For quite some time I've mentioned that I don't believe "experts" are the key to any of the really important answers in life. I do think that people who have enough knowledge to be considered "experts" can be very valuable and offer incredible insight into our lives. But what I don't agree with is blindly following "expert" advice, putting experts up on high pedestals, giving them almost "god-like" status, and just generally deferring important decisions to others because they are an "expert".
My disillusion with experts largely comes from my dealings with Doctors - because they are the experts that I have had the most contact with. Also, not surprisingly, but interestingly, the issues that have led me away from experts have had to do with: reproduction, contraception, pregnancy, birth, and parenthood.
Here is my story and how experts fell from (my) grace.
When Mike and I had been married for a year I decided I wanted to give Natural Family Planning (NFP) a try. When we took our Pre-Cana class before getting married a couple came and talked to us about NFP and they were so enthusiastic about it that they really captivated me. So I ordered a book that included support from a person versed in NFP and taught myself. I stopped taking the pill. Mike and I were not ready just yet for pregnancy, so I really was counting on the method working. Well, when I went to my family doctor's office for my yearly woman checkup I talked to the Nurse practitioner about NFP. Let's just say she was not very supportive or encouraging. She kind of laughed and said, "Oh my parents did that! And they got pregnant with x number of kids... Good luck with that."
Wow. Well, luckily I was not discouraged and I knew enough already to know that this woman was uninformed. (For instance, the "Rhythm" method or counting days is NOT NFP.) I went on to prevent pregnancy for a year, have two planned pregnancies, and now have been preventing for almost 2 more years. Not a bad track record, if I do say myself.
So that was strike numero uno for experts.
Onto pregnancy #1. While pregnant with Marisol I decided to take a Bradley birth class to prepare for her birth. Even my own mother was worried that I would "try to go natural" (apparently she knows me better than myself, because I didn't even know at the time that that was exactly what I would do!) Anyways, long story short - becoming informed about pregnancy and childbirth and the state of our maternity care in the United States was a HUGE reality check as far as trusting the medical system. I know many mothers will understand this without further explanation. Our medical system largely treats pregnancy and birth as a disease and the mother and baby as patients that need saving. After Marisol's birth I couldn't ignore the fact that information that I had been led to believe simply is not true. (You can read her birth story here, appropriately the first part I called my most magnificent awakening: Marisol's Birth Part 1, and here Marisol's Birth Part 2)
Ok, some seeds of doubt had definitely been planted for me. Now would come the longest, most difficult departure for me. I had entered motherhood (this departure is actually the basis for me writing this blog - to share my experience and reach out to others that they are not alone.)
With my daughter, even though I had already made a great leap by having a completely natural childbirth, I was still very much the "A+" student who believed that there was a "right" way to do things (and actually, natural child birth probably fed into this even though it is not the "norm" in our culture). I still believed that if I just read the right books and followed the right advice, then I could master this parenting gig - just like everything else I had mastered in life up to this point (oh perfectionism, you are such a sneaky, insidious character!) So I dutifully made my pediatric appointments and brought my questions in and fumbled through that first year of parenthood. (BTW - click here for an excellent read about the first year of parenthood.)
One of my more vivid memories of these appointments was when I naively asked my pediatrician (and he was such a wonderful man - kind, encouraging, and so supportive of me!) if the proper way to put Marisol to sleep in her crib was "sleepy, but still awake". I can still see the expression on his face as he answered kindly, that yes that is the theory so that they learn to sleep on their own. It was almost as if he didn't want to burst my delicate new-mother bubble. But man, now that I look back on it I wish that people were more honest about babies' sleep - that they are supposed to wake up often, and feed often, and that it is NORMAL for children not to sleep through the night - for years even!
(Well, I can see that this could get really long. And actually a LOT of this is the very same fodder that I am using to write that book of mine that is supposedly some day going out to the masses. So let's just move along a bit, since this is just a mere blog post and not a tome on the subject.)
So let's see, where was I? Oh yes. Ok, so baby Marisol was doing her best to break me of my precious addiction to being perfectly right all the time - my main fix being to turn to experts to give me the ANSWERS please! (Her main methods of breaking me were through her sleep habits which you can read about here.)
And then about 2 1/2 years later we were excitedly making plans to let our families know that baby #2 was on the way. (Let's have a little picture break to mark that occasion.)
Now, at that time we lived in DC in a tiny 1-bedroom condo with our cat. Mike was in business school at Georgetown, I was babysitting to keep a little cashflow going, and because of these factors we qualified for Medicaid. This meant that the easiest place (that was also covered by insurance) to go for care was the Georgetown hospital.
