Today we went to the health visitor to have S weighed.
When we first came home from hospital and S’s father left, the health visitor and her nursery nurse took it in turns to visit us twice a week. I was convinced I was a crap mother and was bound to be found out as a fraud any day now. I needed constant reassurance that I was doing okay, that this or that random problem were perfectly normal, that S was putting on weight as expected, that she hadn’t shrunk, wasn’t “failing to thrive.”
They also had to re-teach me a couple of things S’s father had been having me do, that were very wrong (turns out babies really can get too hot, and it can be a tiny bit dangerous for that to happen).
Every time the health visitor or her nurse came I would have a mad rush around the living room to try and make it look less messy. I thought they would think this was a bad place for a tiny, precious, premature baby to be living because there was no carpet on the floor. I’d just moved in and there was junk everywhere; I was terrified of what they would think of me.
Now we wander down to the surgery to see the health visitor around once a month, and I look forward to it. S gets to say hi to all the staff, and is told all about how cute and awesome she is. Although I know it is her job to say it, I will never grow tired of hearing the health visitor tell me I’m a fantastic mother and doing really well. I know she only says it because she knows there’s a person elsewhere who tells me around once a month that I’m a big failure and not fit to be a mother, but still, it’s nice to hear a health care professional say I’m doing well.
Because she knows I need the reassurance and support, I tend to take the health visitor’s praise with a pinch of salt; I assume she says that to everyone who comes in on a Tuesday for their babies to be weighed. But today there was something else going on in the surgery that made me think twice.
As I walked in, a woman was outside on her mobile, crying. I suppose that sort of thing happens sometimes in doctor’s surgeries, so I didn’t really pay much attention. But when I got inside, I overheard a few snippets of conversation that made me think this lady’s baby had not been doing so well, and that perhaps they’d had to intervene somehow. I heard someone say “yes, she knows what is happening, and what needs to happen next, and she’s not very happy about it…” I could hear the baby crying. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t what most of us experience on a lunch time trip to the local surgery.
I may have had the completely wrong end of the stick, of course; it could just have been that the lady outside had received some bad news, the baby was screaming because it had just had some jabs, and the conversation about “what happens next” could just have been two women gossiping about their teenage daughters. You never really know, do you. It did get me thinking though.
Today I noticed for the first time that when you undress your baby to go onto the scales, they aren’t just standing next to you fiddling with the scales. They are actually paying close attention to what you are doing, how you are interacting with your baby, and how the baby looks.
And they don’t just merrily record the baby’s weight on the graph and hand you the red book. They look at how you are, how the baby seems with you, whether it looks happy or disturbed.
I wonder what tell-tale signs they see on some children, and what they do about it. I wonder if they saw some of those signs in me in the early days, when I was busy doing as I had been told by someone who didn’t have our best interests at heart.
Presumably they don’t just say “no, no, no, you’re doing it all wrong; you clearly can’t be trusted with this!” and whisk the baby away – which is certainly what I imagined them doing with me in those first few weeks. I suppose they have to sit you down and have a quiet chat about what you’ve done or not done… But how many times do they do that, before having to do something a bit more substantial?
Is it a “three strikes and you’re out” sort of situation? Do they say to you, “come back next week, and if this isn’t sorted, I’m calling Social Services?” Or do you just turn up the next week to find a social worker is joining your weekly weigh in? (incidentally, my health visitor did once tell me she would call Social Services if I didn’t keep my child away from a situation I knew to be dangerous. But her saying that was all I needed)
I find it reassuring that my health visitor is checking S for these things. I know that she has looked for signs that I am screwing up, and has (apparently) not found any. And if the accusations that are seemingly being bandied about freely in certain quarters ever went anywhere of consequence, I know my health visitor would laugh and tell whoever asked that there was nothing to worry about. Which is a response I am also working towards.