Afternoon Inquisition

AI: What’s going on in my gut?

The other night I told my husband that I don’t think this baby is going to wait until her delivery date to come out. Why do I think that? I have no idea. Maybe it’s because I’m swamped with projects I need to get done and I know that if she comes out early, they’ll be on indefinite hiatus. Maybe it’s because I’m meeting up with the fine folks at the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition the night before my delivery is scheduled and I would be devastated if I had to miss out on that because of something lame like having a baby.

Or maybe it’s because my contractions are more painful than they were when I was preggo with Moose. Maybe it’s because my lower abdomen is tight all the time.

Maybe it’s because I’m too uncomfortable to sleep and just want three days in the hospital without a toddler bothering me. And maybe I think that I will get sleep in the hospital. Maybe I think I might get work done in the hospital.

Or maybe it’s something else; something I’m not consciously aware of but that I associate with giving birth.

Or maybe I’m psychic.

Or maybe I’m just wrong.

Or maybe my gut is getting messed with by an evil baby.

Do you trust your gut? Do you ever listen to your intuition?  Is listening to your gut a good idea? Does that vary from person to person? What does your crystal ball say about when my baby is going to be born? And holy hell, am I ever going to get a good night’s sleep again?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. Intuition is such a weird idea – I think there is some juice behind it. We already know that people can be very good at picking up subtle cues in people’s faces and body language to get information. I think it is plausible that some people (perhaps everyone to some degree) make sub-conscious evaluations based on subtle information vectors. I should try to find out if any research has been done on this, but I am lazy…

    Bad skeptic! No biscuit!

  2. I agree with w_nightshade. I suspect a lot of people who think they have psychic abilities are actually just good at picking up on subtle cues unconsciously.

    Note that I’m talking about charlatans who know they’re taking advantage of people. I suspect a lot of people honestly believe they have some of power, because they can’t explain their unconscious intuition. Sprinkle in some confirmation bias, and they think they’re psychic.

  3. Intuition is just the unconscious parts of the brain thinking. If you’re in a situation where those parts of your brain know what they’re doing (like you’re dealing with a situation where you have a lot of experience or a situation which your instincts evolved to deal with) then instinct is just fine, especially if you don’t have time to think things through carefully.

    I use my instinct all the time for analytical problems. It’s a very good tool when you have the ability to go back and check your work afterward.

  4. Of course I trust intuition. Oftentimes our intuition or “gut instinct” is correct. It’s not about being psychic; it’s about your brain taking many different pieces of information and bits of knowledge that you have accumulated on your years on earth and using them to find a pattern. Then your brain tells you the answer without stopping to show its work. It is probably many things that are making you suspect that you will give birth early, particularly subtle clues from your body that feel different from your last pregnancy. Or it could just be you ate some bad enchiladas and have been watching Psychic Detectives or something.

    As to trusting intiution, I usually trust it (unless I can tell that’s a false positive because I had just seen some Dateline about rapists and now I’m seeing rapists in the shadows) because generally my first instinct turns out to be the correct one when I go back and evaluate.

    In fact, when studying for the bar exam I took several full MBE practice tests (the day-long multiple choice portion of the bar). Since they were just practice tests, I decided to do an experiment. In one test I noted each place that I changed from my initial answer to another answer, and what my first instinct was. In the other I always stayed with my first instinct, but marked what I would have changed it to had it been the real thing. I did this so that on the actual test I would know whether to change answers or if statistically it was better to leave them.

    The result was amazing. On the test where I changed my answers, 90% of the time I changed from a right to a wrong answer. On the test where I didn’t change answers, I scored higher and the answer that I would have changed to was usually wrong. The only exception to that rule was when I remembered a specific piece of information (like an exception to a legal rule) that applied to that question.

    So yes, I trust my instincts because I trust my sub or semi-consicous brain.

  5. I don’t really know the difference between an intuition or gut feeling, and an educated guess. I really can’t think of a time when I just got some feeling that had no explainable source, though it does usually seem like the impetus for a gut feeling is your emotions mixing heavily into your thought process.

    One time my girlfriend was super late from work and wasn’t answering her phone. I had a bad feeling, so I called her work to make sure she was still there and didn’t get into a car accident or something. She was, her phone just didn’t get reception in the basement and she was merely busy fixing something.

    I made an educated guess based on the fact that I know traffic around her work is bad, and she had never been this late before, and her phone wasn’t working. But the feeling was wrong, she was fine. So I think it’s a fine idea to “listen to your gut,” as long as you understand that it doesn’t have any super powers.

  6. Experiences trains our guts. The more you experience something the better your instincts are. For example previous gorging sessions have taught me that stuffing something the size of a baby into your gut is probably uncomfortable.

