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Your body knows how to do this

Pregnant woman relax doing yoga, sitting in lotus position over white background

The other night at birth class Mike and I learned about the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain, and the neo-cortex. (Mike shot a highly entertaining and informative video about it in the context of birth – check it out.)

What Our Brains Are Up To

While I’m by no means a neuroscientist, the long and short of it is that the reptilian brain pretty much wants us to survive. The mammalian brain is the part of us that we have in common with all of the other mammals (lest we forget we are, in fact, animals). It’s the part of us that’s in touch with what feels good and what doesn’t feel good.

Lastly, humans have the largest neo-cortex out of all animals, which is the part of the brain that allows us to be self-reflective. It’s where thought happens.

Our teacher pointed out that there’s nothing she could teach us in the class that would actually help our bodies know how to give birth. Why? Because our mammalian brains give birth, not our thinking, to-do-list-making, note-taking brains.

I met a delightful woman at a dinner party the other night who owns a beautiful lingerie shop in Portland. She’s had two little girls, and when I told her I was pregnant she commented that giving birth is “no big deal.”

In a culture that considers pregnancy a disease and turns the entire birth process into a medical emergency, having someone who’s actually had two natural births say it’s no big deal was such a breath of fresh air.

She also shared with me that at prenatal yoga a week before she had her first baby the teacher shared a mantra with her to use during labor:

“My body knows how to do this.”

As I watch my belly get bigger and feel the movements of the tiny human living in there, I can’t help but marvel. There is no part of my consciousness, the neo-cortex, I suppose, that knows how to make a human. If you asked me how the liver is made or how my body put the ears together, I wouldn’t have a clue. And yet, it’s happening.

I am simultaneously doing the least I’ve ever done (work and productivity-wise) while doing the most I’ve ever done (forming a human being.) What a trip. What a miracle.

There are a few things I’ve instinctually started doing differently during pregnancy that I intend to take with me after:

  1. Taking a break (or a nap) when I need a break without trying to talk myself out of it.
  2. Being fierce about my boundaries and hearing my “no” with crystal clarity.
  3. Listening to what my body wants to eat and then giving it to her (even if it’s not within the parameters of my usual eating guidelines.)

Over the last 26 weeks my inner voice has gotten louder and louder. But she was always there. And while I have no scientific evidence for this, I’m pretty sure she speaks through my mammalian brain.

Where The Wisdom Comes From

Whether you’re a man or a woman, pregnant or not, you have a mammalian brain, too. And while its instincts get stronger during pregnancy, we can all tap into that treasure trove of wisdom anytime.

I know mine was working at full bore long before I got pregnant. There were a series of things I did that didn’t make logical, neo-cortex sense, but I felt such a strong pull that I chose to do them anyway.

She told me to sell all of my things and leave NYC on a road trip of indefinite length.

She told me to invite Mike on The Freedom Tour.

She told me to find a new house 5 months before our lease was up this past fall.

I now know the reasons why my instincts, my inner guide, my soul voice, my intuition, or my mammalian brain, depending on what you’d like to call her, told me to do all of these things. But I didn’t know why at the time.

Our intuition doesn’t always tell us why. Listen anyway and you’ll find out later. (Tweet it!)

intuition

My prayer for my baby, for you, and for all of us is that we let our bodies do what they know how to do with less questioning and more listening.

May we trust that mammalian brain even though we cannot wrap our neo-cortexes around it.

May we listen to that deep knowing even when we don’t have all the data.

If we have everything within us to make a human without even consciously knowing how to do it, we have everything within us to create anything we can fathom.

At moments when we think we have to consciously know how to do everything, may we remember that, on some level, our body knows how to do this. And may we let it.

OVER TO YOU:

What’s your experience letting your mammalian brain take the lead versus your neo-cortex? What helps you listen when you don’t have all the details? Please leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!

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  • Jennie says:

    May this wisdom be pulsing in new baby’s cells! Despite many (all?) of my friends/family thinking I’m a bit nutty this is how I’ve lived since the teen years & ALWAYS landed on my feet and created a thriving business. I felt the need to head to Nepal for a few months in my early 20’s – didn’t know why, didn’t really care why, just felt the pull & honoured it. LOVE nurturing this innate wisdom in my clients & my kids. Thanks for such a wonderful post Kate. Savour those baby kicks & wiggles.

