Katy Cat, the newest member of the Midwife Diaries team is curled up hedgehog style on our yellow throw covered mattress. We're between sofas right now as we've just moved. Katy Cat's not thinking much. Cats don't consciously think nearly as often as humans.
I think there's good midwifery knowledge to be learned from them. Please bear with me here, it might look like I'm straying into harp playing dolphins territory. But there's science involved and if you've ever wanted to hone your intuition, you'll find this post fascinating.
Intuition is a part of decision making when professionals work in an emergency environment. There are accounts of firefighters 'just knowing' when a building is going to collapse. Soldiers in places like Iraq report 'a cold feeling' telling them there's an IED in a particular street.
Midwives also have a particular type of intuition.
A funny gut feeling that flags up saying 'postpartum haemorrhage' or 'shoulder dystocia'. You have no idea why as there's no clinical evidence. But you double check your equipment and make the room ready just in case and most of the time, you're correct.
Intuition is a fascinating branch of psychology and there are murky corners that we don't understand. There's no one definition, but most scientists think it's an inner ability to pick up on subtle clues.
Intuition is subconscious pattern matching that can be very powerful.
This explains why as midwives progress through their careers they tap their intuition more and more. It's such an important part of practice that it's even been suggested that intuition should figure in nursing and midwifery training curriculums.
The issue is it's a near impossible concept to research. And also, it can be scary for midwives to discuss intuition in our medicalised and litigious culture. If a client or doctor wants the reason why you acted, a 'funny feeling' isn't always going to cut it.
But especially in a high-stakes emergency, I've learnt to take a midwifery intuition very seriously.
It's incredibly useful for practice. It's also one of those gifts from midwifery that you can use in your own life, especially when dealing with people.
The research about intuition always seems to conclude 'yeah, it's critically important' but there are never any pointers on how to learn it.
So here 4 techniques to help you sharpen your midwifery intuition:
1. Remember that time when...
Everyone has experienced intuition at some point.
For instance when I was a student midwife I was also part of the Uni rock climbing club. We did post session dinner parties modelled on 'Come Dine With Me' that we called...wait for it... 'Come Climb With Me' (groan).
I took these dinners much more seriously than the climbing training, and chose the most impressive recipes I could find.
Sometimes I'd get a funny feeling that even though the oven timer hadn't gone off, there was trouble afoot. And sure enough I'd save the bean sprout goulash or whatever I was attempting from the oven just before it burnt.
I still have no idea how I did this, as my bedroom was on the top floor and I couldn't smell/hear the food up there. But I was almost always right.
When have you felt like this? What was the physical sensation of knowing like? An expectant feeling in your belly?
An awareness of another layer going on in the room?
If you concentrate on this feeling and try to identify exactly what it's like physically, you'll start to become aware of other similar feelings in your midwifery practice.
2. Copy the pros
Find the most experienced midwife you can.
I know a few who keep pretending to retire, and then come back again because they can't stay away!
These practitioners are perfect when you want to learn about midwifery intuition. Make sure you question them after births or emergencies. Storytelling is one of the best ways to learn midwifery anyway, but if you specifically ask them about feelings they had that directed them to make a particular decision under stress, you'll start to get what midwifery intuition feels like.
3. Don't expect overnight success
I believe it takes years to develop, though you will have little flashes of intuition along the way (listen to them!). Good sleep, down time, rest and exercise will all help your mind stay healthy so it can perform this incredibly complex task for you.
And as always you deserve self-care time - you're robbing women of your abilities if you don't look after yourself first 🙂
4. The Most Important Point Of All: Stay Slinky
Staying relaxed is my number one tip for developing your intuition.
The problem for most new midwives is they're so overcome with information and adrenaline that they can't get to their intuition.
Just like Katy Cat, you have your own intuition. But if you're anything like I was at the beginning of practice you'll have a thousand thoughts in your head like should I be doing documentation? Does the woman think I look too young? Am I supposed to ask my mentor if I can listen in?...
You won't feel anything if you're actively worrying.
Breathe. Think calmly. And just like Katy Cat, reduce your thoughts. She can't tap into her intuition if she's scared. She just jumps at her shadow and chews at her tail.
It seems impossible, but honestly the most useful thing I've learnt in midwifery lately is that 80% of the meandering 'what if' thoughts could be cut out, leaving just the important stuff.
There's a wonderful quote from a Phillip Pullman book that I found the other day:
' Put your mind in a certain state. You have to be confident and relaxed at the same time. You have to be capable.'
To me that sounds just like a cat, totally on task stalking something, assessing, and pattern matching. It also sounds like a midwifery intuition.
I'd so love to hear what you think about this topic. Please leave me a comment answering:
A) Did any of these points resonate with you?
B) Do you have any good tips on developing midwifery intuition, for new practitioners?
Or C) Have you had any fascinating or life-saving moments of midwifery intuition?
If you found this post interesting, I'd really appreciate you sharing it with a midwifery mate. And if you don't want to miss out on anything coming up, do consider subscribing to Midwife Diaries as well!