The Eight Week Check

The eight week check and vaccinations is the first major milestone in your baby’s official development. Even though if there was anything wrong it would probably have already been picked up by the hospital, midwives, health visitors or yourselves, you approach it with mild trepidation in case the doctor ‘finds’ something, gives you a look that says, ‘Oh dear,’ and then starts to discuss further tests and how it’s too early to tell but you might want to start thinking about long term management plans.

And when he asks about your baby, you feel a certain pressure to give the ‘right’ answer, even though you don’t know exactly what that is. You begin to feel judged, as though it is your parenting ability, and not the baby’s health, he’s examining.

‘How much do you feed her?’

I tell him. He nods. What does that mean? Nod as in, ‘Yes, that’s what I’d expect,’ or nod as in, ‘Just as I thought, you suck as a dad. I could tell from the moment you stepped into the room. I mean, look at the way she’s dressed. Who are you kidding? You’re just playing at being a parent.’

Actually, it might just be me who thinks that. Maybe I’m a little sensitive at the moment because I’ve been having dreams again.

The first night I dreamt I was training to be a paediatric nurse, and I was really good at it. I thought I might go back to college and do a Postgraduate Diploma in Children’s Nursing: I seem to be doing rather well with Izzie, I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than looking after babies, and I’d surely be better than some of the uncommunicative, unfriendly and downright antisocial nurses who looked after us during our stay in hospital.

I pictured myself caring for cute little tots, reassuring worried parents, wearing a cool uniform and telling people that yes, I’m a nurse: how grand. My little one would look up to her dad as a hero, and they give you a bursary to train. What could be better?

Then the next night I dreamt I was training to be a paediatric nurse, and I was terrible at it. Deformed, terminally ill babies, emotional and aggressive parents, and horribly sarcastic work colleagues made my job a living hell. I started to think about the sick and dying children, the screams of anguish from horrified mums and dads as their babies slipped away, and my place in that environment. And it no longer looked quite so rosy.

The person specification for a children’s nurse describes an emotionally and mentally resilient individual with great intuition and impeccable people skills. Having been bullied in every job I ever had, and being rather sensitive to boot, I’m not so sure I’d cope with the stresses and strains of children’s nursing. Likewise my history of nervous breakdowns and diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome might not stand me in good stead. But doing a job that makes you suffer is what life is all about, right?

And then the third night I dreamt I was training to be a paediatric nurse on a hospital spaceship while battling an alien that navigated through the ventilation shafts and killed off my patients one by one. As good an indication as any that I don’t have the cognitive stability to be a nurse. So that idea is on the backburner for now.

I doubt I’d be able to give children injections anyway. When the nurse drew out the needle for the vaccinations, a full two inches long, I was wondering how much she’d actually insert when, without warning or preamble, she sank the full length into Izzie’s thigh. I have no idea how it didn’t go straight through and burst out the other side!

It was a horrible experience. Izzie’s eyes went wide with shock, her face turned purple, her mouth opened in unexpected pain and she started to scream. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she looked at me as if to say, ‘Why, dad, why?’ And then a second needle plunged into her other thigh and the horror on her face – ‘You’ve done it again, dad!’ – was heartbreaking.

They say it’s harder on the parents, and they’re right. By the time my irrational (rational?) urge to punch the nurse in the face for hurting my baby had subsided, Izzie was over it. The guilt has taken me days to assuage.

She didn’t suffer any negative side-effects, and on the plus side, it cured her constipation – if you can call following through every fart with a pea-sized poop a plus. Indeed, we’ve swung to the opposite extreme, from hard green nuggets with the consistency of plasticene once a day to multiple yellow liquid explosions. It also smells like vomit, I guess because it’s gone through her bowels so fast that it’s still mostly bile. And I know this because our baby who had only vomited twice since birth is now puking after every feed. But c’est la vie!

In all seriousness, though, it’s at times like these that we should take a moment to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have a healthy baby. Colic, constipation, diarrhoea and cradle cap are mere inconveniences – they’re minor in the general scheme of things – even if they drive us to despair. If they found out there was something wrong with Izzie, we’d take a deep breath and deal with it or adjust to it accordingly, because that’s the commitment we undertook when we chose to be parents, but it’s a relief to know that since she’s as healthy on the inside as she is beautiful on the outside, for now at least we don’t have to.

To sleep, perchance to dream

The past nine months I’ve had a recurrent dream. I’m backstage at a play, waiting to go on, and I haven’t learned my lines. It’s okay, though, because I only have two and I’m confident I can blag it. A couple of minutes beforehand, I glance at the script and to my horror I have five pages of complex dialogue and I’m not ready and oh hell there’s my cue.

It’s obvious what that’s about. No matter how much you prepare, how many courses you attend and how many books you read, you never feel ready for the arrival of your baby. I’ve had that dream at least twice a week, often more.

I haven’t had it since Izzie was born. On the third day I dreamt I had boobs, but I couldn’t produce enough milk so the baby was crying. In the twilight before dawn this morning, in the 90 minutes between settling Izzie down to sleep and her waking up screaming, I dreamt I had just given birth to triplets, and again my boobs were empty. I’m noticing a pattern emerging here.

Izzie might only be twelve days old, but she’s already starting to grasp that while daddy might have a great beard, mummy’s the one with the breasts. I just can’t satisfy her on that one, although when she’s hungry she does seem to think I have a nipple somewhere on my left biceps. If I did, it would make things so much easier!

It makes me wonder what Izzie dreams about when she sleeps.

Apparently, babies don’t dream. Despite reaching the REM stage of sleep and spending around eight hours there each day, they have too few experiences upon which to call for creating genuine dreams. Instead, the brain uses this period of sleep to discover the body it inhabits, learning about the nervous system and creating neural links (this is what the jerking movements, distinct from the startle reaction, are all about). But how can they be sure?

Sometimes Izzie cringes in her sleep and whines as though having a nightmare. Sometimes her breathing comes in fits and starts like she’s excited. Her experiences might be limited, but all of our sensations, emotions, thoughts and behaviours are played out in our dreams, even if all we know is milk, and pooping, and cuddles.

I like to think that Izzie dreams of a man with a great beard and a nipple on his arm. As for myself, I have a feeling I’ll be dreaming of my empty boobs for quite some time to come.