  • Sarah says:

    I’m weeks away from giving birth and still have some lingering fears. You have no idea how much this post helped me, Kate! I will probably be reading it daily from now on! I thought while reading it, “if I wasn’t pregnant this would still speak to me so strongly regarding somatic trust and creating through intuition.” I think this is the best post you’ve written. You’re brilliant during pregnancy! :D

  • Chloe says:

    Sometimes I hear the voice but it’s not loud enough and Ignore it! It’s only afterwards that I realize that’s what it was. Bit I’m getting better at listening!
    http://www.calmer-you.com

  • Wow, such a beautiful, empowering post with so many wisdom nuggets, Kate! Thank you so much for sharing, I am looking forward to experience that on my own. Sending you lots of love x

  • marianne says:

    A few years ago I got a call to have my breast examend,in Holland we all get this for free every 2 years. My body said, you do not need to go. But responsible as I am I went. A few days later I got told I have to come in for more tests as there was something not right. I was amazed, my body never lied to me before. After a week of worry and a horrendous day at a cancer clinic with more awfull examenations I got told, there is nothing wrong with you, we do’nt know why the xray showed a flaw. I knew that if there would have been a problem I would have known. Should I go next time?? I wait and see how I feel about it then. By the way I am 67 years of age and as fit and healthy as I was 40 years ago. I never gain weight I am still the same size as I was 40 years ago. My body and I are best friends.I say thank you every day for getting me through life.
    I have had three sons, I just loved my pregnancies and to give birth it is such a wonderfull experience. Enjoy every minute of it Kate, you will never be the same person again.
    blessings, Marianne

  • Kate Patchett says:

    I love this post so much!

    Some of the greatest things I’ve accomplished so far have lacked logic and intense planning. Taking the leap can be scary, but it’s also invigorating and always seems to make it much more possible to have new opportunities and experiences I could not have imagined otherwise.

    Also- what you wrote about pregnancy and labor struck a strong and passionate nerve for me because I’ve witnessed two babies being born so far in my life. Both times, the first time mothers knew exactly what to do without too much prompting. It’s an intense, organic process that results in radiant creation and beauty.

    Thank you so much for writing this.

  • Moira says:

    Hey Kate

    With a toddler who is 2 and a half I can relate to being in total allowance of my inner voice during pregnancy and it has made me more fearless. When my inner voice speaks (mammalian brain) and I’m a little scared, especially if what is required of me is life changing, I’ve learned to ask myself ‘what will my life look like in a year, or 2 years if I do this, and what will it look like if I don’t?) That always allows me to see all the amazing possibilities and so making the decision becomes a no brainer – literally :-)

    ps: I opted for hypno birthing and can testify to the body knowing exactly what to do and with each tightening surge getting into a zone where you visualize them as waves that come briefly and go. It’s truly an indescribable connection with nature. For anyone who can practice in advance and mentally prepare I would recommend letting nature do what it knows to do :-)

    Moira x

    • Michaela says:

      Wow..wow..wow..Perfect timing for this message. Thank you so much, Kate. The other day I had some fearful thoughts about giving birth and thinking how will I ever be able to do this. I was also thinking that I need to hurry since I am almost 34.I pictured I would have kids in my 20s but…I haven’t met my soulmate until I was 30. Thanks for confirming once again that everything happens in perfect timing and our body does know what to do. MOIRA, can you pls tell us more about the hypno birth? What is it? How is it done?

    • Kip says:

      Biggest lesson! There is prayer in the pause. I have learned to stop…consider and FEEL. Instead of going from awareness to action I let the universe in. So much wiser than forcing any solution. :)

  • Danielle says:

    Another mantra from Ina May:

    My body is NOT a lemon

    I told my midwife this over and over. It helped me know that even though I was overdue, baby and I were well. No need for medical intrusion.

    I wish for you a beautiful and magical experience. At the end of the day, health YOU, healthy baby is all that matters. Xoxoxoox

  • Deepti P. Srivastava says:

    Thank you for sharing and for this affirmation and Reminder! Beautiful and a Blessing to Read. just heard the other day in a session the message to Trust Me – as in Trust my body, my body knows how to do this and live well from a friend/great healing practitioner. Good affirmation, good reminder. Thank you.

  • Kaoru says:

    This story made me think of Native American story about good and evil dogs that are constantly fighting in us. The wise man says the one that we feed wins. I had just visited Bali, Indonesia, a beautiful spritiual place and found out that they, too have a similar story to the Native American. The evil and good are fighting in us. They have beautiful music and dance accompanying the story. As I read your article this time… I wondered if repitilian brain and mammalian brain as good and evil/ evil and good according to the situation and a person. But it makes me think with my neo-cortex that it is the very neo-cortex part that is making the judgemet over good and evil. May be the key to peace is to bring the tranquility to neo-cortex part and let the two be best friends. Just a thought on a gray peaceful Saturday afternoon
    East Asian time.

