A Mother's Diary

Fiorella Nash FAITH Magazine May-June 2007

Oh joy, Hugh has reached the bug-catching stage. In the past three months we have had conjunctivitis [really quite a messy experience], streaming colds [really, really messy experiences] and tummy bugs [don’t even go there, I preferred the permanently running nose]. It is apparently very good for his little immune system and will save him spending time off school, having been exposed to all these infections in infancy. Whilst I am in optimistic mood, I suppose I should be grateful that he has not yet got the hang of spitting out the various lurid-coloured medicines I coax down his throat from time to time and that he is still labouring under the illusion that I am some minor deity with the power to make all things right.

“You can tell you’re a first time mum,” commented a mother-of-four at the parish mother and baby group, because I still jump out of my skin every time he so much as wobbles. I know he is unlikely to die if some other child accidentally treads on his fingers but I still half-imagine they will fall off. The fact is that when he is not nursing some rumbling condition, Hugh is having minor accidents as part of his education into the perils of the material world. For most inventive accident to date, it is a close contest between him managing to fall flat on his face with a rattle in his mouth and a near collision with the objects on top of my parents’ coffee table.

In the first case he wailed with such Dantesque despair when I extracted the rattle from his mouth that I was convinced for a moment that he had knocked his teeth out. In the second, he shuffled towards an invitingly dangling tablecloth and gave it a hearty tug, pulling down a heavy glass vase and its contents. It missed his head by inches but I was so convinced it must have glanced off on the way down because of the noise he was making, that I took him to A + E to have a light shone in his eyes by a reassuring paramedic. “You’re lucky he didn’t actually bump his head or they would have called the social services,” warned a doctor friend who spends a disproportionate amount of her time consoling panic-stricken mothers. “They usually call them automatically if heads are involved. Ithappens to lots of perfectly nice parents, so don’t take it personally if they ever do.”

Well of course I won’t. Cross my heart and hope to die. Why on earth would I take it personally if a social worker started interrogating me on suspicion of being a child abuser? I comforted myself that the health visitor would vouch for me if Hugh Ambrose proves to be one of these really unusual little boys who has the odd accident from time to time.

Funnily enough, health visitors were the aspect of the surveillance society that I was most dreading coming into contact with when my baby was born. I had heard so many horror stories about bossy, insensitive women in tweeds reducing young mums to tears over their choice of cot covers that I was half-expecting some female Darth Vader to turn up and tell me off for painting the nursery the wrong shade of blue [or indeed painting it blue at all – gender stereotyping, tut tut]. It had not helped matters that when I was in hospital recovering from the birth, every midwife who came on duty had a different dogmatic theory about baby care that they were just desperate to inflict on me. ‘Feed him every three hours’; ‘no, no, no, who on earth told you that? Feed him every four hours’;‘Take your clothes off and cuddle up with the baby, the skin-to-skin contact is so important’; ‘What the hell are you doing? Who told you that new age rubbish?’; ‘Keep trying to feed him all night if necessary’; ‘no, no, no, you really have to get some rest or you’ll crack up.’ Actually I would not have done anything so unsporting as to crack up of my own accord when there was this regiment of experts around me so keen to help me to do so.

As it turns out, my health visitor is a cheerful, reassuring and unobtrusive presence in my life. She answers my every question, generally assumes when she gives me advice that I probably know what I am doing and she managed to ascertain with admirable sensitivity that I was not suffering from postnatal depression or being beaten by my husband. Best of all, when she bumped into a visiting priest in the hallway and walked past pictures of the Last Supper, Benedict XVI and an icon of the Holy Family, she was not terribly surprised when I declined her leaflet on contraception. It was fortunate she was so understanding as I had only been asked about five times in as many days what method of contraception I was going to use and had my answer all ready. Instead of saying, ‘I practise NaturalFamily Planning’ I was going to say, ‘I’m on a one-woman mission from the Vatican to populate the country with Catholics’. Well, someone’s got to do it.

Faith Magazine