Ten Things I Wish I’d Known Before Having a Baby

Before I had children, I thought I was reasonably well educated on the topic of babies. After all, I was a family doctor. I had treated plenty of them. But there’s nothing like hands-on experience with your own bundle of joy to highlight how unfit you are to take charge of one.

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Here are ten things I soon learned when I had my first baby.

1 That little scrap of human, even covered in blood and vernix (plus, in my son’s case, meconium) was the most beautiful thing ever. It was impossible not to fall in love at first sight.

2 Baby boys are like high-pressure hosepipes on the loose. At the first nappy change, the little man peed in his own eyes. The next time, it was his father’s eye. I got adept at using a spare terry nappy as a shield.

3 The doorbell always rings just as you’ve settled yourself and the baby for a feed.

4 A gin and tonic is an excellent substitute for bathtime. Bathing is a wet experience for all concerned and young babies don’t always enjoy it. Topping and tailing is enough at first, with a full bath every other day.

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5 It’s never the ideal time to return to work, but I regretted going back at six weeks. Unfortunately, there was no locum doctor available, and I felt morally obliged not to leave colleagues in the lurch.

6 Babies need a lot less sleep than their parents. After all, they don’t have to face the boss in the mornings.

7 Moses baskets are pretty but overrated. Instead of using it for long daytime naps, as I imagined he would, my first son used his twice before the cat commandeered it.

8 It was delightful to cradle that tiny sweet-smelling bundle in my arms as his eyes gently closed. However, around the age of six months, babies learn to stay awake on purpose when they want to. Well before then, it would have been wise to encourage him to doze off unaided.

9 I should have put all non-essential activities on hold in the first three months. Memo to those who wash net curtains weekly or iron the tea towels: please stop it now. And yes, on looking back, going back to work was a non-essential activity too.

10 The most important lesson was to put the little guy first, before anyone else. But that, of course, is exactly as it should be. 

Now, with Parenting 101 under my belt, I would be well prepared for a second pregnancy. That was before I discovered that the next baby was bringing a pal along to share the fun.

 

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A Family Doctor’s Casebook (part 1)

General practice partnerships are like marriage without the sex, muses Geoff as he installs himself at his consulting room desk.  He knows that kind of marriage. Shoving aside the piles of letters that need answering, he begins tending to the sick of North London.

Geoff is a GP from my novels One Night at the Jacaranda and Hampstead Fever.  Despite his problems and hang-ups, he’s everyone’s favourite. Geoff is a firm believer in the NHS, but the changes he’s seen in the 15 years since he qualified frustrate him immensely.

1 The first patient is a three-month old baby with the Lexus of pushchairs and a Yummy Mummy who reminds Geoff of his ex-wife.  She begins by complaining about the 20-minute wait, and the perennial parking problems within a mile of the health centre. All this is extremely inconvenient as she’ll now be late for her Pilates.

Geoff asks what he can do for her.

“It’s Alistair’s head,” she throws down like a gauntlet.

She’s right in thinking her baby’s skull is a tad asymmetrical. Plagiocephaly is common now that babies all sleep on their backs.  Geoff reassures her that it’ll right itself in time, once Alistair lifts his head and becomes more mobile.

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Yummy Mummy is sceptical. “Doesn’t he need one of those special helmets?”

Geoff explains that there’s no evidence they help.

The mother seems unconvinced. She’ll probably go and splash out thousands of pounds on a contraption that will only cause discomfort and inconvenient. Still, she’s now ready to move on to the next symptom. The practice has a new policy of one symptom per consultation, which Geoff routinely ignores. It’s demeaning to patients and wastes everyone’s time in the end.

The rash on Alistair’s buttocks looks like a common yeast infection which should soon respond to the cream Geoff recommends. This pleases the mother, until Geoff asks her not to leave Alistair’s dirty nappy in his consulting room bin.

“I don’t want to stink out the car,” says Yummy Mummy.

Geoff eventually persuades her to take the offending object away, even though he thinks she’s likely to dump it in the waiting room on her way out.

2 Next it’s Mr Legg in his nineties, with an aching left knee. Sometimes it’s his right knee, and sometimes it’s both, which is no wonder since both legs are badly deformed by arthritis. He attends the health centre every couple of weeks, yet refuses hospital treatment. As he puts it, “I don’t want to be a bother. There’s plenty of younger folks who need it more.” Mr Legg adds that he doubts it’s arthritis anyway.  “It’s probably just down to the shrapnel what got me during the war.”

Geoff asks where the shrapnel got him.

“In a little village near Germany, Doctor.”

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3 It’s a relief to see that young Mohammed’s eczema is improving. For a long while, his mother believed that a mild steroid was totally unsuitable for a three-year old, but the cream, along with emollients, has made a huge difference. Mohammed sleeps well now that he doesn’t scratch himself to ribbons. All in all, he’s a happy chappy, apart from a streaming cold that’s not a problem until he flings himself at Geoff and plonks a kiss on his cheek.

Geoff usually washes his hands between consultations. Today he washes his face as well.

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4 Now a young man sits before him. Unemployed, with a squat nose and tats up one arm. “Pain in me bollocks,” he says.

Might be a torsion. Uncommon in adults, Geoff knows, but, unless treated promptly, it can lead to gangrene of the testicle.

