Don’t panic! It’s just a tummy bug.

I’ve mentioned vomit before on this blog, and it’s always been described rather casually. ‘Ha-ha, she threw up over me,’ and suchlike. ‘What a great dad I am: I get puked on and take it in my stride. Yay me!’

Those were purer, more innocent times, the halcyon days before the fall. The fact is, I had no idea what vomiting truly was. The couple of tablespoons of white, milk-like up-chuck, even when tinged with mucus, are nothing – nothing – compared to the end-of-the-world style vomiting of a stomach bug. And having now experienced that, I will never be casual about vomit again.

When Izzie woke crying at four o’clock Thursday morning, her bed sopping wet with sick, my instincts told me something was wrong. She’s not a sicky baby and vomiting overnight is certainly unusual for her. It was, however, just the beginning.

I picked her up, made her some milk, fed it to her, sat her down, and watched as the Gates of Hell opened and spewed forth an ocean of vomit. In all honesty, it was frightening seeing so much liquid propelled so widely from something so small. It formed puddles in her lap and on the carpet, was so bad that even Lizzie got up (unheard of before half-seven) to help change clothing and bedding and mop it off the floor.

After settling Izzie onto newly-clean sheets, I spent the next two hours on the internet becoming an expert on all aspects of childhood vomiting. The main stipulation of the sites I visited was: don’t panic! It’s only vomit. Keep her hydrated, be gentle with her belly, and stop being such a wuss.

Now, being an overprotective (read: hypochondriac) dad, I’ve had to develop a hard and fast rule on baby illness so I don’t turn her into a medical guinea pig that gets rushed to the doctor every two minutes: if she’s happy, playful and eating, and has no obvious signs of illness such as a temperature, blood coming from her ears, or buboes, she’s probably okay. So in the morning when Izzie seemed bright and breezy, we got on as normal. Lots of water to rehydrate her, and oodles of bland milky porridge and a banana to settle her empty stomach.

Slightly neurotic about her dying of thirst, and the ensuing inquest where we’re deemed to have been neglectful parents followed by a media witch hunt that hounds us out of the country, I sat her on my lap on the sofa to give her a top-up of milk. And two minutes later, with a little feminine toss of her head, she exploded all over me.

When I say exploded, I mean that stuff just flew everywhere. I was wearing T-shirt, shirt, trousers, boxer shorts and socks, and the only thing I didn’t have to change were my glasses. The last time I was covered in hot, smelly sick, I was nine years old, wearing blue and white striped pyjamas, and I remember feeling unclean and ashamed. In an instant, I was that child again and unable to move.

I shouted for help, which is what I’d done as a nine-year-old. Unfortunately, Lizzie chose that moment to have one of her autistic episodes – overwhelmed by the knowledge that she couldn’t go to baby group and would have to change her plans, she became angry and overwhelmed, so had to go and have a time-out to calm down. Gee, thanks, honey. It’s not like it’s soaking through to my skin and dripping from my fingertips!

Luckily there was a support worker present, who definitely earned her pay and saw more of me than she probably liked as I peeled off soiled clothing layer by layer then dealt with the baby in just my underwear.

Water was the order of the day. Sips of water, the websites say. No food for about six hours, then small amounts of bland stuff to settle her.

Izzie didn’t act ill, not at all – she was playing with her toys, standing against the furniture and getting up to her usual high-jinks. So mid-afternoon, when she was clearly hungry, I gave her the blandest porridge in the cupboard, which went down a treat, followed by fromage frais and then half a biscotti. She seemed happy as Larry, so I made some milk, sat her on my lap on the sofa and –

Instead of describing in graphic detail what I’ve already covered before (explosion, ‘help!’, oh god it’s so warm and smelly), minus Lizzie’s time-out but including the ‘assistance’ of Ozzie the dog in clearing up, here’s a picture of Izzie with bunny ears:

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Cute

While I was changing into my third set of clothes for the day, Lizzie’s cousin texted us to say her little one had had a similar thing earlier in the week, a 24-hour vomiting bug. Provided you can endure and make sure she drinks plenty, it passes. So armed with this knowledge, we tried to force dioralyte down her throat to rehydrate her (see above about hypochondria), which was a horrible failure, switched back to water, which was a success, and put her to bed.

Today, she seems much better (touch wood), but since the three vomiting episodes were triggered by milk, we’ve avoided risking giving her anything but water. I’ve discovered from my research that babies can develop lactose intolerance from tummy bugs like viral gastroenteritis, meaning milk makes them vomit and you need to give them lactose-free milk for up to four weeks until the gut recovers. Gosh darn it, why do babies always get ill on four-day weekends and bank holidays?

What I’ve learnt from this experience is just how frightening it can be for a parent when their baby keeps vomiting. I mean, at one point I seriously expected her head to rotate three-sixty degrees and Latin phrases to start bursting from her lips. You think it’s going to go on forever, that every drop of water or morsel of food will come back with added force. But it passes. Thank God it passes!

It’s also an eye-opener how vulnerable you can feel when covered in someone else’s vomit. Forget waterboarding, try a baby with a vomiting bug! But on the plus side, there are far fewer poopy nappies to deal with.

One thing’s for certain: I will never be nonchalant about sick ever again!

The World’s Worst Word

Top of the list of words that should be expunged from the English language is ‘should’. Unfortunately, in order to make that statement, I’ve had to use it, so perhaps banning it isn’t the right answer. To rephrase, then: I would greatly appreciate it if the word ‘should’ was avoided in any conversation about life, lifestyle, parenting, babies, child development, behaviour and relationships, because ‘should’ is the world’s worst word.

Implicit, and often explicit, within the word ‘should’ is that there is only one way of doing things, the right way, and therefore if people use that word at you, they are telling you that you are not only falling short of the ideal, you are doing things wrong. ‘You should leave her to cry,’ means: ‘A proper parent leaves their child to cry. This is the only way to respond to a baby that cries. By not leaving her to cry, you are not being a proper parent. You suck.’

Okay, maybe that’s my autism reading too much into it, but how much nicer would that same sentence be if you replaced ‘should’ with ‘could’? ‘You could leave her to cry,’ means: ‘there are many options available to parents, of which this is just one. I leave it to you to make the decision as to which option is right for your family.’ See? Much better.

‘Should’ also fills your life with pressure. ‘She should be drinking five bottles a day.’ Great, but what if she only wants four? Or those days that she wants six? What then? Should we be forcing milk into her, denying her it when she’s hungry? Instead of following your instincts and adapting to reality, you feel an obligation to try to squeeze reality into a ‘should’-shaped hole, and that doesn’t make life easy for anyone.

That horrible imperative also changes the power relationship between you and whichever person said it. ‘You should change the brand of milk she drinks,’ is another way of saying, ‘I don’t respect you. There is no point in us having a conversation as adults because you are a child who cannot be trusted to make decisions. Therefore, I must fill the role of your parent and tell you exactly what to do. Switch to Aptamil.’

‘But Aptamil and Cow & Gate are the same company with different coloured packaging.’

‘Shut up, imbecile. You are incapable of deciding what is best for your baby so I will take that choice away from you. You are the hydrant and I am the dog.’

You see what I’m saying? ‘Could’ means that we are equals, you are making a suggestion and you respect my ability to sort through the conflicting information and select an appropriate course of action. ‘Should’, on the other hand, means you’re the expert and I’m the dunce, and I should do what you say because you’re the Man, and I’m the poop he just stepped in.

So next time you’re giving someone advice, think about turning that first phoneme from a ‘sh’ to a ‘c’, unless you really are that arrogant that you think you know the best way to raise my baby.

Rant over.