Let’s face it. Babies are boring. Dull, dull, dull-ed-dee-dull. Which is why parents go apeshit-gaga-my-offspring-is a genius when they excitedly report that their baby has just smiled. Or raised an eyebrow. Because as a parent of a newborn, you are faced with a writhing, milk-drinking, shitting, sleeping and crying machine with no volume control. For weeks and weeks, that is all they do: drink, shit, sleep, cry. And not necessarily in that order.
Being with a baby is much like watching paint dry. Seeing as you put all that effort in, you feel strangely compelled to watch (just so long as you are in a well ventilated room) but you know deep down that fuck-all is going to happen any time soon.
And this is also why you get the same dull bloody questions asked of you when someone, friend or stranger, sees your baby for the first time: ‘What’s his name?’ – swiftly followed by: ‘How much did he weigh?’ Honestly. Who gives a fuck? No one. An hour after B was born, even I struggled to find that fact interesting. There might also be a tertiary enquiry as to how your baby is sleeping, which is the largest single waste of oxygen known to man, as everyone knows the answer to that one: bloody crap. But those questions keep being asked, because babies are so sodding dreary that it is impossible to summon up a fascinating question about them. If babies were born with just one appealing skill, these ubiquitous baby conversations would not suck the life force out of those involved. ‘How’s his juggling coming along?’, ‘Did he get the answer to five across yesterday?’ or even ‘Can I see his lion impression?’ would all be much more welcome conversational openers.
And then B did something outside of his repertoire: he raised his temperature. A lot. ‘Look mummy, I can do hot now. If you fancy a fried egg, here’s your chance, my forehead is sizzling.’
We deploy the big guns of the parental armoury. Well, the only guns, to be honest: Calpol. But not even the miracle that is bottled strawberry loveliness can cool him down, so it is off to the GP, and soon we find ourselves on our way to children’s A&E at the local hospital. I am rapidly revising my somewhat laisse-faire attitude to my youngest offspring. Whilst with the first, I was convinced that I was only one wrong move or flawed decision away from inflicting mortal pain or irreparable damage, with B, I have assumed a rather more optimistic demeanour. But now, my faith in his ability to withstand whatever life, or his brother, throws at him is crumbling in the face of a very concerned hospital nurse and doctor.
They start doing tests, which involves fitting B with a cannula. As he is a wriggly little blighter, I am called upon to help restrain and placate, two activities that are not particularly mutually conducive, it has to be said. I try not to look at what they are doing to him, but it is impossible for my eyes not to be drawn to the large circle of blood that is blossoming rapidly on the paper sheet beneath his hand. The day is definitely not panning out the way I thought it would. I was up for a stroll to Tescos and perhaps, if I was feeling adventurous, a spell for B under the play gym. Blood, fever and a growing wave of bilious panic in my throat was not really what I had in mind.
Hours pass, and then comes the dreaded sentence: ‘We are going to admit him’. Now I know they are not fucking around. Just as in most of these medical situations, I have a thousand questions and they have no answers, so I wait to be escorted upstairs. I sit in the cubicle, with B in my arms. He looks at me and smiles. I smile back and take a very deep breath. I seem to recall that in my job description of Mother, there is a part about being obliged to hold it together and to be strong for your offspring. At this point, the appraisal form would definitely state ‘needs to improve’. Mind you, in the section marked ‘Patience and tolerance’ I am already on my last written warning. Luckily, M arrives and I can gladly delegate the ‘keep calm and strong’ task to someone much more skilled in this area.
And then we are on the ward, in the room in which we will be staying. The cot looks like a prison cell on wheels, with huge metal bars and towering sides. The designers have tried to mitigate this by painting the bars a combination of bright green and blue. They failed. M and I both smile and talk about inconsequential rubbish so we don’t have to speculate on what is happening to B. Never have we worked so hard at a conversation about what E did at nursery.
Antibiotics are administered via the cannula, but B is still cooking from the inside out. Or maybe it’s the outside in – don’t ask me, I haven’t a bloody clue what’s happening. I am trying hard not to imagine the plethora of horrible, fatal or disfiguring ailments he may or may not have, and am employing the ‘la la la la la la la’ technique inside my head to try and stem the flow of thoughts, but into a vacuum, ever-more horrific thoughts will always be attracted.
A camp bed is set up for me beside the cot, and M and E leave. I eye up the NHS pillow, the cover of which is made of a material alarmingly reminiscent of a condom. Well, I suppose it is their moral duty to promote safe sleeping. I am just thankful that the A&E nurse gave a heads up about bringing in a pillow which I had dispatched M to collect. A nurse arrives and gives a pitying glance at my attempt to make a bed with sheets before telling me that I must have the fan on all night for B. The wall-mounted fan looks like it would shortly be putting in an appearance on the Antiques Roadshow. Its line of blow (this may or may not be a technical term) is right onto my pillow. I shudder slightly at the thought of my eyeballs drying out in the middle of the night and swiftly throw my pillow to the other end of the bed. I request another blanket which the nurse duly brings. It turns out that my idea of a blanket is somewhat less gossamer-thin and riddled with holes than hers, but I accept it gratefully.
We now have to play a waiting game to see if the antibiotics and paracetamol cocktail will have an effect on B, so despite it being not yet 9pm, I get into bed, lie stiffly under the scratchy sheet and think a succession of fear-inducing, morbid thoughts. I am utterly knackered, but what with the worry, and its best friends doom and gloom, coupled with the fan, which is emitting a noise not unlike a lorry passing over a rusty cattle grid, sleep and I are not on speaking terms for several hours.
Day two follows the same pattern. B is in isolation, which means I am pretty much confined to quarters too. His temperature is responding to treatment, and they take more blood for testing. The doctor also casually mentions a lumber puncture. Oh, jolly good. It’s just one fun-packed hour after another in this place. Later, B gets another cannula fitted in the other hand, so now he has two huge bandage-wrapped club hands. At least this gives him some way to pass the time, as it seems he can stare at these new appendages for hours at a time, with a ‘what the fuck happened to my hands, then?’ look on his face. I am tempted to ask them to fit a pair of hooks there whilst they are at it, because when B is two and really into pirates, he will so thank me for it.
We start to contemplate a long stay, as we wait for test results that never seem to appear (apparently, they are waiting to see if anything will grow in his blood or spinal fluid, but they do not really specify what. I put my money on baby carrots). Late in the day, a nurse lets slip that they are testing for meningitis, and the volume of my la-la-laing notches up to eleven. Which is quite appropriate given B’s recent spinal tap.
Another night passes, this time thankfully without the fan, and B’s temperature remains normal. The following day we are told we can go on home release, which is a bit like day release from prison but without the ankle tag, returning just for a daily dose of antibiotics. I cannot pack the bags quick enough. None of the tests have come back positive, apart from the initial bloods that showed some kind of infection. And that was B’s new trick in his repertoire: an unspecified infection.
So I hereby retract my former position. Give me a baby who is dull and boring. Dull is predictable and stress-free. Boring is good, and my blood pressure can’t cope with anything else. Although a lion impression every now and then wouldn’t go amiss.