Wednesday, 27 May 2015

"It's Probably Just a Virus"

If there is a more infuriating phrase that us parents have to endure then I am yet to find it. I'm sure that doctors must find it tedious fielding a never-ending stream of worried mums and dads with snotty nosed infants, but is this really the best catch-all sentence that they can possibly muster?

Look, I get that viruses don't respond to antibiotics. I get that most healthy bodies are perfectly able to fight them off without the need for medical intervention, but sometimes what a parent really wants is for a professional to just have a good look at their child, put a name to the nasty that's currently poisoning their little bodies and offer some sodding reassurance. Is that really so hard? Is that really a million miles away from the services that the NHS is supposed to provide? Or does the fact that no physical medicine changes hand make the entire thing a waste of precious resources?


Oh, bugger off.


Blake has been ill since Saturday morning. At first, it was just a bloodshot right eye which had developed into full blown, gloriously gungy conjunctivitis by the next morning. Being the dutiful parent that I am, I marched straight down to the pharmacy and came away armed with antibiotic eye drops, the orders to administer them every two hours and a cold certainty that it wasn't going to be that straight forward. Blake was happy to prove me right and the Optrex wrestling matches quickly went from pretty tricky to completely traumatic within a few doses. Not only that, but they don't seem to be working; we're four days in, Blake's eyes are worse than ever and he is now tracking a pretty impressive fever as well as several other bonus symptoms.

Today, I got home from work and almost burst into tears when I saw him. His eyes were puffed shut and thick with dried green gunk and his lips were blue and shivering despite his baking temperature. My first instinct was to call the doctor to try and get him seen immediately. I wanted someone to look at his eyes, to take his temperature properly with a more reliable thermometer than my own and to tell me exactly what was wrong with him. When a doctor called me back and I explained the symptoms, I got the exact response I expected:

"It's probably just a virus."

Well, yes, maybe it is, but why do these viruses never have a fucking name? A virus can be anything from a common cold to meningitis, so wanting a little bit more clarification is hardly a lot to ask. What type of virus? How long can I expect it to last? Have you seen these symptoms together before? Could it be an allergic reaction to the drops that I'm forcing into his bloodshot eyes while I pin his arms to the sofa? I don't want some umbrella terminology designed to placate me and make me go away; I want to know what's wrong with my son.

In the end, the doctor reluctantly made me appointment for tomorrow that I'm to cancel first thing if Blake shows any improvement overnight (his actual words) and, while I'm sure this ailment is fairly minor, I find it incredibly frustrating that parents are so easily dismissed as paranoid. Blake has some kind of complication revolving around conjunctivitis and I'm sure it'll clear up in time, but how often do we have to hear about a child being sent home with a vague virus diagnosis, only to end up critically ill in hospital a few hours later before doctors begin to take us seriously? As spoken sentences go, "it's probably just a virus" is particularly meaningless, and I for one am sick of hearing it.

*** UPDATE: Blake's 'virus' was actually a severe allergic reaction to his eye medication. ***

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Why I've Stopped Giving a Sh*t About What Other Parents are Doing

When my son was younger, I was all about keeping up with the proverbial Jones's. I spent my time on the internet reading about what other mothers were buying for their children or giving them to eat, and I ended up driving myself to the very edge of insanity. There was no way I could keep up with what everyone else was doing; my budget simply wouldn't allow it, and yet here I was torturing myself about all of the crucial developmental tools that Blake was missing out on. I truly felt that he was being held back in life by my lack of Fisher Price gadgets and Nuby feeding utensils.

It's only now that he's older, and as developed as I'd expect at his age, that I've realised that material goods in a baby's life are no different from material goods in ours; that actually they don't matter. It's just stuff.

For example, when Blake was a little less mobile (oh, blessed days) I was completely obsessed with the idea of the Jumperoo. It seemed like everyone else had one and the internet was basically telling me that if I didn't have one then I was failing my child at a most fundamental level; he would never learn to walk and his fine motor and communication skills were going to suffer irreparable damage thanks to my crap finances. In truth, not having a Jumperoo really meant that the only thing we were missing out on was having half our lounge taken up by a plastic monstrosity. The actual functionality of a Jumperoo was easily achieved with a bargain door bouncer bought from eBay and a reasonably priced (but perfectly sufficient) baby walker given to us by Blake's Granny. 

Blake never had a Sophie La Girafe teether. As I jumped from forum to forum, I was crippled with guilt over the fact that I hadn't invested in something that had brought so many other children such hours of joy. Let us not also forget that it's made with all natural materials, as though we're somehow poisoning our offspring by daring to let them put anything man-made into their mouths. I've seen people putting out impassioned pleas on social media to find lost Sophies because those sodding giraffes cost a small fortune. Can you guess what happens if Blake loses one of his cheap teethers that I buy from Boots? I buy another one.

