As birth workers, we’ve all experienced how the primitive brain and the autonomic nervous system rule labor. We know that humans giving birth do best when the thinking brain steps out of the way and lets us be more like the animals. We know not to ask a birthing person to recall phone numbers or nonessential information for fear of bringing them out of their primitive brain and into their neocortex because it can disrupt the innate biological functions of labor. We understand how the neocortex or modern brain can actually stand in the way of labor’s progress. As birth workers, we understand and intimately trust the autonomic nervous system and know how to stay in tune with it. We are proficient in the language of the reptilian brain.
There are many ways in which the basic premises of Somatic Experiencing can be woven into our every day lives in the form of self care. I believe that birth workers are in a particularly advantageous place to understand the concepts of this work, as the ways of the nervous system have already been revealed to us time and time again through our experience of harnessing the power of labor and birth.
Since our autonomic nervous systems are housed in our reptilian brains, they are not easily influenced by rational thought. Just as we can’t rely on the frontal cortex (the modern brain) to bring the baby, we also cannot rely on logical thought to create resiliency in our nervous systems or to release old patterns of trauma. Instead, we must work to access and support our autonomic nervous systems. Just as we ask people who are in giving birth to remain as aware as possible of their bodily sensations and trust the inherent wisdom of their primitive brains, we must do the same in order to find resiliency. In the words of Peter Levine, “the ‘language’ of the reptilian brain is sensation" and we need to “court the reptilian brain” by tracking our sensations. One of the most basic ways to support the inherent resiliency of the nervous system is to become more aware of our own bodily sensations.