We live in a time when most people do not like uncertainty. We have instant knowledge at our fingertips, we can contact people anytime, and there are apps that allow us to know exactly where our family and friends are. We like to know the what, when, where and how.
Then the pregnancy test comes back positive… and you are thrust into a world of uncertainty.
Will I get sick? How much weight will I gain? Will there be complications? When will my birthing time begin? How will I know? And will it be fast or long?
And that’s just the pregnancy and birth… then comes the uncertainty of parenting!
Will she like sports? Will he be an artist? Will they be strong-willed or compliant? How will I know when they are ready for school? For dating? For driving? Wait, will I survive the driver’s permit?!?!?!
Some people handle change easily, others need lots of structure, some like surprises, and others are very reserved. No one personality type is better than another, but knowing who you are and who the people are around you can make life easier, especially in stressful situations. I think it’s a good idea to know a little bit about your personality. I’m a big fan of assessments like DISC, the Enneagram, and Myers-Briggs. Knowing how you are wired can help you better understand how you are likely to respond during pregnancy and in which areas you may need some extra support.
That being said, there is a huge amount of your pregnancy and birth that is out of your hands. You can and should plan for what your birth will look like, but you must also embrace the unknown.
When I talk to my clients about contractions, I often refer to them as waves. In the ocean, you don’t know exactly when the wave is coming, how strong it will be, or how long it will last. You do know that it will start, peak and stop, and that it will bring you closer to the shore. The same is true for the waves of contractions you will feel — you don’t know exactly when they will start, how strong they will be, or how long they will last, but you know that each one brings you closer to meeting your baby.
How then do we embrace the unknowns of pregnancy and birth?
I believe we need to lean into our intuition.
Now that may sound a bit weird coming from someone who is an Evidence Based Birth® Instructor, but hang with me for a minute.
I recently read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown and I love the definition she came up with.
Intuition is not a single way of knowing — it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, and reason.
Sometimes our intuition tells us to follow our instincts and sometimes it steers us toward finding more information. Sometimes we have a strong intuition, but we silence that inside voice with our need for certainty. This need can leave us second guessing what we know in our hearts is the right thing for us to do, or can thrust us too quickly into decisions when our gut is telling us to slow down and get more facts. Referring back to Brené’s definition, our intuition is sometimes wisdom from within and sometimes wisdom that we need more information.
But whether we get that knowledge from inside or outside, we eventually have to make a decision. Can we move forward following our instinct even if we cannot be absolutely certain of the choice we are making? How do we do this when our need for guarantees is drowning out the small voice in our heads and quieting the feeling in our gut?
Brené couples faith with intuition. Faith does not mean “there’s a reason for everything” – that is a substitute for certainty, a need for an “answer” or an “always.” No, faith is instead, stepping into the unknown, embracing it; it is forward motion without knowing exactly how everything is going to turn out. Brené’s definition:
Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.
Pregnancy and birth are by definition places of mystery! Bringing a human into the world is filled with uncertainty!
Let’s look at just one aspect of birth — the start of labor (your birthing time).
What will it feel like when it starts? This question has a different answer for each pregnancy — they are all unique — but there are several things that might happen like cramps, loss of mucus plug or light spotting, back ache or loose stools, eventually leading to waves that get longer, stronger and closer together. Just know that it WILL start — no one has ever been pregnant forever — and you are not likely to miss the ultimate sign, a baby coming out of your body!
When will it begin? Probably the number one “certainty” we need to let go of. As much as we would like to plan for this, your baby does not have a calendar or clock, and he does not know your schedule or what you have planned that day. When your baby’s lungs are fully developed, they secrete proteins that signal your body to begin your birthing time. She knows the right time for her to be born!
Where will I be when it begins? There is a real good chance that your birthing time will begin slowly and over the course of at least a day, usually more. Most of the time you are able to go about your day in the early phase; this is actually a good idea as focusing too much on this stage can make your birthing time seem to last forever. If you are out and about, most people are very understanding of pregnant people and are there to lend a hand if needed. If you’re at home, take a bath, read a book, make some cookies, or do something else to pamper yourself.
How will I know when to go to the hospital? The fear of giving birth in the car on the way to the hospital is a common one. And most people are very eager to meet their baby after 9 long months. Getting to the hospital too early though is not necessarily a good idea. Often hospitals like to see you progressing at a certain pace and may want to intervene. I advise my clients to stay home as long as possible. You can eat and drink as you’d like and experiencing the first phases at home is usually much more comfortable.
In the face of uncertainty, have courage to let go of your fear. Trust in your instinct to act or to get more information. Find strength in the ways you have learned from experience and have faith believing in what you cannot see.
Having a doula as a mentor and guide can be valuable when dealing with uncertainty. Doulas have knowledge and experience around birth, and are comfortable sitting in the unknown, holding the space for you to trust yourself!