A mother’s instinct is never wrong

A woman I worked for many years ago spoke of “feeling things in her waters” – and it’s a notion I only fully got to grips with when I became a mom. In the runup to the birth of my first child, I was given truckloads of advice from all directions – but the piece of advice that stuck the most was to ignore all the advice and follow my gut. And it’s the one that’s worked the best for me.

Two examples in the last few weeks have proven this right yet again. I had promised my boys a sleepover at their beloved grandparents on the Sunday night before the public holiday. Matthew (my youngest) woke up from his afternoon nap that day unusually grumpy and clingy, and I treated a mild temperature with some Calpol – and he bounced back. My gut was saying that I shouldn’t let him sleep out – but my suggestion that they stay home was met with roars of disapproval from both sides of the age spectrum – so I let them go.

What happened? At 4am my mom-in-law called to say that Matthew had been crying inconsolably since 2am, and that I should come and fetch him because he “was not good”. I tore out of bed, screamed across to fetch him, heart pounding all the way and imagining the worst. He stopped when I got there, and had calmed down by the time we got home, enough for me to decide to take him to the doctor later in the morning, rather than braving Casualty. Turns out he had infections in both ears. If that situation arises again – I will make sure he stays home.

This week when my gut shouted out, I listened to it. Daniel had earache, and my husband took him to our doctor. The doctor prescribed an antibiotic for his ear, which I pretty much expected. When the pharmacist dispensed 28 adult-sized tablets, my husband asked if that was right – surely that was an adult medication, and an adult dose. “It’s what the doctor prescribed,” the pharmacist said. “Are you really sure that this is for a five year old child?” my husband asked, pointing to Daniel who was with him. “Yes, it’s fine,” the pharmacist continued – and handed over the Augmentin, with the instruction that Daniel take two large tablets, twice a day for 7 days.

When I heard this, all sorts of alarm bells rang. When I got home and saw this lot, I BBM’d the doctor, to confirm that this actually was what he wanted.  To cut a long story short, the doctor prescribed the adult version of the drug instead of the paediatric one, and the pharmacist dispensed it, in spite of my husband querying it. My instinct refused to accept that. Questioning the doctor and the pharmacist because of my “waters” having their own storm of panic saved my son a great deal of suffering – he would have had severe diarrhea, would probably have dehydrated, and his immune system would have been severely compromised by an antibiotic dose four times what he required.

So – if there’s any advice I can give to any mom or dad out there when it comes to parenting, it’s to listen to your instinct. If anyone tells you otherwise, make sure you are completely happy with how they convince you. In my experience, your instinct will always be right.

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Kerry Haggard

Kerry Haggard

Kerry Haggard, mother to the two most beautiful boys that ever there were. She’s willing to do pretty much anything for the two little Haggards, but every now and then she does draw the line – and hopes that they will understand why one day. You can follow her on Twitter: @KerryHaggard

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6 Responses

  1. Erm… While I’m sure ‘following your instinct’ works in many cases, may I suggest that saying “your instinct will always be right” is far, far too strong a statement? What about idiots like Jenny McCarthy whose “mommy instinct” tells her vaccines caused her child’s autism? (When it didn’t).

    Generally speaking, human instincts are accurate and useful in the context in which they evolved. There are far too many instances, however, of our intuitive ways of thinking leading us astray to rely on them.

    Also, Kerry, you may want to investigate the concept of confirmation bias. I suspect that’s why you (in all likelihood incorrectly) believe your instincts are always right.

  2. Hi Michael,

    I’m afraid I can’t click through to your links – and I hear you on the absoluteness of my assertion.

    However, in my own experience, when it comes to my children, my instincts have never been wrong. The times when I’ve had a really strong feeling about something to do with them and haven’t responded to it, are the times when something has gone either a little or a lot wrong.

    When your instinct queries medical things (like vaccines and suspicious prescriptions) it’s worth doing the research to find out more – like I did when I queried my doctor in this instance.

  3. Great article Kerry. I call it my mother’s intuition as it implies more just an animal instinct based on patterned behaviour. Intuition/ gut feel/ instinct is a vital tool parents (people) have and we need to use it more often.
    @ Michael: … might I say that calling someone an idiot because of what they believe caused their child’s illness and implying that you know this to be wrong is too absolute a statement? I won’t open the whole vaccination can of worms here, but there is so much we don’t know and while you are entitled to your beliefs so are others. I don’t hold doctors up on too high a pedestal either. They don’t know everything and they make mistakes, as my doctor, who prescribed penicillin to me (forgetting that I am allergic) humbly admitted.

  4. It is a good article for the examples that Kerry’s using. Kerry seems like a normal, rational parent. Saying no to a sleepover or getting another opinion on medication are behaviours that protect your children. It is not advisable to generalise to “always trust your instinct”. Perhaps its safer to say “trust your instinct” when “your gut” is suggesting that you be cautious, protect your children or need to get a second opinion. In an emergency situation trust your instinct as long as you are acting in a way to protect your children without causing them unnecessary harm. For decisions that don’t need to be taken immediately trust your instinct but then do research and back it up with facts. Talk through your instinct with someone you trust. Unfortunately, there are parents who “trust their instinct” and then act impulsively based on their gut reaction. This leads to abrupt changes in the children’s lives based on extreme parental emotions and behaviours. As a psychologist with 15 years experience I have worked with children after parental “gut reactions” that have caused more harm than good. This includes leaving home, leaving the country, changing schools abruptly, taking asthmatic children off all their medication, firing nanny’s and aupairs abruptly, cutting off relationships with significant others. There are also parents who are not mentally healthy whose unstable mental states lead to “gut reactions” that result in extreme behaviour such as dumping their babies in rubbish bins; abandonment or walking out on their children; locking their children up; abuse and sadly family homicide. “Always” trust your instincts is not a message that can be generalised to everyone. The voices in your head telling you what to do may not be mentally healthy voices!

  5. Thanks so much for all your views everyone!
    @Marguerite – I hear you – you’re probably exposed to the consequences of gut reactions a lot more than most of us.
    Whenever I write for JoziKids, it’s based on my own experience… and in my experience, my instincts have always been right. And from all the loads of advice I’ve been given since becoming a parent – the exhortation to trust my instincts has served me far than the myriad ways to sort out sleeping patterns, diet, tantrums and all the other challenges that are sent our way as parents of two lively, awesome, treasured boys.

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