Imposter Syndrome and the fear that we’re not quite good enough…

“There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?” 
Erin Hanson

Emma Ashworth talks about imposter syndrome in maternity services and why we should face the fear of not being good enough.

Years ago, I spoke to a midwife who had been hosting a weekend’s training course with the truly wonderful Sheila Kitzinger. I was really saddened to find that I’d missed the course, and said so to the midwife, saying that I was a huge fan of hers. He replied that yes, she is amazing, and yes, I’d missed a fabulous weekend, however he told me something that I’ve never forgotten. He said that we’re all amazing. We’re all doing amazing things, and to never, ever forget the impact that each and every one of us has on those who we support, and the changes that we make.

And yet – that feeling remained of being surrounded by giants whose shoes I will never even be able to step into, let alone fill. That fear that those around me know more than me; that I’ll say something silly or not understand something, and be “found out” remained. For a long time it meant that I didn’t always call out things that I knew to be wrong, such as some of the proclamations made by obstetricians who graced us with their presence at MSLC meetings. I was already one of the lowly lay, the only unpaid group of people in the room, the tick box attendees. How much worse if they realised that actually I didn’t know as much as they did about obstetrics!

Then one day, I discovered that there is an actual name for this. It’s called “imposter syndrome” and it is where we feel that we are less skilled, less knowledgeable and less valuable than we actually are.  It’s where we feel that we’ll get found out, discovered, seen to be fraudulently taking up a position that we have too little knowledge about. Suddenly, learning that this was a “thing” made me realise that in fact I was not alone in how I felt and therefore perhaps what I felt was simply wrong. Perhaps those in the room felt the same way. Perhaps the obstetricians don’t’ expect me to know what they know – because why would I – but perhaps I have knowledge that they have no idea about, and that is scary for them, too. And it’s true, I do. I know how women experience interactions with them, and what happens before and after those interactions. I know how the way that they speak to women can lead to peace or trauma. I know that their actions or words can impact on a life forever, and I know that they know that I know this!

When the Emperor has no clothes, and the trusts and CCGs try to push through blatantly unreasonable service changes or guidelines, it doesn’t need an expert to point out the naked truth about the damage that these changes often cause. We don’t need to be experts in anything to be the one to call out where the NHS is making damaging decisions. Even if we’re really new to working in maternity campaigning, we have our own experiences and our own innate knowledge which is the most powerful knowledge there is. None of us are imposters. Every one of us has value and every one of us can shake off the imposter syndrome niggles, and walk tall into our own area of campaigning. We may be worried that we will fall, but, oh, what if we fly?

I recently came across another blog on this very issue, by Dr Joanna Martin. She’s written a lovely piece which has some great ideas about what you can practically do to overcome imposter fears. Have a read of it here.

Tools for Change – Tactic and Strategy in Midwifery

By Ruth Weston

At a recent workshop on tactics and strategy for changing birth, we identified some super useful tools for change that I just had to share here!

1 Engage staff/people – learning together – message: ‘we are in this together’.

2. Going to / speaking to the person with the power.

3. Finding Champions for Change, these are individuals that others will respect and follow.

4.Believe in myself. Challenge the ‘impostor syndrome’ that we may have.

5. Being bold – having the cheek to ask for it. Doing it even though the outcome is unknown.

6. Dealing with rejection: don’t take it personally, try someone/somewhere else, be stubborn.

7. Make sure your rationale is clear. Make sure it means something to you and to the people you approach. E.G. What do you want? Why do you want it?

8. Finding people to join (you on) a statutory committee (lay members): Use Facebook and other social media, follow up contacts, remind them near the time, arrange to meet them to go in together. Mutual support works wonders!

9 JFDI – You have done the research, made your plans, worked out what resources you need. In the end you just have to Just F****** Do It!

I just want to add two quotes that I gathered from another international workshop. This first one is from young activists in Ireland:

“Take small steps both individually and collectively with unreasonable optimism to address the large and long term issues of poverty and exclusion which do not have to be inevitable.”

We can add in our own small and large issues there.

And from young activists in the Netherlands:

“There was a transformation in my thinking, not to be overwhelmed by all the worlds challenges and want to be able to solve them all, but to realise that focusing one’s energy into one specific area has the greatest impact.”


Edited by Emma Ashworth