People with children like to tell those expecting children that life changes when you have a child. Obviously.
It would be really odd, alarming in fact, if having a child didn't change your life. However I think what people mean when they say this is "You won't understand how children will change your life until it happens to you". And that is exactly right, it happens to you.
I am a senior paediatric emergency department nurse. I know my way around a sick person. I have seen children die but have also been part of a team who have saved many many more. So having my own child should have been easy. No worrying about how much Calpol to give them, what to feed them or what to do if they break their arm. So what happened when my daughter was five days old completely threw me.
Days one to four were great. Hard work, but great. We were tired but every time we looked at Anna we were happy and she was happy. Well, as happy a few day old baby can be. She was well fed, well slept and every single time she opened her eyes she had a beaming smile staring right back at her.
My wife was breastfeeding and it had been hard work for her from the start. It was something I wished I could help with. I wanted to make it easy for them both. I was used to fixing stuff like this. People brought their children to me and I sent them away feeling better than when they arrived. But I couldn't really help with this. I tried to be helpful but wondered if really I was just getting in the way. But my wife was doing well and it seemed to be getting easier each day. However on day five she told me that Anna wasn't feeding properly and I really wanted to fix it.
Anna was irritable and unsettled. She was drowsier than normal, not just sleeping more but less alert when she was awake. She looked pale. Evidently she wasn't feeding enough. We had only met her a few days earlier but we knew something was up. It was our 'parent radar'. It was turned on and well-tuned. We had visitors over during the day as we had done each day. And we wanted them there. We were really proud to show off our beautiful baby daughter. But they couldn't tell anything was up. They cooed and passed her around, commenting on her eyes and how she looked like someone or other in the family. I remember watching everyone being so happy holding her and me sitting on my hands to stop myself taking her off them to take her away and fix her.
We called the midwife, who was less than useful. We told her that she didn't look right, that she wasn't feeding at all and that we were worried. Her response was "keep trying with the breastfeeding and if you are concerned that she's not well then take her to the emergency department". Great, I work in the emergency department. I know that she doesn't need to be there! We wanted help with the feeding as we knew that was the problem. "Just don't use a bottle or anything other than the breast." she said.
Eventually I ignored the midwife and cup fed her small amounts of expressed breast milk. And she improved. Quickly. We managed to get seen on the maternity ward at the local hospital that evening. By the time we had arrived she was much improved but they still kept her in overnight and helped with every feed until we were comfortable bringing her home again. She continued to breast feed for seven months.
Looking back I have no idea why I didn't take her off my visitors at the start of the day and feed her a bottle or from a cup. I knew that was what she needed. They wouldn't have minded. Ignore the midwife. But I felt unable to do that. I felt almost removed from the situation. If she had been a patient I would have sorted her within fifteen minutes and moved onto the next. But it's different with your own children. It seems there is a moment in life when you realise love overrules rational thought. And ultimately that's probably a good thing.