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.

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