12 Ways to Change Birth in Our Culture, Part 7: Cultivate Three Ways of Knowing

In 2010, Pam England wrote a series of pieces about ways in which we can change birth in our culture. The Birthing From Within leadership and blog team has chosen some of these pieces as inspiration and jumping-off points to create a new 12-part series about changing birth in our culture that reflects current understandings within the birth world as well as our current approaches and offerings as an organization. We will be sharing one piece for each month of 2019, both on the blog and in our monthly newsletters. We hope you enjoy this wonderful material, both the archival treasure and the new, innovative insights!

We used to say that parents needed two ways of “knowing” to give birth: primordial and modern knowing. Now, we have come to believe that holistic preparation for birth and parenting requires three ways of knowing: primordial knowing, modern knowingand knowing thyself.

The first way of knowing is primordial knowing: the innate parental instinct.

People have this knowing in their bones, and they can access it when they are not in their thinking minds! However, social conditioning has taught us not to trust or act on our gut knowing–until we have “thought it through,” researched it, second guessed it, or checked with others about what they think or would do. One of parents’ modern tasks of pregnancy is to first learn to feel their gut instinct and to distinguish this feeling from fleeting fear (or the contagious fear of others). Another task is to awaken the fierce protective parent within and boldly act on their gut instinct. Instead of trying to “get it right” (which is impossible!), parents need to learn (or remember) to arise in love, doing what needs to be done in the moment, without attachment to outcome.

The second way of knowing is modern knowing: being savvy about what’s happening in modern medical birth.

Like it or not, and whether parents are planning to birth at home or in a hospital, one of the modern tasks of birth preparation for all parents is to learn about the medical birth culture in their community. Modern knowing includes holistic preparation for all kinds of possibilities, including inductions, cesarean birth and navigating through postpartum. This kind of knowing may actually help parents decide where they want to labor. Even if they are planning to labor and birth at home, knowing about the hospital they would transfer to if needed will help them to be resourceful in a crisis.   

The third way of knowing, knowing thyself, is the most important.

This should be parents’ first priority during preparation for birth as a rite of passage — and the priority of childbirth mentors in classes, prenatal meetings, appointments, and so on. Before parents can know where they are going, they need to know from where they came and where they stand now. The reason is this: we inevitably “choose” books, classes and birth companions that are in alignment with our assumptions about birth. We rarely “choose” based on what is happening NOW and what we are learning NOW. Usually we just do what feels right or familiar. What feels right is usually what fits with what we learned to trust as a child. Birthing from Within’s childbirth educator and doula training programs guide birth professionals in ways to help parents make an inventory of their beliefs, assumptions, and agreements.

Parents: Before learning what is out there in the birth world, and before “choosing,” “deciding,” or “planning” anything…begin within. Be aware of what is motivating you to research or control, choose or avoid, act or freeze. Ask yourself:

  • What do I believe or assume to be true about birth, pain, babies, mothering, hospitals, etc.?
  • From where does this specific belief, assumption, or preference come? (It didn’t originate from within your own mind. We are conditioned as children to believe that certain beliefs or preferences demonstrate responsiblility, bring us approval, keep us safe, etc.)
  • From where does this emotion (e.g. fear, shame, guilt) arise? How do I know to feel this way? How does it help me to feel this way? (This is also a learned pattern.)
  • What assumption is motivating you to go toward this decision, or away from it?
  • What is motivating me to read one book, and to avoid another? What is motivating me to avoid certain chapters or topics? Am I choosing to read material that matches familiar assumptions?

There are three ways of knowing.

Cultivate all three during the childbearing year.

About the Birthing from Within Team

Birthing From Within is blessed to have a team of bloggers that includes childbirth educators, doulas, and birth story listeners who, in addition to being deep thinkers and skilled writers, are dedicated to the amplification of the BFW mission and philosophy. Birthing From Within is a collective creation, always evolving to reflect the new layers of understanding and unique approaches to the childbirth experience. Our goal is to change the conversation about birth in our culture, and to uphold the possibility of growth and transformation for birth professionals and birthing people.

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