  7. I only trust my gut in matters of dessert.

    I do listen to my gut/intuition sometimes. It’s generally wrong, but I always feel better for checking. Like sporefrog gave as an example, there have been plenty of instances in which I felt like something was wrong regarding someone I love. It doesn’t hurt to check.

    I think it varies from person to person only in the sense that people have different anxiety levels. I’m a worrier, so I’m more likely to check on a gut feeling than, say, my husband is. But his gut is no more correct or incorrect than mine is.

    My crystal ball says that Delaney will be born soon… in the month of May. The rest is hazy, but if you’ll send me a few dollars more I’m sure it will clear up.

    As for the sleep… I’m sorry. Although maybe you’ll get lucky and she’ll be a sleeper. Otherwise, I’ll come visit and take the kids so you can rest. <3

  8. If I learned anything from my pregnancy, it is that my gut is almost always wrong (except when it’s telling me to take some Tums).

    I was certain that I would have a girl (I had a boy). I thought I wasn’t going into labor when I clearly was, and didn’t go to the hospital until my water broke. My husband even graphed my contractions for me, so that should teach me to pay attention to the data, and not my gut.

    So yeah, maybe your gut is right sometimes, but most of the time, it just needs some Tums.

  9. I probably trust my instincts too much. They’re seductive.

    I openly trust my instincts in situations where I expect them to be moderately reliable. Typically when navigating social situations. Sometimes I’ll meet a person and my instincts will scream at me to keep my distance. Or someone will just come over as a bit slimy or untrustworthy for – seemingly – no reason at all. I trust my gut in these situations. I’ve never regretted not listening to my instincts here. I have regretted numerous occasions where I didn’t trust my instincts. They have a good track record in the social arena.

    There are other times where I brutally crush my instincts before considering any other factor. Pretty much any time I need to engage in something involving statistics, probabilities, or significant quantities of shiny-cashey-money. In these situations I trust the math and play conservative. My gut has a terrible track record on finances.

    Admittedly, I might choose to blow $50 on $5 blackjack every once in a while. But I go in expecting to lose. I string out small bets and make them last. I’ve always managed to go for more than 10 rounds. Gambling is fine as a mode of entertainment so long as you don’t fall into the trap of treating it like an investment. I’d sooner trust the markets than a casino.

  10. I definitely believe in listening to my intuition – a lot of times I really do think it’s just my mind’s way of pointing out things that I haven’t noticed in my conscious mind yet. Plus, I’m a writer, and if I didn’t intuit my way through my stories… well, I’d be in the same spot I’m in right now where I can’t figure out what the hell to write.

    That said, intuition is only to inform situations in addition to reason and rationality – never instead of.

  11. Intuition tells people to cut the heads off chickens and examine their entrails for signs, pray to saints for a nice son-in-law and to put tacks on their teachers chairs when they fail a third grade spelling test, and superstitions rise from the fulminations of rumbling dyspeptic guts which are the likely origins of all the worlds major religions.

  12. I’ll start listening to my gut when it starts speaking a language where there’s an actual difference between: “She’s going to stab you with an ice pick and gorge herself on your perinephric fat.” and “Your low caloric intake today, caused by and combined with your nervousness about this date is causing me distress.”

    Note that I don’t require that level of detail, I just want there to be a noticeable difference between the two categories of message.

  13. The idea that our intuitive feelings are using information accessed subconsciously certainly is interesting as well as popular – is it actually true though? Is human intuition better than chance at picking the right outcome? If so, how much better?

    Personally I prefer to rely on reason and rationality as much as possible. My instincts have been very, very wrong rather often (religious belief), so I don’t trust my gut feeling to be telling me what is true or right. I trust it to tell me what I want to hear, what I’ve been culturally conditioned to think, and/or what is easiest.

    Acting or relying on intuition/gut instinct instead of painstakingly researching out what is actually real is what gives us sexism, racism and homophobia, so I’m reluctant to give very much credence to intuitive feelings, thoughts or ideas.

    I’m sort of an über-rationalist, or at least I try to be.

  14. sporefrog’s example is excellent. It’s ok to listen to your gut, as long as you know it’s not a perfect oracle.

    I had several people tell me they “just knew” I would go into labor early with my first. 41 weeks is not early. Just sayin’. I haven’t gotten any predictions yet this time, but I’m not showing much yet so I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.

    More painful contractions could be because she’s not positioned ideally (posterior, breech, whatever), rather than because you’re going to labor soon. My prodromal labor was frankly excruciating for this reason, even though I wasn’t dilating at all or anything. Not so fun.

