Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Advice for the vulnerable

I am incensed, and not in a zen and smokey kind of way. I haven't posted for ages as we have been suffering through the winter of viruses. Finally I thought we were through it but Ella and I are sick again and so off to the doctor I went, suspecting we both needed antibiotics. Now I love my doctor, I have been to her since I was a child and I like her straightforward approach and how honest I can be with her. This has been so important to me as I have struggled with so much over the last few years. But today's visit has left me wondering whether I need to make a change.

After writing our prescriptions and getting us all sorted I made a passing comment as I breastfed Ella that she was desperately trying to get to sleep and that the plunket nurse the week before had commented that we were parenting in a way not usually seen by her in her middle class and predominantly pakeha practice. And before I could blink I was told in very serious tones that I had to stop feeding Ella to sleep and that it should be my goal before she got to 18 months and that research showed she had to learn to go to sleep alone and go back to sleep alone. At this point the appointment was basically over and we were heading for the door. I felt there was no chance to explain that I was not just taking the 'easy way' because I had been sick and that it was a conscious choice for us to deal with sleep this way. I also picked up the slight hint that because of my depression I was being indulgent or didn't have the strength to deal with the issue. This is something I notice more and more as Ella gets older and people are less scared that they might upset me by what they say.

So as I walked out the door of the clinic I felt totally gobsmacked. How could a health professional I thought I had known well get me and my choices so wrong? And also what does my parenting have to do with her that she would think she could tell me what to do? It is not a medical issue. She must have picked up how I was feeling because she admitted that other cultures have raised babies well doing things differently. But she also stated that she didn't think parenting could be defined along those lines. Well neither do I. But there are patterns about modern western parenting and especially to do with sleep that I don't feel comfortable with. And as Ella's parents we can choose to do what we believe is best without needing her permission. Doctors are not trained in parenting and I suspect much of the advice given is from their personal experience rather than research and evidence.

So as my rage and hurt subsides I feel I need to address the issue. My first instinct is to change GP. But that is mainly because I don't want to be put in the position of justifying myself and explaining that I think she is wrong. I also pay a lot at my doctor's because of the area she is in. And then if I do leave where do I go? How do I find a GP who will respect me and my husband as well informed parents who are happy with the choices we are making.

Above all I wish that those people who are the 'experts' and deal with parents and especially Mums, would realise that advice is not very helpful if it undermines a parent's confidence in themselves as a parent and their knowledge of their child. There is not one way to do things and just because it is different doesn't mean there is a problem. If my doctor has paused before hitting me with her advice and asked a few questions then maybe she could have been more sensitive in addressing the 'issue' which is not an issue for me. Maybe she would have realised that even though I am tired and breastfeeding a lot while Ella is sick that that is not a problem to be solved for me, it is just how it is and what Ella needs.

So I want to try to give less advice to other parents and instead affirm their role and that they are the ones who know what is best for their child and their family.


  1. Anonymous3:37 pm

    Cling to the knowledge that mums know best. You know Ella the best of anyone in this world xxx

  2. Anonymous6:50 pm

    print out some articles "that may be of interest to her" and if you are feeling courageous explain next time that you found her comments concerning, as there are diverse approaches to parenting in NZ society - and amongst western middle class folks (who aren't even hippys!)all over the world - diverse healthy approaches - that it would make sense for a GP to be familiar with so she is in future able to discern between healthy alternatives, and someone who really is clueless! This would take a brave feeling - but do it for the other mums - especially if this woman is in other ways a good GP - maybe you are doing her a favour...

  3. Anonymous7:08 pm

    I have been in situations like this myself with health professionals and with other mums. Especially around setting routines, etc because we did everything on demand. I also had great experiences and I think there are great supporters of mums out there, if we look. Leaving your GP may leave you in a spiral of looking for someone new and not finding the support you are after. Though if you look for recommendations from like-minded mums in your area, you might find someone who is a good fit for you. Advice to mums is such a hotbed because of the moment of guilt we place on ourselves - even when we feel like we are doing the right leaves you second guessing everything that is right with your situation.

  4. Carla Sargent7:31 pm

    Reading your blog post I felt encouraged to hear of another wonderful mother out there who is doing what she knows is best for her baby. It seems that far too many women these days are pushing for their young dependants (yes, our children are completely dependant on us for quite some time)to become independent as quickly as possible... into their own bed, their own room, putting themselves to sleep, weaning them from the breast and ultimately from their mother (their primary source of support, love and affection) as soon as they can. It's tragic really.

    So, your post is heart warming. Know that you are a wonderfully responsive, loving and caring mother, that the parenting choices you are making are having a positive influence on your daughter's understanding of where she fits in the world (an influence that will carry through to her later years too), and never doubt that you know what is best for your daughter. She needs you to continue to trust your instincts and to act on them. Keep up the great work that you do!

    Kia kaha

  5. Ooo! We need to have coffee sometime!!! Good on you for getting angry! I might have some info that could help you with your GP or might just help you. But then you might have it all, already. :o)