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Why I Don’t Believe in Mother’s Intuition

One day, when my daughter was a little over a year old, I was running my hands through her hair when I noticed an odd ridge down the center of the top of her head. I felt a cold chill go through me. What the hell was that? I know perfectly well that you can’t diagnose your child based on Dr. Google, but that sure as hell didn’t stop me from trying.

We snagged a last-minute cancellation with a pediatric specialist at Children’s in DC, so we only had to spend a week and a half trying our best not to think about it. And bargaining. Ok, maybe it’s nothing. But maybe it’s something. Maybe it will only require surgery. We can handle surgery, right?

At the appointment, the specialist examined her for about forty-five seconds before deciding the ridge was nothing at all. No cause for concern. He cracked jokes. We laughed. We breathed sighs of relief. As we drove home, I kept thinking, we’re so lucky. How did that happen?

Of course, we weren’t lucky at all. Most little kids don’t have a condition requiring skull surgery. We weren’t lucky. We just weren’t unlucky. At least not this time.

Image via flickr user Evonne

In our last pregnancy prior to having our daughter, the baby I was carrying had been diagnosed with Trisomy 18. It’s a fairly rare chromosomal abnormality — less common and far more lethal than Down Syndrome. The baby’s heart was on the wrong side of its body. We terminated the pregnancy. For a long time after that loss, we felt like we were always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I felt certain the ridge in her head was it. But it wasn’t.

In a recent piece over at Mamalode, Susan Maccarelli describes the power of a mother’s intuition — without it, her son would still have a serious speech delay. For months, her son’s pediatrician and speech therapist were unable to come up with a diagnosis. But when she learned that her son’s uvula was split, she sought out an ear, nose and throat specialist who repaired the uvula and successfully treated the impediment. Her lesson? Trust your intuition. A mother always knows. “If you want the right diagnosis, just ask the mom.”

I feel the same way about intuition as I do about luck. It’s an illusion. Describing motherly intuition as some sort of powerful tool implies that there’s a way to prevent bad things from happening to our children or ourselves, if only we would just trust our guts. Or faith. Or positive thinking. It negates the powerlessness we all experience at some point in our lives, whether it’s a chromosomal abnormality or cancer.

I wish intuition were real. It’s frightening to face your own humanity, or worse, your child’s, but I’d rather face it than put my faith in a superpower that doesn’t actually exist.

Featured image by flickr user Trocaire.


Jenny Splitter

Jenny Splitter is a writer, storyteller and over-scheduled mom of two living in Washington, DC. She spends her glamorous days trying to write whatever she can, counting 1-2-3 in a slow yet threatening manner to her children, playing with gluten and working to eradicate dog hair from the planet (or at least her home). Find her on Twitter , Google+ and Facebook

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  1. I don’t believe in Mother’s Intuition, but I pay attention to a primary caregiver’s experience.
    I also believe in health insurance and free healthcare for children. This means that I’m pretty good at deciding whether the kid just needs a day rest and too many DVDs or whether she needs to see the paediatrician. And 9 out of 10 times the paediatrician will more or less prescribe “more rest, more DVDs, good you came here”.
    1 out of 10 times they’ll prescribe real medicine.
    Retrospectively the 9 “useless” visits will fade from memory and the one that could have turned out really ugly remains strong in my memory as the time I just knew my child was horribly sick and needed medicine.

  2. Yeah. I disbelieve in mother’s intuition from both sides of this – as a mother (every time I’ve been worried about something it’s been nothing to worry about) and as a caregiver (I’m an NP, and about 90% of the time when I see worried parents . . . their kid is fine).

    Mother’s intuition is pretty much the best example of confirmation bias I can think of.

  3. Mother’s intuition went to a really scary place for me. I gave in to my so-called intuition so much after my first child was born that it morphed into full-blown postpartum OCD, Part of it was just the typical obsessions and compulsions, but part was wondering and obsessing about EVERY little thing and believing that because my mind said so, and because I’m her mother, I must legitimately have something to worry about. Now that I’ve learned to handle it, when I think something is wrong I run it by a professional because I know I’m no longer so irrational. Fortunately, my health system has a wonderful 24/7 call line with nurses on call.

    1. This is always hard for me, because of my anxiety disorder. Is something really wrong or are unimportant details just being blown up too much? It’s made even harder because it appears that after the pregnancy, hormonal birth control is causing me to be variably very depressed, much more anxious, and sometimes irritated far beyond reasonable. Still, I’ve managed to only take him to the doctor once so far, when he had diarrhea for 2 weeks (we took him at 1.5, the doctor couldn’t find anything right then and my son was still eating and drinking just fine so, he told us to come back if it lasted for another week, then it ended after 3 more days).

    2. Yes! I have anxiety, so I guess that’s another reason why my intuition isn’t particularly helpful. That’s awesome that there’s a nurse line. I always feel like our pediatricians want to kill us when we call them off-hours!

  4. The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeRossi might be worth a read for you, he discusses intuition in depth and how invaluable it is for avoiding danger in a lot of situations. He really knows his stuff and its a great read. Of course its just about intuition instead of anything having to do with mothers. I think mothers get told they are intuitive just because they are experts on their own children and more likely to notice just about anything about their child compared with others.

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