When I introduced Blake to bottles, I spent hours online researching the best types to buy. I tied myself up in knots reading about Dr Brown bottles that prevent colic and will make your baby the happiest he can be and eventually save him a fortune in therapists when he's older. I read about techniques to alter the hole in rubber bottle teats to make the flow more resemble that of the breast, and stood in Tesco nearly in tears wondering what sized teats to buy in the first place. In the end, I bought the pretty standard Tommee Tippee bottles and now, sixteen months later, we're still bloody using them, alteration free.

I bought the cheapest travel system that I could find that still had good reviews, and I absolutely love that thing; I'm pretty certain it could survive a nuclear holocaust.

We used a mid-priced Moses basket and put it next to the bed instead of bothering to hire a Bed-nest. 

We put the landing light on and opened his bedroom door a crack instead of buying a night-light that projected stars onto the ceiling. 

I downloaded a free lullaby app on my phone instead of worrying about a Slumber Buddy. 

We used a hand-me-down baby monitor that does nothing but transmit sound instead of investing in an Angelcare mat that sets of alarms in case of an emergency. 

It's not that I didn't want any of these things, because I did. The more time I spent on Google and Twitter, the more I convinced myself that I was somehow failing my child by not keeping up with everyone else, but then something strange happened: Blake stayed alive. He started to crawl, and then to walk and kept up developmentally with all of his peers despite the fact that our house was more 'car-boot' than 'Mothercare'. So I relaxed and I learnt that things are just things. Clever marketing is designed specifically to make us feel like shit if we can't afford a particular product but, chances are, you can probably do just fine without it. 

I began to work on the principle that my Mum never had any of this crap when she was raising us and we all still grew up into (mostly) fully functioning adults. I mean, look at me: I can read and write and I never even watched one, single episode of Baby Einstein. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Here's to The 'Middle' Mums!

I've seen a lot of things said about the benefits of being both a young and an older mother. From this lovely meme on Facebook:
to Huffintgon Post's article about why it's awesome to have a baby past fifty, and while this is all well and good, it got me to thinking that there doesn't seem to be many articles heralding parenthood in the dirty thirties. So I thought I'd write one.

I was one month away from twenty-nine when I had my first baby, I'm now carrying my second at thirty and, for me, my child bearing years have come at the best possible time in my life. Both young and older mothers have advantages over the other, yet here I am, smack bang in the middle of them all, reaping benefits from both sides.

So let me tell you why I think that being a 'Middle' Mum is the best.

1. You've lived but you haven't quite finished yet.

From the young mums cry of 'I will be young enough to enjoy my child as an adult' to the older women citing a full life behind them, it seems to be accepted that life in general is popped temporarily on hold during the baby-bearing years. If we accept this premise, then I think that I'm perfectly placed. I've had my selfish single years pre-parenthood, but I can also feel secure in the knowledge that I'll still be reasonably young once my offspring are old enough to buy me a well-deserved glass of wine.

2. Lots of  your friends are at it.

The late twenties and early thirties are very much an average time to start popping out babies these days. Both very young and much older mothers are more likely to find themselves suddenly isolated from their peers once a baby is on the scene. Not so for us Middle Mums. Everyone is at it, so we always have plenty of puke-stained company.

3. We remember what it's like to be young.

Just humour me here: We remember because it wasn't that long ago, really. Honest. Please agree. This puts the ultimate patience on our side. Being young can really, really suck sometimes and we know, because we did it fairly recently. Really.

4. But we're far enough away from our own childhood to not want to repeat it.

You won't catch me engaging in circular arguments with a toddler in full temper tantrum, put it that way. I can outwit them with my knowledge of the world and my unexpected use of big words and actual, genuine logic.

5. We have energy, but we also appreciate decent 'down-time'.

Because, let's face it, post-lunch we're about as ready for a nap as the child is. But don't underestimate us! One, or maybe two cups of coffee is all it takes to have us running around the garden with a football or building Mega-Blok giraffes with the best of them.

So here's to the Middle Mums! The often overlooked women in their late twenties and thirties, who have perhaps taken breaks in much-loved careers and partying lifestyles to have their babies in the middle of the parenting age debate. That said, while this is the best age for me, I don't really think that there is a perfect age that spreads across the entire board of motherhood.

The  best age to have a baby is the age that is right for you, personally, and if you go by that, I don't think you can really go wrong.