First Time Mama
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First Time Mama

Bumps, Lumps, and Breaks

Babies and hospitals — they’re meant to come out of hospital, not go in. But there’s every chance that — at some stage — you may find yourself in the check-in queue at A and E, and it can be a massive shock to the system.

For parents of children who don’t thrive as they should, for whatever medical reason, you can see it on their faces and it haunts them for quite a few years, until their little one is tearing around the playground with other kids, aged 5. You can visibly see them breathe a sigh of relief and take a tiny step back.

But these are the exceptions. Most new mothers leave the maternity unit with a bonnie baby and head for home, dispensing with hospitals and appointments for the time being. Enjoy it — it won’t last.

I’m not a harbinger of doom — far from it — but I wished someone had told me that perfectly formed babies go wrong sometimes and that it is absolutely natural that our immaculate little creatures will need some support from time to time.

Is the first time taking your child to hospital the worst? It’s hard, I’ll give you that, but it is really important to prepare yourself for the road ahead. Asthma starts somewhere. Dairy intolerance presents itself when its ready, not when you are.

I spent a recent evening in paediatric A and E, watching three different families who had children of pre-school age with heads split open in some way or other. They chatted to one another and explained the injury away, in between jumping up to rescue their fearless and tireless children from investigating their surroundings. They were too close to see how much they had in common and too good as parents to do anything but blame themselves. Smacking your head when you’re three is a stage of life and it’s how we learn when we’ve pushed ourselves too far. Sometimes, it’s a big bump and we need a stitch but these injuries are not life-threatening. I also know what a three-year-old who has eaten a clothes washing liqui-tab sounds like — there’s a lot of burping and a lot of windy pops. It’s a serious business but the staff were very calm and handled everyone with warm courtesy and kindness.

The only time that I saw any concern was when a newborn came in. The baby and parents were whisked through and the waiting room seemed to hold its breath. There was no notion of queue-jumping but more a collective sense that the most vulnerable should be seen first, even if it added the best part of an hour to the waiting time.

Some time later, the baby and parents emerged — the baby had the tiniest of bandages on its arm and was taken to the baby ward and admitted for the night. The parents were just shattered. You could read the multitude of emotions that flitted across their faces. The fear and worry, the guilt that they couldn’t be trusted with a baby and the worry that everything would be made how it was again.

I could have hugged the mother, but she was hugging her baby and would have disintegrated at the slightest show of kindness.

Another girl was brought in, accompanied by two police officers. She was not very far into her teenage years and she was in the middle of some sort of episode. I don’t know enough about mental health to explain it further, but I could see that she was walking a very fine line between keeping it together and losing it all.

Again, the atmosphere in the waiting room changed. We’d all made it past the newborn stage, but we’ve yet to conquer adolescence and beyond.

I’m not suggesting that anyone leave a toddler to split their head open or start passing the Persil round, but to realise that these little trips to the doctors or hospital are just a part of life, rather than life-defining. Please don’t inwardly rebuke yourself but instead acknowledge that you acted on the issue at hand and, even when you are sitting in an A and E waiting room, on a Friday night, watching a Tom and Jerry DVD on its fourth loop round, know that you are where you should be.

With your child.

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