“Everyone was telling me to let my child go hungry but every fibre of my being was telling me this was wrong”
“The doctor said there was nothing wrong with my daughter’s eating, but I just knew there was. I wouldn’t let it lie.”
“My gut told me there was more to this than ‘just a picky phase’ ”
These are examples of the kind of statements parents of children with feeding difficulties might make, when they get information or advice that conflicts with what their intuition tells them. This can be a tough place to be. We are very used to using rational points to challenge ideas we disagree with. I don’t know about you, but I feel kind of vulnerable when the basis for my argument is “I just feel it in my bones”.
When my second child was a baby, she would scream and pull up her legs after every feed before being copiously sick. I took her to the doctor, who told me that ‘babies spit up’ and if I had a problem with it, I should get a throw for my sofa. I left in tears. Eventually, my daughter was violently sick in front of the health visitor, who realised there was something up and got me the referral I needed. Turned out she had severe reflux and a milk protein intolerance.
What blocks our intuition?
Sometimes, that inner intuitive voice can sound pretty faint and far off when it is buried in a clamour of other opinions. Especially if these come from people in authority, like medical professionals, or from friends and family members we trust.
Energy levels are a factor too. When I’m fretting about something to do with one of my girls, this can be really draining. I become less resilient because I’m stressed. Worrying might affect my sleep and so I’m perhaps tireder than usual. In short, just when I need it most, I find myself with less energy than I might usually have. Not ideal, if there is a battle to be fought.
When it comes to your child’s health, listening to that inner voice is utterly essential. Here’s why:
You see your child every day and you know if they are not well and thriving. Tiny changes to their appearance or behaviour might not be noticeable to anyone else, but they could be significant.
You have known your child since they were a tiny baby - even earlier, if you are their biological mother! This intimate knowledge is not to be sniffed at. It puts you in a unique position to assess how they are.
You are empathically attuned to your child. This gives you a privileged insight into their emotional world that no-one else has.
Talking about parental gut instinct in relation to medical treatment, Giles Birchley writes:
“Where a child suffers a common condition that may lead clinicians to depersonalise the child, parents’ emotional sympathy may bring the focus back on to the individual and combat this depersonalisation” (Birchley, G., 2015, section 10.5)
To me, this is the crux of the issue. The child in front of you is your child - with all of the knowledge, emotions, memories and bonds that make up your history together. They are not just another patient or a statistic. A good clinician will recognise what parents have to contribute and will listen to them when it comes to making decisions or recommendations.
If you get advice that doesn’t sit right with you or if you find your concerns being dismissed when you know they are valid, block out the crowd and turn up the volume on that inner voice. Trust your gut and be your child’s advocate.
Birchley G. ‘You don’t Need Proof When You’ve Got Instinct!’: Gut Feelings and Some Limits to Parental Authority. In: Huxtable R, ter Meulen R, editors. The Voices and Rooms of European Bioethics [Internet]. New York: Routledge; 2015. Chapter 10