  • Maria says:

    Thank you so much for this post, it really has come at the right time for me. I am 10 weeks pregnant (so happy about it!)but have really been suffering with reactions to food, feeling ill etc. It never occurred to me that my body knew what it was doing in putting me off certain things and drawing me to other foods. Also, that it has a plan! I woke up this morning and even though I don’t feel great, I feel so much more positive! Thank you x

  • Melissa says:

    This was absolutely beautiful! I’m not a mother but plan to be some day and the initial anxieties I have at that thought are put in perspective by your amazing voice. This hits on so many levels! Thank you, Kate! All the health and happiness to your growing family <3

  • Christine says:

    Dear Kate, thank you for what you do and for being you!
    I thought like you ‘my body knows how to give birth’. Just to be on the safe side I prepared myself also with yoga and “hypno-birthing”; Moira mentioned it above already.
    At the end of the day the mammalian brain let me down and I was lucky not to have a cesarian when the heartbeat of Sofie startet to slow down. So, basically the trust exercise did not go so well …
    However with Stella six years later I used again the trust approach, but prepared myself physically (recommend highly “daily essentials” from “spinning babies”) and mentally way more (again “hypno-birth” with focus on a paincoping mindset and in addition “orgasmic birth”). And luckily things worked out!
    From this experience and some others (ie. job hunting) I would say that the mammalian brain is an awesome compass, but it still takes a lot of willpower.
    All the very best x

  • Rachel says:

    Yes, our bodies are so smart. Love that you are trusting yourself and sharing these tips with others.

  • Ana says:

    I having been looking for a space to open my open my juice place for almost a year now. The reason of why it has taken so long is because I was working with the wrong people. I had a realtor who is my friend but he just wasn’t cut out to do the job how I wanted it done. Eventually something happened that it was inevitable for him not admit he has screwed up and so we decided not to work together. I got in touch with this wonderful lady who is absolutely energizing. She is always on the move and we are coming closer to nailing a space. I realized how I was not listening to that inner voice earlier when it spoke to me and said, this is not the way to go. When I started to listen everything fell right into place. It all felt wonderful and since then I feel like I have tapped into more of myself. It all comes with time. :)

  • Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for this post, Kate!

    I’m 15 weeks and counting with my first child-it’s refreshing to read a natural labor friendly post!

  • Jody Hatch says:

    ‘Go with your gut, it never fails’ has been my motto for 20+ yrs. You know what you know you know :) Too often we question but I have found that the greatest joys in my life come from the actions I took when my gut said go. Your gut is the loudest of all and often for me is felt more in the chest/soul rather than in my thinking mind. When you get that ‘I HAVE to do this no questions’ moment that is your gut ;)

  • Erin says:

    LOVE this for many reasons! My sister is having a baby, and your words totally hit home! Thank you. Also- as someone who abused her body for years, I now have learned to listen to the beautiful wisdom of my body, and I help others do the same. I am so grateful for the way our bodies are always speaking to us, and like you said- how our intuition knows, even before we understand why. Thank you for your beautiful words!

  • Wendy says:

    I have 2 natural childbirths under my belt. I wholeheartedly agree that your body knows what to do. But I also strongly disagree with the statement that childbirth is ‘no big deal’. I think it was perhaps the biggest deal of my life in countless ways. It was by far the most painful experience I have ever had. The sugar coating is that the second it is over the pain is gone and you have survived, you are stronger, and you have a child in your arms. In times when you need to find your strength, the pain is something that you can look back and remember just what you endured and it will give you the strength and confidence you need for anything that comes your way. It was after experiencing childbirth that I truly understood just how powerful, complex and resilient women are.

  • Jess Weagle says:

    These are such great tips. Thank you so much for writing this.

  • Dilyana says:

    Hi Kate,
    All big life truths. Love your article. Just a personal note from me who gave birth 2 months ago. I know it’s a new and incredible experience and we all want to be prepared and know what are the odds that exactly our babies are going to be ok.

    I was one of those pregnant ladiea reading every article on whattoexpact.com and talking to as many moms as possible. I was worried that I’ll have to give birth in Italy where the health system is not as great as in the US. And everything went soooo smoothly that I still can’t believe it.

    At the end, I gave a normal birth without any epidural or other medications and I can tell you. It’s all totally doable. I remember being in delivery room and telling the OBG that I don’t even know how to push. She was like don’t worry. You’re body knows everything and you’ll feel when the time comes.

    So my wish for you and all other future moms is to have an easy birth as mine. Take music with you that inspires you. My son was born on a song of Pitbull :)))

    Allow yourself some time. Don’t panic. Just know: your body knows everything.

    Just like it knows how to breathe, how to smell, how to sneeze, how to sleep… it knowz how to give birth and take care of a baby. It’s one of life’s miracle. And we women are damn strong. That’s why we are gifted with this wonderful opportunity to learn how to be moms.

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