“My husband is going to act as my doula. What book should he read to prepare for that?”
“The doctor diagnosed this, but I’m not sure he’s right. What do you think? Would you guys take this medicine?” [asked in a Facebook group]
“I don’t need to have a degree to know how to read a medical study. Anybody can read.”
“I don’t want to spend all that money on training. I’ll just get the information I need online and learn as I go.”
These are all questions or comments I have personally heard in the last month. They are a peek into a phenomenon taking place in our society today. We are in an age of the “Loss of the Expert”. We can see this in many fields from art & music to science & medicine. Many books and articles have been written on this topic, dissecting it, and bemoaning our current state of affairs. And it has begun to make its way into our field of study.
So, what is it? The “Loss of the Expert” is when trained professionals with years of experience and extensive education, instead of being respected and trusted, are regarded with doubt or suspicion. People look at these experts and think, “What makes them so special? What makes them the keepers of the knowledge?” Or even worse – talk of conspiracy. After nearly 2 decades of social media, Wikipedia and other online open-source arenas, there is a widespread belief that, “All things are knowable and every opinion on any subject is as good as any other.” [source] Therefore, we have ceased to ask experts for their guidance. Instead, we crowd-source information from others as unknowledgeable as ourselves. We trust Yelp over food critics. We trust Amazon reviews over Consumer Reports. We trust mommy bloggers over doctors. We are asserting our autonomy by rejecting the thought that an expert may know something that we don’t. And it’s hurting us on both sides of the issue.
On the consumer side, families are being hurt due to rampant misinformation. The Listening to Mothers III survey shows us that our clients now hold pregnancy websites’ advice at almost the same level of value as their childbirth classes. We live in a world where anybody can start a blog, jump on a certain topic and call themselves an expert. The internet doesn’t require them to provide any kind of evidence to that fact. No credentials are checked before their self-published articles are presented to the world, and most readers don’t know what to look for. What they are left with is a deluge of conflicting opinions.
On the professionals’ side, as people begin to doubt the expert’s expertise, they become unwilling to seek it out and to pay for it. Why take a class when you can google for free? Why hire a doula if you don’t believe her training affords her any more expertise than your friend who just had her own baby?
So, how do we re-establish ourselves, the perinatal professionals, as true authorities on the subject? How do we get back to a place where professional training, scientific standards, extensive knowledge and experience are esteemed in the public eye and within the field itself? There are 3 things we can begin doing today to help combat this problem in the childbirth realm.
First, we can make sure that we earn our expert standing and live up to it. Thankfully, CAPPA makes this one easy for us. We have been provided with in-depth, comprehensive, evidence based education. Be proud of the professional training you have received! Share your knowledge and experience with those around you. Use it to empower your students and to better your community. Offer these young families refuge from that deluge of conflicting opinions by showing them what the scientific literature says. Then, teach them how to know the difference between evidence-based information and untrained opinion.
Second, recognize if there is an area in which you need further education, and make sure you get it from a top-quality, professional source. If we want to be respected as experts in our fields, we need the best education. I know it can be difficult to save up the money for a class, training or conference, but if we have sub-par education, it leads to sub-par service to our clients and students. We can’t pass on what we don’t know! Outside of the traditional classroom, find opportunities to ask an expert. If you have a question about something, go to the source! Don’t waste time crowd sourcing on social media. Contact a researcher to ask about her research. When it’s appropriate, respectfully ask the hospital staff questions at a birth. I have learned so much in 1 minute conversations with nurses and doctors while my doula clients were using the bathroom! Find a professional in your field who has more experience than you and ask her to mentor you – or just to have coffee. Most experienced professionals love the opportunity to pass on what they have learned. This practice of asking an expert will not only get you reliable answers to your questions, it will set a wonderful example for your clients.
Third, be careful with titles. Know the difference, and use them properly. I have heard people introduce a labor doula as a labor coach. A postpartum doula as a baby nurse. These alternative titles are confusing to the general public. We want members of our communities to hear our titles and know exactly what to expect. We can also fall prey to this “Loss of the Expert” phenomenon! When talking to members of the community, be sure to respect others’ education, knowledge and experience. They have invested time and finances (and sometimes blood, sweat and tears!) into their specialized training just like you have. The lay community will not respect our expertise, if we are not respecting each others’. I had a friend ask me if I could be her postpartum doula. I have not had postpartum doula training, but she assumed that because I have 5 children, I was qualified. For me to agree and equate a postpartum doula’s training with something anyone with children could do, I would be disrespecting their expertise. My experience with my own children is wonderful, but it is not a substitute for the specialized training and wide variety of experience that a postpartum doula has.
We understand the beautiful complexity that is childbirth. We know the layers of thought, emotion, physicality and spirituality that comprise a laboring woman. This is a unique expertise, and our students and clients will benefit greatly from having us. Our experience, training and even our passion cannot be boiled down to a few infographics and some social media crowd sourcing. It’s not something that anyone can do! Let’s do what we can to help our communities understand the difference and to earn the respect that our expertise deserves!
CLD, CCCE, Labor Doula & Childbirth Educator Faculty
In addition to being a Faculty Member, Laura is a CAPPA certified labor doula & childbirth educator. She is also the Essentials Program Director at Vintage Remedies, a school of natural health. These two passions blend together beautifully and allow Laura to offer classes that meet a variety of needs in her community – from preparing for birth to caring for your family’s health naturally. She currently resides in Charlotte, NC with her husband, Eric, and their five young children. For nearly a decade, Laura has had the honor of working with families all over the Charlotte area. As Childbirth Educator Faculty, she is thrilled to help equip others to do the same! To learn more, you may visit her website at www.naturalabundance.me.