleep with, live with, leave behind. We choose interests and passions and follow them, bonus points if we get paid to implement them.
We choose our health care providers. And while it is arguably somewhat of a crapshoot because navigating insurance and costs and locations and availability…we still have choices. And then, because the first time we become pregnant, we don’t know what we don’t know: we willingly hand over most of our choices to a care provider whom we (hopefully) trust. And then…what happens to our choices? What happens to instinct?
“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”
― Adrienne Rich
Childbirth – within each pregnant individual’s medical and physical needs there are a set of choices available. There is no universal best recipe for childbirth. There is no correct way to birth every baby because each pregnancy is different, each baby is different and each mother’s physical and emotional variables are different. You can have a plan, you can have preferences, but your body changes in ways you never thought possible and plans change, preferences change. And that’s ok.
Instincts tell you that even though you have no outward signs of active labor. It is TIME to get yourself to your preferred birthing location. Shawna called her midwife to let her know her water had broken and she was heading to the hospital. Everyone except Shawna thought it was too early. Adeline was born 45 minutes later. Instincts.
Motherhood – I could write a novel (and someday, I just might) on the choices in motherhood and parenting. I’m not just referring to the myriad choices we offer to our tiny dictators on a daily basis “Blue cup or purple cup? pants or skirt? Yes, you must wear clothing to school: pants or skirt?” Nor am I referring to the stuff of social media memes and middle of the night Google searches: Breast or bottle? Baby led weaning or baby purees? Cloth or disposable diapers? Organic or non? Milk: cow? goat? almond? hemp? What? Enough.
I’m talking about the massive, life-altering choices that seem too incredible to have to make: Do I raise my own children the same way I was raised? Do I attempt follow a specific school of thought, or do I wing it?
There is no universal way to mother. This feeling, right here, right now, this feeling that has been building up inside your chest and into your throat as you read these words: instinct.
In my days as a home visitor with Early Head Start, as a twenty something non-parent, I always told my clients: only you know what works best for your child in the context of your family. Some of them, at ages 16 or 18 would ask for me to just tell them what they should do. Their own mother’s weren’t necessarily pleased with their life choices and had very little involvement with their daughters at this point. But even though my position of authority coupled with my years of professional experience and at that point in my life, one and a half professional degrees, it was my job to encourage and validate their instincts: “you know your baby the best, you are the expert of your own baby in your own life”. And it’s my job now.
Motherhood is not a competition. The trouble is, that in the midst of this non-linear, messy, whatever you want to call it, adventure of becoming a parent, we forget HOW to trust our instincts. So, when we start to feel sad within the context of loving our kids, or we start to feel angry when we think we should feel joy, or we start to lose sight of the hope and beauty in our lives, or when our thoughts begin leading us to places that make us incredibly uncomfortable and even frightened, we don’t know what to do. So, then, what do we do?
to be continued…