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Bear Wisdom: Reconnecting With Mama And Papa Bear

Childbearing, from the mysterious and miraculous ability to conceive and to give birth, on through the nourishing acts of child rearing, has suddenly become an explosive minefield of fear, insecurity and guilt. As a collective culture, we have somehow lost or abandoned any thread of belief in a woman’s ability and power to naturally conceive and give birth. These once-tight threads of belief have been constantly and consistently shredded, leaving behind unrelenting fear and a gaping lack of trust.

The more we “know” externally, the less we trust internally, and as a result, we have lost our connection to our inner navigation source—our Mama and Papa Bear wisdom. This is the part of us that knows something down to the marrow of our bones, and lunges without any doubt. It’s the part of us that owns our decisions and any subsequent actions. Some call this “intuitive knowing.”

In her book Mother Daughter Wisdom, author Christiane Northrup, M.D., coins the phrase “mama bear wisdom” to powerfully describe this intuitive inner wisdom hard-wired in all women when they become mothers. My addition of Papa Bear is to acknowledge the concurrent hardwiring present and available for dads.

This article aims to discuss where and how we lose our “in” sight and how we can trust in our Mama and Papa Bear wisdom during pregnancy and the birth process, and to share some simple, empowering tools and techniques in order to reclaim and reintegrate that wisdom back into our lives.

In my work with women and families, I have come to strongly believe that the antidote for all the free-floating fear and anxiety in our culture is to learn how to cultivate feelings of safety and trust. The simple yet powerful and amazingly adaptable tool I teach that does this is called grounding. (Try it out in the sidebar on page 24 before continuing.)

Mama Bear Wisdom During Pregnancy

While standing in line at the market a few months ago, I was sadly amused to read the cover lines on two mainstream pregnancy magazines. In each of them, there it was, in bold: Fear. “What You Secretly Fear”; “Your Top 10 Fears.”

This atmosphere of fear starts affecting a woman from the moment she conceives. She can’t relax any more: What if something goes wrong? She is bombarded with messages that elicit worry—and with that, the need for her to remain in control.

Every OB visit is now focused on what tests to consider for this visit and the next, instead of affirming the miracle of the growing baby. In the place of exploring a mom and dad’s hopes and fears and validating their strengths, visits now focus on discussing what could possibly go wrong. In many OB practices, the pregnant mom’s belly is no longer even touched; any assessment of her pregnancy growth is done by ultrasound. Very few parents really understand that the measurements obtained from ultrasound become less and less accurate as a pregnancy grows. A term ultrasound can be off by anywhere from 1 to 2 pounds in estimating a baby’s weight.

Sadly, touching a mom’s belly to determine a baby’s position and size is becoming a lost art. When we touch a mom’s belly, we are doing more than measuring and assessing her baby. We are transmitting these messages: Isn’t it amazing what your body is doing? Aren’t you beautiful? We affirm to her that she is doing a great job of nourishing and growing her baby.

This tactile interaction also enables the healthcare provider to learn so much about what this mom knows and feels about herself, her family and her baby.

What’s a Parent to Do?

No series of tests, procedures or divinations can assure you that your baby will be normal and healthy, and continue to be normal and healthy. That is the truth. To believe otherwise pulls us away from the resources of the inner mama and papa onto the merry-go-round of test after test, inspiring more fear. It creates what Barbara Katzman Roth calls “the tentative pregnancy.” Pregnant women have lost the time and permission to just relax and revel in the miracle and wonder of being pregnant.

The current work of cell biologist Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., has validated the old wives’ tales about pregnant women passing along to their babies whatever they’re exposed to emotionally and physically during pregnancy. A woman’s overall, long-term pregnancy experiences and emotions get translated to her baby via her hormones through the placenta. From these hormonal messages, babies determine their DNA expression. The DNA they choose will determine their bodies, genetic expressions and future hormonal wiring in order to prepare for the world their mother is showing them.

Now, to alleviate any immediate feelings of guilt, I wish to state that pregnancy is a time normally filled with emotional ups and downs. What’s important to remember is that these determinations result from a consistent and persistent hormonal environment experienced over a period of time during the pregnancy. If a woman is holding a consistent low level of terror and fear during her pregnancy, that will get transmitted to her baby. Her baby will prepare for a world that is tentative, uncertain and unsafe. Conversely, if a mother is supported and validated with trust and confidence about her pregnancy, that will also be transmitted to her baby.

One of my favorite tenets of midwifery care is that we, as midwives, nurture the mother so that she is supported. Then she, in turn, has the resources to nourish and mother her unborn child.

(Take time again to breathe, ground yourself, and be aware of your feelings.)

Many practitioners present screening tests steeped in a fear-based motivation. Instead of offering an informed, unbiased choice, they sell yet another test from a place of fear.

Behind the scenes, influencing how strongly a practitioner may recommend certain testing, is their own fear of malpractice. This bias is most especially true in the realm of genetic screening. Clients may be strongly encouraged to partake in this testing in order to protect your healthcare provider from any future lawsuits.

When I am discussing any lab test or diagnostic procedure with a client, I apply the criteria I learned during certified nurse midwifery training. In turn, I urge my clients to start looking at any tests with the same questions:

  • Are the results of this test going to change the decision we are already making?

  • If not, what are we going to do with this information?

  • Will taking this test increase my overall fear, or diminish it?

  • Are there any other ways I can get similar information with less intervention or risk?

  • Bottom line: How does engaging in this test feel?

Answer these questions, then decide if a test is worth your time, blood, money and worry. If you decide to engage in a test, ask yourself: How can I best connect with my body and my baby to create a feeling of trust and participation in this process?