“Right. I need to take a look,” Geoff says, pulling the paper curtains across.

As he waits for the fellow to undress, he wipes the photo on his desk with a tissue. It’s Davey, aged four, at the beach in Norfolk. Happy days before the divorce.

“Ready yet?” Geoff calls out, increasingly aware of how late his clinic is running.

“Yeah. Course.”

Turns out the man is sitting fully clothed the other side of the drapes.

Patiently, Geoff explains what he needs to examine. Another three minutes pass while the man undresses.

On examination there’s nothing abnormal about the patient’s tackle, apart from the stink. Geoff peels off his gloves and flings them in the bin. “Hmm. All’s well there. When did you first get the pain?”

The man shrugs. “Maybe a week ago. But I ain’t got it no more, like. Not since I pulled that bird the other day.”

“Fair enough,” says Geoff, even though there’s nothing fair about it. The ugly, unemployed fucker gets laid just like that, while he, Geoff, has been celibate for ten months and counting.

***

Coming up soon, Geoff deals with a very personal problem. Meanwhile you may enjoy one of these posts:

How to Alienate Your Doctor in Ten Easy Steps

What Your Doctor is Really Saying

or, on a more serious note, an overview of sepsis in The Disease Nobody Knows About Until It’s Too Late.

How to Save a Life Using Just Your Hands

At 8am on Tuesday morning, junior hospital doctors were due to take industrial action. Just for one day, they’d only treat emergencies. 

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That’s now off, pending further talks. But does the average Joe know what an emergency is? I can’t help speculating. My experience of working in A & E suggests otherwise. Yes, there are heart attacks, car crashes, and fractured femurs galore.

Alas, there’s also no shortage of folks who pitch up for a second opinion on a runny nose, or who demand to know, at 4am, why they’ve had hiccups for two years.

Tragically, the reverse is also true: “I thought she was just sleeping.”

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If it’s that hard for the man in the street to recognize an emergency for what it is, it’s even more challenging to deal with it.

Forgive me for going all serious today, but research for St John Ambulance shows that almost four fifths of parents (79%) wouldn’t know what to do if their baby was choking to death. That’s despite it being a major fear for 58% of parents. In fact no less than 40% have witnessed choking. 

So kudos to those who’ve learned what to do, like the two people who saved a tot’s life in Hampstead a few weeks ago.

As you can imagine, the toddler’s mother is incredibly grateful to the passers-by who leapt in and did CPR. They’re unusual, because most people, as the research showed, wouldn’t have a clue.

We hear a lot about defibrillators in public places. Of course they’re a great idea. But while defibrillators help save adult lives, they’re not that useful for a baby or child. That’s because most little ones have breathing emergencies, not cardiac ones.

The good news is that their lives can be saved with nothing more than your hands, once you know how.

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So I wonder why basic life support isn’t taught more in schools.  And why parents and carers don’t often bother to learn how to save their own child’s life.

About five years ago, I was involved in Tesco’s BabySafe campaign. There were free sessions around the country designed to teach parents, carers, and others the basics of dealing with common but serious emergencies like choking and burns. People left with basic skills and the confidence to use them.

You can learn to save a baby or child’s life from the British Red Cross or St John Ambulance

These organizations have online information too, but it’s so much better to do a hands-on course if you can.

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What’s in a name, by George?

So it’s George Alexander Louis. Altogether more regal than, say, Clive or Keith, though I think it’s a shame William and Kate didn’t choose College. We’ve never had a monarch called King College Cambridge.KCC cropped

Baby Cambridge’s name doesn’t need to be hip and happening because it will set the trend for years to come.  He may grow up liking his first name (as most Georges seem to) or not.  A slew of given names brings the luxury of choice, though this is the first time in about 100 years that a Royal baby has had only three names instead of four.

Parents sometimes goof, as with the handle aired a while back on ITV’s This Morning.  Presenters Phil and Fern couldn’t contain themselves.  Who could, with a Hugh Janus?

When I was considering names for my own sons, I turned to the pages of the Financial Times for inspiration.  Perhaps names like Julian, James, Henry or Anthony would give them a leg-up on the ladder to success (I’ll get back to you).

Parents have to settle on only a handful of names for their own children, while writers get to dream up many more.  It’s fun, and if someone suggests something better, you can change it with just a few keystrokes.

In fiction, names can give away a person’s character.  You just know Dr Legg is going to be an orthopaedic surgeon, and Professor Sir Benjamin Bigpurse is coining it from his private practice.  Cruella De Vil is a prime example of a villain’s name, though Voldemort and Captain Hook are great too.

Reading To The Lighthouse, it’s obvious that Augustus Carmichael is a poet’s moniker and that Lily Briscoe is as complicated as hell, though perhaps the more obvious clue lies in the author’s name. Personally I’m still mystified by Seymour Glass, JD Salinger’s memorable if not wholly transparent choice.

As has been observed, even the naming of cats is a difficult matter. I’ve stuck to fruits for my own cats. Thus we’ve had Bananas, Peaches, and Cherries.

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The current incumbent is Mishmish, meaning apricot in Arabic and Hebrew.  But did we miss a trick when we overlooked Paw-paws?