You are the expert in you (and your children)

Yesterday I had the privilege of talking to a lovely group of mothers and mothers-to-be. Afterwards, my colleague commented on how the message I kept repeating to these mothers was something she thought they had never heard from a health professional before.

“Oh?” One of my eyebrows shot up. What had I said that was out there? Am I that alty that I’m giving out messages no other health professional gives? I squirmed a little, trying to remember everything I had talked about in an hour and a half. I don’t give scripted talks…

“Yes,” my colleague nodded. “I think they’ve gone their whole pregnancies and every time they’ve seen a doctor or a nurse or whatever for their children, they are told what to do. They are told what’s best for them. And you kept saying that they know their own bodies best, that they know their children better than anyone else, and they should trust their gut feelings.”

“You are the expert in you,” I murmured. It was indeed something I had emphasized to these mums. “And your kids,” I added quietly. These mothers had told me about seeing doctors who had dismissed rashes and pain after eating certain foods as ‘just being fussy’, about being told what’s best for their children when they had the overwhelming feeling that it wasn’t. I strongly believe that when it comes to our bodies and our children, we know when something isn’t right. And unfortunately, in our health care system, you often have to fight to be heard.

This isn’t something that is unique to this set of mums, either. Recently I was told of some preliminary local research, as yet unpublished, that has discovered that people are often dismissed by their GPs over niggly health concerns. It’s put down to “That’s just what’s normal for you,” or “She’s just always complaining of something.” And it’s only when, by chance, they are seen by a different doctor that they are taken seriously, and serious health problems discovered.

In my own life I have friends and family members that have experienced the same thing. Pregnancies where they’ve felt something is off but are dismissed, only to go into preterm labour later on. Gut issues that they’re told are psychological, only to find out years later that it is definitely not.

I think it’s probably a mix of being taught that you are the expert and people should listen to you because you know best, and something akin to that thing about the frog. Put a frog in a pot of boiling water and it’ll jump right out, but put it in a pot of cold water and slowly turn up the heat, and it will sit and boil to death.

The thing is, I get a wee bit annoyed when health professionals act like they actually know how the human body works. Sure, they know a bit, but have they really clocked the thing? No way. One of my favourite examples is that more male babies are conceived in war zones. There are theories about why but no one really has the faintest clue how it works. How does nature know you have to breed more soldiers? We can’t explain it. But nature knows.

In the same way, we have these instincts that aren’t easily explained. Gut feelings. Just because we don’t know how it works doesn’t mean we should dismiss the feeling. If you know there is something off with your body or with your child, that’s all a health professional should need to know to take you seriously and start investigating further.

You are the expert in you, and your children. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

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