I am currently undertaking a professional mentorship and one of my assignments is to blog about Women in the Maternity System. The aspect I’ve chosen to examine in this piece is how, at a time when women should be tuning into their instincts, they are often undermined by the system that should be supporting them.
Becoming pregnant for the first time marks the start of a journey that will be new and unfamiliar to the woman - and yet, as unfamiliar as that journey may be, she is also the most qualified expert in her pregnancy. No one knows more about how she is feeling, no one can tap into the associated intuition about how the pregnancy is progressing, or what the best course of action is for this pregnancy. Mothers are intimately connected to their unborn babies and nothing can trump this - “Mum knows best” is an old and familiar phrase to so many for a very good reason!
When I do a google search for ‘pregnancy expert’ I get a listing that shows adverts for doctors, health websites with resident contributors, panel Q&A articles etc. But no mention of mothers. Why is this? Do we really not recognise that women are at the centre of their pregnancy and know the most about it? Mothers, especially those who are pregnant for the first time, might not feel like they know anything - but there’s a difference between ‘knowing’ something intellectually and ‘knowing’ something intuitively. We all have intuition, it’s like a muscle so the more you tune into it the more you will hear it and trust it. It’s evolutionary in its origin, so it produces quick, good quality decisions.
And yet, typically when pregnant women enter the maternity system in Australia they are not made to feel like the expert. Their care provider may position themselves in this role, leaving the mother feeling disempowered and lacking in confidence, which disconnects her further from her intuition. Of course medical professionals have specialist, expert knowledge but this is of pregnancy and birth in general and not of the woman’s specific pregnancy and circumstances - this knowledge is often applied to the woman’s situation and not to the woman herself.
For instance, my own last pregnancy was a planned home birth but as I went past 40 weeks I was contacted by my local hospital and they asked me to come in for an assessment and book an induction. I refused to do either of those things since all was well with my pregnancy (I was seeing my midwife regularly) and these requests were arbitrarily being made according to a calendar and not according to my specific physical wellbeing. As my gestation progressed the phone calls from the hospital became more frequent and took an urgent tone. I hit 41 weeks and I was now being called daily to attend an appointment with someone who has never met me so that he/she can explain why intervention is necessary in my pregnancy. Again, I felt well and was well (as confirmed by my midwife). To this day, it baffles me that the hospital felt qualified to recommend intervention when all indications showed that I was well. This happens every day in Australia.
Why was I not more respected by the hospital? Why did they assume that their policies trumped the evidence of my personal wellbeing? This ‘cult of the expert’ is disempowering to the pregnant woman and has implications for her labour, postpartum and parenting experience. The fact is that medical professionals could benefit from the mother’s insight and intuition and the best outcomes would likely be achieved by taking them into account. This would result in a more collaborative care model where the mother is truely placed at the centre, and one that is based on more complete and personalised information instead of blindly applying policies that don’t take into account the specifics of the woman or baby.
Women who are encouraged to, and have learned to connect with their maternal intuition are well served by it throughout their pregnancy, in the postpartum period and on into their parenthood journey. A new mum who feels confident in her decisions and choices will be happier in her situation than those who are overpowered and dismissed. These confident, supported mums are also more likely to seek support from their care providers based on very little evidence other than ‘something feels wrong’ - and so often this support can be lifesaving.
To be clear, I am not dismissing medical professionals, instead I am encouraging mothers to recognise the value of their intuition and the role it plays in their care. So trust your intuition, be confident that YOU are the expert on your own pregnancy, birth and postpartum experience and find a care provider that supports and respects you, caring for you in a collaborative and individualised way.