The concept of maternal intuition is as old as time. As we approach the celebration of mother’s day it makes me think about my 85 year old mum. I have often been in awe of her maternal intuition as I know my children have been in awe of mine. We mothers just seem to know things about our children that defies reason or rational explanation.
I have recently been involved, as an investigator, in a large international survey of more than 1700 mums who were bereaved by stillbirth. One of the questions we asked in the survey was “During this pregnancy, did you ever have a "gut instinct" that something was wrong?” A whopping 65.5% responded yes to this question.
Some of my fellow investigators sought to offer reasons why we might have gotten such a strong positive response to this question. Their first thought was maybe previous experience was alerting these mums that something was wrong this time but when we looked at the results we found that 46.4% had had a baby before and 53.6% had not.
Another possible explanation was that the mums who had had a stillbirth were recalling feelings over time that they actually hadn’t had at the time. But the results didn’t support this theory either with the percentage who responded “yes” remaining remarkably stable over time even many years after the stillbirth.
Then we looked to the participant quotes to help give us insight into what kinds of things may be triggering this gut feeling. We found that there were 3 main ‘themes’ within these comment responses.
Gut feeling occurring throughout pregnancy
Gut feeling in response to change in movements
Gut feeling occurring the day/night before the baby died
Probably the most interesting response was the number of participants who said that the gut feeling occurred throughout pregnancy making comments like:
• From the moment I knew I was pregnant... Increased as we neared the end
• it is hard to explain - I just had this overwhelming sense that something was not right from early on. My OB said it was not uncommon to worry.
Then there was a group whose maternal instinct was triggered by a change in their baby’s movement:
• Last 3 days I was worried by decreased fetal movement
• When he was so quiet the last few days I was uneasy about it but my doctor didn't seem concerned
Finally there was a group whose gut feeling occurred the day or night before their baby died
• The night before I went into labor, I knew something was wrong, but I thought I was overreacting.
• The last night of pregnancy I mentioned to husband that I "didn't feel right" but couldn't explain the feeling
Many of the participants said that they shared their intuitive feelings that something was wrong with someone else, either their partner, friend or importantly their maternity care provider. But when they did this they were reassured. With the benefit of 20:20 hindsight we now know that that was false reassurance and thus there was a potential missed opportunity to save a baby in trouble.
The results of this survey makes me ask when does maternal intuition start? And I think we have to say the answer is “before the baby is born”. This means that it is important for us to always listen to mums, even while they are still pregnant, and act on their concerns.
The fact that intuitive feelings are frequently difficult to explain means that they are often not recognised or valued in society. It is interesting to note that Albert Einstein was quoted as saying “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift”. Lets not forget the gift of maternal intuition on mother’s day.