My husband will often say inmoments of unknown parenting situations,  “Is this your first child Michelle?” At least now we laugh. Twenty years ago, that wasn’t the case. When I was interviewing midwives, two months pregnant with my first child, we were young, living in a tiny cabin in an isolated mountain town in Colorado and starry eyed. I had aspirations and a vision for how we wanted that first birth to go. When I shared that vision with the midwife on the phone she said condescendingly, “Is this your first child Michelle?” My husband caught my eye as he listened in. At the time I felt shame and shock and the dissonance in my body at a gut level. Should I know something I don’t know? Should I defer to the “specialists”? Does my body actually know how to do this birthing thing? 

Needless to say, we chose a different midwife who met us where we were and who helped guide us through the gentle learning that comes with the first birth. She helped me deepen my intuition and self-understanding rather than override it. That said, the “is this your first child” feeling stuck around in the form of “can I trust my mothering instinct?” 

Twelve years later, the year my third child turned 2, our little family of five traveled around the country exploring, climbing, camping and potty training. Maybe because she came after two little boys, or maybe because she is who she is, she trained herself quite easily with our green plastic potty in the vestibule of the yellow tent. What stood out to me was her physical self-understanding –  she listened to her body’s cues and she knew when she had to go to the bathroom. Simple even as a tiny person! 

This self-knowledge both physical and intuitive, is our birthright but somehow often gets lost along the way. Previous to our year of adventuring around the country, I worked at the local university counseling center and in my private practice. Much of the counseling work that I did with college students and adult clients focused on regaining that basic physical and intuitive self-connection. We explored questions such as:  What do I know? How do I know it? How can I trust my physical, emotional, and mental intuition? Often, I guided these clients to reestablish and relearn what they knew as young children, the self-knowledge that was trained out of them as they grew up. 

So many new and expecting mothers enter our practice nervous and anxious.  After some discussion, we find that they are often overriding their self-knowledge with how they “should feel” or “should act” based on an outside source aka “the professionals” (medical provider, developmental book author, social media parenting blogger).  Much of the initial counseling work is sifting through the material that clouds the woman’s connection to herself, to help her rediscover how she feels and what she intuitively knows, but may not trust. 

We could build a house, or better yet a skyscraper, out of the parenting books that exist in the world. Educating ourselves on the new terrain of conception, pregnancy, birth and the perinatal period is important. The difficulty is when we allow the information to override our intuition. I remind my clients regularly that there are thousands of parenting books and yet not one is specifically about them and their child/family. The dance is balancing the two types of information. 

Let’s take sleep training for example. We can read what the first author/expert suggests based on their understanding of child development and sleep cycles, yet the next book will present a slightly or significantly different approach. How do you sift through the material and decide what feels appropriate for your six month old, your family system, and your understanding of what you need. Building the muscles of intuition takes willingness and attention. 

Let’s play around for a moment with this exercise of “knowing what you know” as we flex our intuitive muscles. Try this experiment when you have a bit of bandwidth (so probably not in the middle of the night). My recommendation is to start simply with the basics, like food.

The next time that you are hungry, slow down the moment. Ask yourself apple or orange? (Or fill in the blank with your options). Which do you choose? How do you know what you want? When you decide, take a bite. Were you right? Would it have changed if an expert suggested an apple? Did that quench your hunger? Where did you feel the knowing or intuition? In your gut? In your heart? In your mind? Practice some more with food and then move on to another decision process, for example which way to turn going to the store? Which lotion to use on baby’s skin? Which provider (if you could choose) for your next appointment. Then check your decisions. How did they feel once you committed? What did you notice in your body? 

What is it like to slow down and settle into these types of decisions as you re-hone your ability “to know and trust what you know”? What is it like to balance your knowing with that of the professionals? To continue the practice:

(1) Simplify the information – for example, maybe read 1-2 books on sleep training instead of 6. 

(2) Settle into what you notice: body sensation, gut feeling, curiosity…

(3) Experiment with your self-knowledge and growing understanding balanced with the information from the experts. 

(4) Try out your decision.

(5) Repeat

As you consider these experiments in “knowing what you know” on your journey through the twists and turns of motherhood, check in with your intuition at the next crossroads, grab a sticky note and jot down this sound bite:

“Building the muscles of intuition”