Thursday, June 15, 2006

Health warning

In China, people will tell you, women will give birth in the middle of a paddy field, sling the baby on their back and carry on working. In Britain the support received is somewhat more thorough. Once pregnant, the mother is assigned a community midwife. This is not necessarily the person who will actually deliver your baby, Emma had three additional midwives during her labour, plus a number of others who appeared and disappeared, and doctors, and anaesthetists, and other people. Then there's the post natal midwives who look after mother and baby. Once out of hospital you resume a brief relationship with the community midwife before being handed over to a health visitor.

The health visitor is part nurse, part social worker. A woman with no portfolio; which is probably why she's so keen to create one. The role is less than clear, she seems to have an array of surgeries, groups and meetings, none of which require pre-booking or an appointment, none of which is compulsory. From speaking to others, they're aim is to be as prescriptive and reactive as possible, scaring and stressing out new mothers at every opportunity. The advice they give is always retrospective and generally inconsistent. Emma's health visitor is full of nervous energy, when she first came over we told her that Millie was pretty much sleeping through the night. "EXCELLENT ARE YOU CALM PEOPLE BECAUSE GENERALLY CALM PEOPLE HAVE CALM BABIES ITS GODD TO BE CALM ISN'T IT, I LIKE CALMNESS, IT'S GOOD, BEING CALM, THAT IS". We were calm people until she walked through the door.

She wanted Emma to attend her post-natal classes held at a surgery a couple of miles away. This is despite the fact Emma already goes to a post-natal group and couldn't drive because of the caesarean. The reason given, breathlessly, was that the children that go are the ones Millie will be going to school with. I've just checked the calendar and Millie is 5 weeks old... school doesn't start for another 1,800 days. Feeling that she should at least try to attend, Emma spent the week trying to work out the logistics. She couldn't do it and had to tell the health visitor at the following week's meeting, the health worker, completely contradicting herself, replied "Oh no, I hadn't expected you to come".

Generally speaking Millie's is doing really well. She's alert, she's contented and sleeps well. We're in the rare position of actually enjoying having a new born baby (as opposed to coping with the culture shock on no sleep). What's more, Emma's feeling pretty good after the caesarean and is recovering well. The only issue is that having thrived in the first week, Millie's been losing a bit of weight, this is obviously something that needs reversing. After each weigh-in the health visitor presents a different pearl of wisdom. Looked at in one perspective, Milie has lost 3 ounces in a week, from another she's gained 5.5 in four weeks (or 5% of her birthweight). Not perfect, but not yet a crisis. When her weight did drop a little, the health worker said Emma shouldn't 'go home and cry about it'. She wasn't planning to, but it did get her pondering whether there was actually something serious going on, something to cry about.

If Emma was to take it all on board she would be eating six times a day, doing nothing and waking up Millie in the middle of the night to feed. Given that waking Millie up for a feed is a fool's errand (she just lolls around utterly uninterested) the net result of taking this advice on board will be to make Emma bloated, lethargic and tired. This, along with the fact it is Emma who has to visit the clinic, it makes the term 'health visitor' something of an anomaly.


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