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.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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