Every day there’s a new way to do things wrong.
Last week, baby had a fall from the sofa, onto the carpet, onto her head. There had been a couple before – onto her butt, which is very well padded – and the sofa isn’t high, but this was terrifying. She paused for a moment, she cried loudly, she was comforted quickly. So far, so good (except for the fall). Just one of those moments you freak out about at the time but really, just something that happens to every baby, right?
Except you do have to take every blow to the head seriously. Even if every bit of literature says it’s probably nothing serious, they all conclude but get it checked anyway. That’s nice and straightforward. So I called Plunketline and waited, and waited, and was presented with my first dilemma: did I keep waiting, or hit the number 3, which was tantalisingly presented as offering a quicker response from a Healthline nurse who could do triage. I mean, the baby’s condition wasn’t “hang up immediately and dial 111” serious, obviously, but was she “take up a triage nurse’s valuable time” serious? Or only “wait your turn” serious?
I pressed the number 3 and felt terrible about it. The lovely nurse – I have only ever had positive experiences of Healthline and the Plunket line, even though almost every call has been more about my own anxiety than a genuine medical issue, and I think they understand and empathise with that – went through the checklist. No vomiting, no unconsciousness, no floppiness, acting like her normal self. Probably fine, just like I thought, just like the literature said, but then again, at the end: but get her checked face-to-face by a doctor.
I hung up, and did a huge melodramatic sigh, and thought, “Really???”
It’s a situation that feels like a dilemma because you know that in 95% of cases the doctor will find nothing wrong and you will have, in some sense, “wasted” their time. But the 5% of cases where things are more serious justify every single one of those 95. On the other hand, you have so many cultural narratives about parents – usually, specifically, mothers – being too sensitive, too concerned, too worried, not “letting kids be kids and take a few bumps”. You really, really don’t want to play into that, or worse, have other people think you’re playing into it.
I was determined to do the right thing, with “better safe than sorry” going around and around in my head. But boy, did the baby pick the very best day to test me on this, because there was a massive pile-up on the motorway, the local medical centre had literally no doctors available because the roads were closed, the local community hospital had an estimated 1.5 hour wait and because there was clearly nothing wrong with the baby we were bottom of the queue, and we ended up going all the way back into town to our GP who happened to have a free slot.
So add worrying about being stuck in traffic forever – I had no idea if the gorge was still closed or how long the gridlock would take to disperse – with, now, exposing the baby to multiple places sick people go to the pile of evidence that I am the world’s worst mother. I mean, I obviously let her fall off the sofa in the first place!
The brain can only handle so many things to stress out about simultaneously.
She’s fine. She checked out. But there was one more hurdle to clear: just on the offchance everyone had somehow missed signs of a concussion, we – I – had to wake the baby in the middle of her sleep cycle, in the middle of the night, just to check she would rouse normally.
No parent ever wants to hear the phrase “check she can rouse normally in the middle of her sleep cycle”, am I right?
It felt like a kind of penance, setting an alarm for 2am (and knowing always that I’m already lucky having a baby who sleeps pretty solidly) and shaking her awake, hearing her startled, indignant crying begin, realising she now needs a feed and a change and all my hopes of just gently easing her back to sleep were shattered.
But why the hell did I have to do penance?
Explaining these thought processes feels like trying to teach someone a recipe in a language neither of you speak. It makes no sense. Babies have falls, and helplines are there to take your call, and doctors are there to check them over, and waking them up is a good thing. Nobody did anything wrong in this situation. Yet the starting assumption of my brain was: yes you did, at every conceivable stage of this process. And not just this process; everything. You are at all times and in every way a Wrong Mama.
It’s an exhausting way to live. And it’s dangerous, because when all that anxiety gets on top of you, the instinct is to not ask for help. You feel like you’re being silly or paranoid or overthinking things. You’ll just look like a fool if you go to all that bother for nothing.
And maybe you are, and maybe you will. But you’re allowed to ask for help anyway.