There is a trend in natural birth circles for women to bring up the concept of trusting our bodies in birth and relying on intuition to lead the process. It seems that this idea is paramount in having a successful birth, unassisted or not. In this I agree. However, some state that to truly claim that we trust our bodies enough to birth unassisted, we must do so without all the ‘bells and whistles’ that accompany most typical births. That even any structured prenatal care or gathering similar tools that a midwife might bring such as teas, heart monitors, salves, etc, actually brings fear into the birth by anticipating the problems, thus causing them. So then intuition and positive thought are being used both as diagnostic tools AND remedies.
This train of thought bothers me in that it is discounting practical knowledge about the birth process (and its ability to deviate from our expectations) on the premise that trusting ‘intuition’ alone will prevent any complications. In this I believe there is some confusion between the concept of trusting birth while using intuition practically, and simply indulging in wishful thinking as a means of creating a safe and fulfilling birth.
Intuition works on the premise that there are signs that our subconscious is picking up on, that help us in making decisions by simply ‘knowing’ about what our bodies need in that moment. We may not be able to pinpoint exactly WHY we need to change our birthing position, but somehow ‘know’ it is needed. It is a form of decision-making that happens on a subconscious rather than conscious level. It is a powerful diagnostic tool but what it is not is a magic wand. It should not be the ONLY tool implemented. Knowing intuitively that there is a problem for instance, will not prevent it from happening. We somehow need to be able to recognize our body’s signs and that requires knowledge about our physiological processes on some cognitive level, and to be able to interpret them and then act upon them. This is the point where ‘wishful thinking’ appears under the guise of trusting birth.
According to Wikipedia, wishful thinking is:”...the formation of beliefs and making decisions according to what might be pleasing to imagine instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality or reality...In addition to being a cognitive bias and a poor way of making decisions, wishful thinking is commonly held to be a specific logical fallacy in an argument when it is assumed that because we wish something to be true or false that it is actually true or false...Wishful thinking may cause blindness to unintended consequences.”
I’d like to highlight:”.. Wishful thinking may cause blindness to unintended consequences.”
Some think that if they believe strongly enough that their birth will go smoothly, it will. As wonderfully simple as this may sound, it is not always the case. The idea that intuition or positive thought is all that is needed may stem from the belief (or fear!) that any preparation will alter the course of the birth by somehow ‘inviting negativity’ by anticipating it. In this, intuition is expected to be the only tool needed to birth successfully. Although a positive attitude certainly helps in lessening the fear response that CAN cause complications during birth, some problems are not caused by fear but by physiological issues and no amount of ‘wishing’ that it were not so will prevent them or help you deal with them if they should occur.
It is dangerous placing too much trust in the IDEA of birth, and not the reality because birth does not always go according to plan. If we fail to prepare ourselves for handling these possible problems, THEN we have essentially invited them. These unrealistic expectations can then set women up to feel guilty when it doesn’t follow their vision because they weren’t prepared to deal with any deviation, thinking that positive thought alone would guarantee a smooth birth and post-partum period. Sometimes problems simply manifest in the moment and we need to be prepared for them, whether we intended them or not. This is where practical birthing tools come in handy.
Some argue that by ‘needing’ to have the extra help means that we don’t REALLY trust our bodies but that is absurd. Being prepared doesn’t mean we don’t trust our bodies, but that we are responsible enough to accept that sometimes things can happen and we are prepared to deal with them. It is not the tools in themselves that affect birth outcome, but their use, and it is not always a negative outcome as some might proclaim. They are there as aids, in case they are needed. Would it be more responsible to veto them completely out of fear of somehow using them, due to some bias about interventions in birth, or to have them handy in case they could be needed? My theory is: it is better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. For myself there are some tools that I don’t think are necessary for MY BIRTH, but another woman may think otherwise. Would she be in the wrong? No. She is wielding her right to choose the birth she wants, in the way she wants.
Every woman must decide for herself what she needs to have a successful birth outcome. Some women are more comfortable with more tools than others, and this does not mean that their births will be worse than the woman who chooses not to have them present. If it is all about a woman’s state of mind at birth, and having them helps her relax and trust her body, then is the outcome not the same? We must also decide whether we would prefer to deal with any issues at home or have to transfer to a hospital because we didn’t anticipate them and don’t have the necessary tools. Though intuition is great at finding possible solutions to issues or even preventing them, using positive thought alone might not do the trick to remedy any problems that may arise anyways.
Using our intuition is essentially listening to what our body needs, and if that manifests itself as needing more interventions than the next woman, then we are honouring it. To simply assume that birth will unfold the way we want it to ideally, will not actually guarantee it. A healthy balance between positive thinking and practical preparation is needful to ensure that our birth is a safe and fulfilling experience.