Nobody warns you……that you’ll accidentally cause your baby pain multiple times a day!

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Nobody warns you…

…that you’ll accidentally cause your baby pain multiple times a day!

People like to talk about all the things “no one warns you about” prior to parenthood. Quite often my reaction is “Really?! Come on! What do you mean no one warned you?!” People say they hadn’t been warned about how little some newborns sleep at night but I feel like most of the jokes, eye rolls and dire warnings given to pregnant women are about how sleep deprived you’ll be shortly. Typical exchange during late pregnancy:

Image from www.damselsinsuccess.co.uk
Image from www.damselsinsuccess.co.uk

Colleague/well-wisher/nosy neighbour: How are you feeling?

Me: Oh, really good thanks, fine thanks, very lucky…

Them: No nausea/tiredness/aching joints/etc  etc?

Me: No, not really, not anymore, yep, very lucky…

Them: Oh really? Nothing? Surely there must be something bothering you? Come on, don’t be a hero…

Me: Well, ok, if you insist, the only problem is I just can’t fall asleep at bedtime, no matter how tired I am. Chronic late-pregnancy insomnia.

Them: Not sleeping? Tired? Well…BETTER GET USED TO IT!!! JUST YOU WAIT TIL THE BABY’S HERE! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Similarly, I’ve spoken to new mums who have suggested that we’re not warned about the pain of labour enough. Er…seriously? I thought a positive mental attitude would help me with childbirth (ha) so spent a lot of time reading positive stories on http://tellmeagoodbirthstory.com/ to counteract all the horrors. But really, beyond what any individual specifically “warns” you, there’s a whole culture of fear around labour and I really don’t see how anyone could come out of that experience thinking “Ouch! I didn’t know it was going to hurt!”

However, there are a few things that do come as a shock, and one of the most upsetting is the number of times that I cause pain to my poor defenceless little one. And just to be clear, I’m not an abusive or sadistic parent…I’m talking about the (pretty much) unavoidable little incidents and accidents that wrench the new parent’s heartstrings like nothing else.

Baby fingers 2One of the first times was a few days after we got home from the hospital, when I realised the baby had a few self-inflicted scratches and needed her tiny nails cutting. Armed with special Tommee Tippee baby clippers, and having ignored the pharmacist who told me “to be honest, I’d just bite them, it’s easier”, I got stuck in…and swiftly drew blood. My husband found me cradling the 4-day old baby with tears in my eyes. “I couldn’t help it… her skin’s just so sensitive…she won’t stay still…her nails are going to have to stay long, I can’t do it…”

Neither of us were prepared for the number of times we’d accidentally scratch that sensitive newborn skin with our own fingernails, and the tearful, guilty emotion that comes with knowing that you’ve hurt your own baby, no matter how minor the injury.

Probably the worst recent occasion was the day last week when I loaded the baby onto her seat in the cargobike on a blisteringly hot day, and fastened her cute little sunhat on to protect her from the rays. The strings would never stay tied under her chin so I’d modified the hat by adding a popper, just to be quite sure it wouldn’t fly off her head.  I slipped it on and she began to scream in earnest. I picked her up and comforted her but didn’t want to remove the hat since the sun was so fierce. About half an hour later we arrived at our destination and I still had a mysteriously miserable and unsettled baby…until I undid her hat to huge roars of pain. The popper had been pinching the skin of her (double) chin! She had an angry red pinch mark, an anguished high pitch scream of agony, and bewildered, accusatory tears in her big blue eyes. Why was I, her loving mummy, causing her so much pain?

We can’t protect our children from everything, and that’s an important lesson for a new parent to learn…but there’s a particular sense of failure that comes from being the source of the problem yourself! Following sun-hat-popper-pinch-gate I have realised that I need listen more closely to my daughter’s cries and follow my instinct about them. There’s times when a cry is a grumble about not wanting to sit in the bike seat, and I know from experience that that will probably dissipate once we get going with the fresh air and the distraction of all the sights and sounds of the city. But on this occasion the cry was a high-pitched, repeated shriek of pain which in retrospect I should have investigated further instead of ploughing ahead with my afternoon plans. Sorry my angel!!

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Mary is a feminist, an English teacher and a first time mum who lives in south-east London. She is spending her maternity leave cycling round London on her Dutch cargo-bike, running with her pushchair, and trying to dress her long-suffering little girl in gender-neutral clothing. She blogs at marybuggyrunning.blogspot.com.