    And yes, you will get a good night’s sleep again, when you convince your parents, in-laws, good friends, or other trusted love one to take the kids for a weekend. ;)

  15. My entire pregnancy I was convinced my son was going to come early. I ended up being induced ten days after my due date. I was also convinced he was a girl up until the 20 week ultrasound. My gut instincts suck.

  16. sporefrog et al are right in that intuition can be a matter of subconsciously integrating information and sensations that hasn’t made it up to your conscious awareness. At the same time, you also need to remember that sometimes, that subconscious stuff hasn’t emerged for good reason — it’s been filtered out as irrelevant, spurious (Bjornar gives a good example ;-) ) or contrary to what you know for facts.

    Intuition is at its best when your overall knowledge base is good — if you’re an experienced mechanic, or computer programmer, or cook, or whatever, you’ll have good intuition in your field, because then you’re integrating more information than you would be able to explicitly review “in the foreground”. It’s at its worst when you really don’t know anything about the situation, but you’re grasping for any hint — then you’re more likely to be pulling “conclusions” out of more-or-less random noise.

    The trickiest case is when you have experience, but it’s not “formalized” — much human-life experience falls under that category, where you have a lot of subliminal impressions and instinctive heuristics that you normally don’t consciously focus on. But instincts and such aren’t necessarily right….

  17. Elyse, my wife thought the same thing as you, for similar reasons. A few weeks ago she gave birth, 10 days past her due date. It was a long wait for those real contractions.

    Intuition is an excuse for believing what you hope is true.

  18. @Gib:

    People keep suggesting to me that I might deliver late.

    I’m almost hoping so… because I’ll then be filthy fucking rich since my c-section is scheduled 9 days before my due date!

  19. I believe our “gut” instincts are actual reasoned responses to things that our brains aren’t quite ready to articulate. In other words, things that we are certain of but can’t put into words or create rational arguments for. It doesn’t mean that everyone should trust their gut or that no one should. “Guts” need to be trained just like your conscious mind needs to be.

    A perfect example was when I was learning to become a day trader. In the beginning, I couldn’t trust my gut because it was just as clueless as I was. The few times I did, it let me down. As I became more familiar with all the ups and downs, things started to come to me that I “knew” were right, but couldn’t explain to anyone else why they were. As my confidence grew, I started to trust my gut more and it got a better track record. Now, after two years of experience, my gut and my conscious mind have begun to agree most of the time. They still aren’t always right, but they’re both telling the same things now.

    My guess is that if you are an especially logical person, your “gut” will reflect that and you should trust it more often than not. If you’re given to emotional reactions to situations…. maybe not… but given that I’m not a trained psychologist, I can only say that this is what my gut is telling me. It may still be all bullshit.

    I am certain that your gut is not God talking or some guardian angel or some supernatural sixth sense giving you advice you don’t really already have.

  20. @Pinkbunny: At least you revised your belief on gender given an ultrasound. I’ve had people that straight up do not believe even when confronted with the evidence (oddly enough, one of these patients chose to believe an OTC urine test for gender).

    I do tend to trust my gut- as much as I’m going to trust something not founded on factual evidence. I have learned that I am very good at picking up on subtle cues people are giving- which makes it easier for me to guess motivations for what people are saying. In that sense, I have a good “intuition” for what people are thinking or what they really mean, or when they’re holding something back. This has served me very well- but mostly because when I find myself “getting a feeling” from people, I try to consciously check that and figure out what facts support that feeling.

    That said, I’m almost always wrong when it comes to my own personal health. I still have “medical school hypochondria”. I never got over it. My first thought when I get a headache or have a stiff neck: brain tumor or meningitis. I always talk myself out of it, though.

  21. My gut says an “evil alien baby” lurks inside Elyse. Simplest explanation, really. Has anyone here ever heard of Occam’s Razor? Sheesh!


  22. I’m always posting comments on dead threads.

    I agree with the people who are saying that intuition/gut feelings are usually a combination of emotion and experience. It tends to be more correct in situations where you have the most working knowledge.

    We recently had our second baby. The morning before she was born, my wife was complaining about “cramps”. Then she had a small amount of fluid leakage. We called the doctor and they scheduled us for an appointment in the early afternoon. It was two weeks before the official due date, so my wife insisted she was not in labor, but my intuition was screaming that the baby was coming. So I packed our bags for the hospital, and called my parents to put them on standby for picking up our older son from daycare. Sure enough, the doctor sent us straight over to the maternity ward, and by the time we checked in, my wife was having full-on contractions. Our daughter came screaming into the outside world less than 3 hours later.

    I think I had simply picked up on the cues my wife was giving. Her behavior had changed, and the symptoms reminded me of the last time.

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