Maternal instinct. Some will tell you that we, as women, are born with it; others say it’s something that kicks in at the birth of our child. Either way, most believe that it’s this sensitive honing device that enables us to tune into our child in a way no one else can.
So what happens when your child gets sick or injured, and despite repeated reassurances from doctors, you just know that something’s not quite right?
Roxanne Smit, a mother of four from Brisbane, says this is exactly what happened to her with one of her triplets.
“Audrey was always different to the other two,” she says. “She was difficult from about three months old, with bouts of persistent screaming and other symptoms, including a super bloated tummy which she developed at 18 months, despite not actually gaining weight.
“At one stage she went from being the largest of the triplets to the smallest, even though her food intake was double that of her siblings.
“Perhaps having my other two as a direct comparison to Audrey made her symptoms more noticeable to me sooner, I don’t know. I can’t explain it, but I just sensed her behaviour wasn’t something that was reflective of her personality … there was more of an underlying issue”.
Over 18 months Roxanne visited various GPs and paediatricians, repeatedly asking the same questions about her child’s health. Yet she was constantly reassured that her daughter was fine.
“On more than one occasion I was told that my daughter just had ‘a strong personality’ and this was why she was behaving in the moody and difficult way,” she says.
Determined to follow through on her gut instinct, Roxanne kept searching for answers. After her fourth visit to a GP within a two-week period, Roxanne was referred to the emergency department.
“The doctor at emergency said they were only investigating because of my persistent concerns”, Roxanne explains. “Audrey had two days of testing, during which time she had blood tests, urine tests, ultrasounds, chest x-rays, CT scans and a lumbar puncture.
“The end result was that she was diagnosed with advanced coeliac disease. She required a full week in hospital, as well as an iron transfusion.”
On the day Audrey was due to be discharged, she experienced bad stomach cramps, which obviously caused her a lot of distress. Roxanne had told doctors about them before, but it was only now that they were followed up.
Further investigation revealed that Audrey had three separate areas of intussusception – this is when parts of the bowel slide into each other, like a telescope. She required emergency surgery on her small intestine to correct it.
Now, Audrey is a healthy little girl who lives on a strictly monitored gluten-free diet.
As for Roxanne, she’s just glad that she pushed for answers. “The final outcome is that we have a beautiful, cheerful child who loves singing and joking around – not the moody, irritable, clingy one we were told was 'normal’."
Of course, despite the fact that it goes by name “maternal instinct”, it would be unfair not to mention that dads have these inklings too.
Sam Hogg, a dad to two boys, has experienced it himself. “When Dion was one, he launched himself from his baby changer one day, so I rushed him in to A&E,” he says. “I told the nurses what had happened and said he’d had hurt his shoulder. They refused to listen and instead crated his head and neck while pinning him down by his shoulders for the X-ray.”
Despite being sent home, Sam was dissatisfied; his instinct told him something was still not right.
“Two days later Dion’s arm was still just hanging like a trunk,” he says. “So we went back and insisted that they X-ray his shoulder … yes, he had broken his collar bone.”
As with Audrey, Dion’s story has a positive ending, but sadly that’s not always the case. Over the past few years there have been a number of incidents of parents insisting their child is sick, but having their fears dismissed, or being given a misdiagnosis.
One such devastating case is that of Harry Raymond Connolly, who died from dehydration and acute renal failure, caused by severe colitis, in the UK in May 2011. As Harry’s mum told UK website Mothers Instinct, “We knew Harry was very sick but nobody listened to us.”
So what do the experts have to say? Kelly Saltman, a developmental paediatrician who works with children with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, learning difficulties and ADHD says, “Many times a mother has voiced her concerns for her child, saying, ‘I always knew something was not quite right even from an early age’.”
She says that she perhaps didn’t always appreciate the 'mother's instinct’, but now believes it shouldn’t be dismissed or disregarded.
"It does need to be validated, as the mother or father are the best judges of their child's wellness. They know when their child is healthy, bright and happy, and when they are not well," she says.
"Each parent has to be the advocate for their child, and should they be dissatisfied with the care provided, it’s my advice that they seek alternate professional advice and opinion to feel reassured that their concerns are being appropriately addressed."
Have you ever known something wasn't quite right, despite what the doctors or experts have said? Share your story below.