I don't think I will ever forget that appointment. I was so excited to confirm our pregnancy (we had already taken a couple home pregnancy tests - that were both positive). The OB asked me all of the normal questions. I explained that Marisol, my 2 year old, still was breastfeeding and that in fact I only had 2 periods before getting pregnant. At this point the Doctor said two things that further damaged my trust in experts. First, she exclaimed, "Oh well then we don't even really know if you are pregnant then!"
What?!? Because I've only had 2 periods? I still don't get it. Especially since it is well known how accurate home pregnancy tests are. To this woman's benefit, I'm sure that the "average" patient isn't as "in-tune" with their body as crunchy-granola NFP types like me - but still! So instead of me peeing in a cup or taking a bit of blood or whatever other hocus pocus is possible to confirm pregnancy, she got out the wand ultrasound to take a look.
Oh man, I still get angry thinking about this. Not really at her or even the procedure so much. I mean, it's just a wand up your vagina right? No, it wasn't painful and I didn't feel humiliated or anything (although I know lots of stories of women who have felt this way after OB appointments) No, I'm mad at myself. For not having the guts to say, "No Thanks." I didn't need that ultrasound and if I could go back I wouldn't get it again. But I also know there was part of me that wanted to show her - YES I AM pregnant.
The second thing she insisted was that Marisol would have to wean by the end of the first trimester. I did another internal "What?!?" I mean I knew my daughter (and myself) and I knew that wasn't happening. I was about 7 weeks pregnant - so in another month and a half? Plus I had already done some reading on tandem nursing (nursing more than one child) so her declaration confused me.
One thing I am good at is nodding my head and smiling. And then doing whatever the f*ck I want. So I went home and googled nursing while pregnant and every site that popped up confirmed that for the vast majority of mamas and babies it is perfectly safe. Big Strikes 2 and 3 for experts (well more than that if you count my first pregnancy/birth and Marisol chipping away at the doctor's advice, but these were two big ones).
I only had one more appointment at GT and thankfully not with that Doctor. I switched to a birth center and never looked back.
At the birth center we had to fill out paperwork before the baby came. One decision was about circumcision. The birth center would not even do them - it was against their philosophy - and if we had a boy and wanted one we would have to schedule an appointment. By this point in my parenting journey it was easy to check the "no" box and skip that procedure for our son. I'm so grateful that it was that easy for us, because for MANY parents it is not. I'm also glad that Marisol was a girl because I'm sure I would have just gone along with whatever prescribed advice had been given to me on that topic too. This may seem a little unrelated to the whole "experts" theme of this post, but in my mind they are very much related. There are so many mothers out there who regret decisions, like circumcision, and just go along with them because their Doctor tells them it's the thing to do.
And while we're on controversial topics, let's talk vaccines. I don't think this topic is going to be "resolved" any time soon. What I do know is that with my daughter I questioned nothing, researched nothing, and she had every shot "on time" for the first few years of her life.
With my son I was a different person - largely because of the experiences above. So I started reading. And that just made things more confusing - because there is a lot of conflicting information out there and the opinions on either side of the debate are very intense. I can tell you someone (or more accurately someoneS) who didn't help though - you might know by now. Our pediatricians at the Georgetown hospital basically made me feel stupid for even questioning the possibility that maybe vaccines aren't all they're cracked up to be. It was the straw that broke my faith in experts forever. I was not treated respectfully even though I know that I am an intelligent, educated woman who is just trying to make the best decision I can for my kids. When the "Dead Baby Card" was thrown at me I knew it was time to leave and find a care provider that was supportive of me and Mike, our kids, and our choices.
So there you have it. I think that there are lots of Doctors who are good people. I think that there are lots of Experts who have valuable knowledge and skills to share. What I will not ever do is turn my life, body, or children over to an expert and let them make a decision for me. I've seen too many times that experts often don't know what they are talking about - so it's up to me to do my homework so I can make the best decision possible.
I've been meaning to write this post for over a year now. What finally spurred me to do so was a new friend in distress. Her little girl is ready to home school - something this wonderful mama actually wants to do anyway! But the mom also wants to make sure that taking her daughter out of school is the best decision for everyone - so she consulted with teachers and administrators at the school to gather more information. Well, the school-folk ("experts" if you will) had the audacity to make the mom feel like the reason her daughter is saying these things to her is due to some fault of hers - in her home or her relationship with her child.
And you know what? That ticks me off! How dare anyone presume to know more than this beautiful woman about her own daughter. And how dare they assume that they know better what is good for the little girl - the same little girl who is clearly telling her mother what she wants and needs. Do they really think that she would confide so much in them?
Mamas and Papas - please use experts the way they are meant to be used. As sources of information and support. They are not gods or goddesses, they are not superheroes with capes - they are people like you and me with specialized knowledge. But they do not know you or your family better than you do. YOU are the expert on that.
Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.