Since writing my post the other day about trusting myself I’ve been thinking a lot about confidence as a mother, but also as an intelligent adult who is also a mother.
When I was pregnant we often experienced a difference of opinion and philosophy with our doctors. Whenever I was recapping for family or friends, a recurring theme appeared in their reactions if I implied that I didn’t agree with the doctor. How many times did someone say to me “You know, doctors do know what they’re talking about, they did go to school after all.” It seems benign enough at face value. I mean, fair enough, they did go to school, they do have knowledge. But the implication is actually quite insidious: because the doctor knows something, I must therefore know nothing.
I really started wondering why knowledge is assumed to fluctuate; to increase or diminish based on factors outside of ourselves, based on the intellect of the person you’re speaking to, for instance. Or based on the novelty of the situation you’re in.
Motherhood seems to be an excellent case study for this kind of thinking. How often do we hear mothers termed as ‘new mothers’ or ‘first-time mothers’? I even mentioned it in my previous post – in fact, I qualified myself that way. This seems to be just as insidious as the previous statement. Sure, it’s true my body had never built a human being from scratch before and I’ve never raised that particular human being before. But does that mean I have no experience? I do, after all, have three decades of accumulated knowledge about a lot of things to work from. Was that all for naught? Does all of that suddenly vanish into thin air when I enter motherhood?
If (when, fingers crossed) I have a second baby, that baby will be unique. It won’t be the same experience all over again. I’ll be a new mother to that baby, but no one will call me a new mother. They’ll assume I know what I’m doing because I have a couple of years of experience with my first child. I will, of course, have experience with my first child but do I really think that will trump all of the other experience and knowledge I have independent of the first child?
And how often do we hear mothers talk about all of the things they’ll do differently with their second baby because ‘now they know’? I find that so belittling. But what is even worse is that those mothers are complicit in their own belittlement. They bought into that idea that no matter how smart they were as an individual before their babies were born, they then became blank slates. So rather than figuring the journey out for themselves, using their own intellect and transferable skills, they did what others told them to do (whether that be mom or doctors or books). Now they realize with baby #2 that there is a different, better (for them) approach to take. Maybe if they had trusted themselves more, counted their knowledge as real and valuable, they would have been able to find that better (for them) approach the first time around.
But let’s get back to those doctors for a minute, because that was a real sticking point for so many people in my own situation. My doctors were very good at their trade, there’s no doubt about that. But guess what? I’m a trained molecular biologist. I did cutting edge research at some of the foremost labs in my field IN THE WORLD. I breeze through science journals like a lawyer through a contract. So when the topic is the biology of my own body, I may not be an obstetrician, but I’m certainly no dummy. Yet I was told to dismiss myself, to discount what I knew in the face of what someone else knew.
I wasn’t about to belittle myself that way. I claimed my own knowledge for, well, for my own. It’s great that my doctors also had a lot of knowledge but I took the attitude that mine was cumulative to theirs, not inversely proportional to it.
Ironically, my doctors took that seriously. They even wrote in my chart that I intended to be a midwife so when new residents were handling my appointments, they mentioned it. One told me it was always nice to work with patients who are ‘in the business’. At our last visit, at 40 week +5 days, our main doctor told me that anyone else in my situation would have been induced already. She hadn’t pushed it earlier only because she was confident in my understanding and my ability to gauge if my health changed.
The lesson? I was right to value myself. My knowledge depends only on me and it is very real. My baby and I were healthier and happier for it. And I should try to remind myself, and all of the other mamas, of that more often.