Monday, 19 March 2012

Surrender, instinct, hormones

That's it, that's what I've been feeling but couldn't put words on.
I'm talking about this here article.
Read it first, then come back here, for the discussion!
The article is about surrendering to motherhood, to your births, to your breastfeeding. Losing the "level-headed" approach, and going with your instincts. Not in a hippy-dippy dopey kind of way, but in an instinctive "mother nature knows best" kind of way.
Ask me what day of the week it is, what month, and I'll look puzzled. But ask me what my babies are feeling and I'll tell you exactly.
Ask me what we did yesterday and I'll scratch my head and consult my new journal kept especially for that purpose, but ask me how full my baby's bladder is and I'll hazard a good guess.
I am often breastfeeding without realising I've even started. I walk with Noah to the toilet, wondering how I know he needs to go.
I'm constantly fighting my instincts, brought up to believe only in what you can see, look for the proof of everything, and to ignore the gut feeling / voice in my head in favour of the rational, logical explanation for everything.
So why do I turn my head and catch someone's eye who is looking at me? Sixth sense? Intuition? Left over from our animal selves who need to sense danger and predators... or something more, some instinct we still have and need in order to be a fully-functioning human?

Why does my heart race when my baby cries?
Why do I turn to breastfeed Charlie seconds before he rouses for it?
How do I know the instant Noah falls asleep in the back of the car, no mirrors, no sound, just a stillness I can sense.
When I was pregnant with Noah I was delighted to be able to tell when he was awake or asleep. Barry asked me this one day, and I surprised myself by saying "Neither, he's ... dreaming". I just knew he was in a different state, not awake but resting, not asleep, but in a middle ground, a semi-conscious state, and dreaming too.
I fought every step of my first birth, it was long and arduous. I surrendered to my second birth, and it was mind-blowing. I remember every excruciating minute of Charlie's birth, every thought, every argument between my body and brain. I can't remember any of Noah's; I gave myself over to it completely, letting my "monkey self" do the work (as Ina May says), and that was the key. I switched off my logical, analytical brain, and let my hormones take over.

Ah hormones, those lil' critters we women are taught to deny from day one of womanhood...
You've got your period? Go swimming, run a marathon, why should that hold you back?
Oh what, you've got bad cramps? Don't be a wuss, take these painkillers and carry on as normal.
Feeling emotional? For god's sake, don't show it, you'll lose the respect of your workmates.
What do you mean you "don't feel up to it today?" this is the rat-race, love, no room for a hormonal female here.
The last thing any woman wants to be labelled as is "hormonal", it is the epitome of an insult in our society. You are then deemed illogical, unpredictable and hyper-sensitive. We do everything we can to hide our "time of the month", and deny it's effects on our bodies and our brains. Lucy Pearce, an Irish mama with a beautiful blog here has written an inspirational book called "Moon Time", inviting women to celebrate their monthly cycles.  I never ever dreamed I'd hear anything like that; instead of hiding it and denying it, to celebrate it? But researching it further has made so much sense to me as a woman and a mother, that I'm actually dying to get my cycle back again, just to experience it with a new perspective.

Women of Ireland and the world! Here is my manifesto from The Mama's Hip:
Get to know your body, how it works; what it is designed to do. It will change your life. No longer living in your brain, being disassociated from your body and it's functions, please make friends with it and celebrate womanhood. We are not inferior to men, we are not suffering from "penis envy", we are completely different, and that is how it should be. When you learn about your body, and how it works, that leads you to achieving conception, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, and a healthy menopause, because you will work WITH your body, not against it. We are not taught this in school, nor at our mother's knee. Go, look for the information you need and make peace with your sex, feel your power and really LIVE!

(I don't know if it's a Catholic/Irish thing, or a Western thing, but wherever this negation of the female body came from we need to nip it in the bud and educate our children too. I answered Charlie's question today about why girls don't have willies with a clear explanation of the vagina's functions, to the point where he was saying "I know" and rolling his eyes. As he grows and asks questions about sex we will answer them openly, honestly and appropriately, making sure he has all the facts. I'm not sending no son of mine out there to be a bad lover!)


  1. Learning to let go of the need to do things "by the book", and trust myself to know what my son needs was the biggest challenge I had when I became a mother. I've always been a "by-the-book" kind of person, and it was a shock to me to figure out that all these well paid "parenting experts" are really just selling self-help books in disguise. As soon as I stopped wondering what I "should" be doing, and started doing what felt right, our little family was a lot happier! It took me many months to get to that point though.

    I'm just thankful that I didn't try to birth by the book too - instead I had taken my Gentlebirth class early in pregnancy, and had been mentally preparing myself to let go during birth all along. I'm sure this is the reason I had such a positive birth experience.

    If I am ever lucky enough to have a second child, I'll be trying to put this "let go and trust yourself" attitude into practice right from the start.

  2. Good on you Lisa, I think there are so many mamas out there fighting their instincts every step of the way, and they are losing out, and their children too. I wish I'd trusted myself more for Charlie's birth, I think having a home birth, my focus was on defending and justifying that to everyone around me, and I had no focus on preparing personally for it. I'm dying to give birth a third time, just to see how much more I can get out of the experience, it's such a rush!

  3. Great post Niamh : )
    I had a traumatic birth, a very bad & negative experience & I tink part of it was that I thought I had confidence in myself to birth but didn't do any ground-work or preparation for it, as in read any birthing books, attend a course etc. When it came down to it, I was terrified & ended up begging for an epidural, more for the pain I might experience in the future, rather than what I was actually experiencing. I was in a hospital & induced so surrendering was not something I could ever do as it's always so medical & public. Exploring the idea of homebirthing now should I become pregnant again. Goint to attend to HB conference & soak up as much as I can.
    Áine xx

  4. Hi Aine, don't beat yourself up about your birth, from what I hear inductions usually lead to a faster, more intense labour anyway, so you were doubly put-upon in terms of dealing with it. Being a breastfeeding mother you're already working in the mindset you need for a home birth, using your instinct and letting your hormones guide you, so you'll achieve whatever kind of birth you hope for. There are regular meetings of the HBA too, where you can hear people's personal experiences and ask all your questions, which I found invaluable for my mindset too.x


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