This past Monday I took the IBCLC exam. After years of prerequisites and coursework along with 300 clinical hours of helping hundreds of mother-baby dyads not to mention being cried on, spit up on, and occasionally bled and pooped on by said babies it was utterly anticlimactic. I was assigned a testing center in a nondescript corporate “park” just off of a freeway about half an hour from my house. I arrived early and signed non disclosure agreements. I placed all of my personal belongings and jewelry in a locker. I sat in an antiseptic, overly air conditioned room amongst several other people taking various computer based exams (one seemed to involve truck driving based on the pictures on the screen) and looked at pictures of babies and breasts for four hours. I was pleased that there didn’t seem to be a single factual piece of information asked on the exam that I didn’t know. All those hours of studying stuck. My heart sank, however, at the number of questions which asked me to give the “BEST”, “LEAST”, or “FIRST” answer. I hate those types of questions and quite frankly they hate me. I don’t tend to do well on them. I suspect that good performance on those questions is anti-correlated to intelligence. Parents, infants, and medicine are complex subjects that simply don’t lend themselves to simplistic answers. I found myself scowling at each of those questions; in a hospital based clinic I might taken one action first, in a private home consult a different action. There were times I wanted to yell at the screen “None of the above!” I had been warned about the quality of the photographs on the exam but I was still surprised when two of the pictures were completely uninterpretable for me. I honestly have no idea what the pictures were depicting other than a breast in one and a mother holding a baby in another. The photographs looked to be decades old, were discolored, and blurry. I also laughed out loud at one point in the test when an answer gave milliliters as the equivalent of ounces; while both are, of course, units of volume there is a huge difference between the two (1 ounce of water is equal to approximately 30 milliliters) and saying “a few milliliters” is over an order of magnitude different from saying “a few ounces”.
The worst part of the exam is not the test itself, but the wait. Although the test is simply pass/fail and is taken on a computer and I certainly have a raw score I won’t see it until late October or early November. Monday afternoon my Facebook feed was filled with triumphant pictures of my student colleagues celebrating the finish of their exam. I declined to post a congratulatory snap. I just can’t rustle up even a milliliter of excitement. The only thought I can muster is “It’s over. I think I passed. Now what can I do to occupy my mind for the next three months while I wait for the result?”