Vacant Health Visitor…

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Scarlett is a very good eater, There’s nothing she won’t try (and we’ve been very mean in even getting her to try things like olives and raw onion) and very little she’ll turn her nose at (funnily enough one of the only foods she won’t eat is strawberries!). That being said, her appetite size is rather small. She suits eating little and often but recently we’ve been wondering whether it’s slightly too little. 

We looked online and saw that actually it’s quite normal and portion sizes that are now deemed ‘normal’ are actually very grossly overestimated, and we have been right to go off her cues and not try and force her to eat more than she naturally seems to want to. And as she enjoys a real variety of healthy foods and a good balance, we don’t need to worry about her nutrition. However, the one thing we did learn was that she is probably having a bit too much milk, now she’s over one, the full fat milk she drinks should be as an accompaniment to meals and roughly two thirds of the amount she currently drinks. 

As I’ve mentioned several times, internet research is fantastic but dangerous. When it comes to parenting horror stories, you don’t have to Google for long to be confronted with a horrific tale to make you think that whatever you’re doing is harmful to your baby. We only allow ourselves to look for answers on NHS websites and another government backed one that we’ve found realistic and thoroughly informative without any scare tactics (or information worded to sell a product!). You may ask why we haven’t had this information from a health visitor? It’s a fair question. 

Sadly although I have nothing but praise for our NHS and I would violently defend it and all the hardworking staff within it (and with several hospital stays and three operations within the last year and a half, I’ve met a fair few of them!) I really don’t want the following to have any implication on my view of the NHS because (in our experience) it has been amazing. However, our health visitor, we last saw her in July 2014, you may recognise that as the month our daughter was born. We saw her towards the end of the month as we were away some of August and she was away the other half of it, and so the 6 week check was booked in slightly early. At that stage all was well and we waved her off as she cheerily told us that she’d see us in September for a routine check. I should add that she meant September 2014 as that’s when Scarlett should have had a three month check and should also correspond with around the time she had her injections. We have seen nothing of her since that sunny July day. Now firstly, I know she’s ok because we tried to contact her a couple of times and were promised callbacks or were informed she would get back to us. Scarlett’s vaccinations all went well and apart from a couple of minor appointments since we have no major health concerns so as we’re busy people, we frankly haven’t had the time to chase any more. And as we have a perfectly healthy little girl we kept telling ourselves that we didn’t want to hassle and there must be lots of baby’s with more urgent needs. After all no news is good news right?

However, when we find we’ve been inadvertently giving her more milk than she should have at this stage, it does frustrate me a little bit. Both my husband and I are intelligent people and we have several books that we reference and if we have any urgent queries we can phone the Dr but we SHOULD have been able to have access to a health visitor to answer the questions we had. We weaned Scarlett onto solid foods at six months (as guided by the NHS website) we adjusted her feeding patterns as we checked along the way; but as two very busy parents, we don’t check every day and as amateurs we don’t necessarily know when these landmarks occur. 

My point is, for us, it hasn’t been disastrous. But only through dumb luck to a certain extent; for some families, without that support, they might come across illnesses through no fault of their own because they didn’t know what sort of cows milk to use, or didn’t recognise the signs of an allergy to cows milk. Now I know that in our society we are very lucky to even have health visitors, let alone be privileged enough to only have a lack of health visitor contact to complain about. As we’re also in the process of buying a house in a slightly different area, we may well be able to be assigned a new health visitor (when do children stop having a health visitor? I know it’s not supposed to be at a month old but I’ve no idea when it should be!) and be able to have someone to ask these questions to that aren’t a computer. Likewise, it means that with any future children we won’t be assigned the same one which for us is a huge relief. 

The other obvious outlet for questions are our own Mums and other Mums, but the problem with that is (with the greatest of respect!) the advice has changed since their day and each child is so different it’s difficult to know what advice to take when you can get such varying reports. So although my friends and I chat about our children at similar ages, at nearly every stage they’ve all had different experiences. The area of childbirth and babies is in reality a field in which there is still a lot of unknown, in pharmacies, there are several drugs that have certain cautions on them, not because they know it causes a problem, but because there’s not enough information available and so they understandably err on the side of caution. Guidelines change month by month because we find out more every day in the world of medicine. The honest answer to quite a few question in pregnancy and early childhood is still ‘we don’t know’. Therefore, it’s understandable that looking online finds a plethora of not necessarily very sensible advice. Our first trip online when I first found out I was pregnant was about epilepsy and pregnancy, the first four links led us to stories on death in childbirth and complications/deformities that could be caused by epilepsy in pregnancy. if we had looked before getting pregnant, that would have terrified both of us! The reality (and when I say reality I mean the medical science) is that actually there’s very little risk and in this country, in our situation, there was no real reason to worry at all. And in fact the majority of the problems we encountered were not to do with my epilepsy! My point here is that becoming a mother, especially the first time, is frightening and you’re suddenly immersed in the unknown. Whilst growing your precious cargo, you have little control over how everything is going in there and with so many contrary opinions on whether it’s ok to have the odd glass of wine/whether you can eat prawns/whether you should sleep with one leg in the air, (ok I made that last one up but I bet someone could come up with some reason as to why it’s better!) it’s difficult to know where to turn. Your midwife and then your health visitor are your assigned links to sanity. They are experienced and have all the up to date information for you and your baby, you develop a relationship with them so they get to know you and your individual baby. We as parents can behave by instinct and with as much knowledge as we have but we, in this country, are lucky enough to be gifted some medical professionals to help us and make sure we’re doing the best thing as far as today’s knowledge goes, for our baby.

We have not had that hand holding. I know how spoilt that makes us sound, we are lucky enough to have access 24 hours a day to the internet and the NHS, we live financially comfortably and our baby doesn’t want for food or clothes or warmth or any of the real priorities. However, my parenting knowledge is that of an amateur with 14 months experience and as a relatively typical British person, I worry about ‘hassling’ the Dr with seemingly small queries. at the same time, although I trust the NHS website, like every parent, I’m terrified at making an innocent mistake that even in a little way, harms my beautiful little girl. I would really rather have that right hand calming voice who I know knows her stuff and knows my baby. I trust the health profession, I trust the NHS and I am sad that in our particular individual circumstance, we’ve had a bad experience. 

Based on friends opinions, and my memory of my little brothers health visitor, I know just how invaluable a service health visitors can provide. In fact I was only 9 when my brother was born and yet I still recognise his health visitor Liz who was just amazing and still recognises me and asks after the family. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect my baby’s health visitor to be so involved that she recognises Scarlett’s siblings in thirty years time! HOWEVER, from such a fantastic experience, it has made us feel a bit stiffed! I am someone who likes to praise others hard work, as I think there are enough things in life to complain about, and I know this blog post is probably a bit counter suggestive! However, I’d like to finish off by reiterating that out of the hundreds of NHS staff we’ve had dealings with since Christmas 2013, we only have this ONE negative, and it’s likely because we’re in an area of a lot of young families, and our needs are very minimal so it’s right that we are the ones that fall through the net. I wouldn’t like to have an attentive health visitor if it meant someone who needed it more was slipping through. From surgeons, anaesthetists, nurses, doctors, administrative staff, porters, kitchen staff, we can not speak more highly of those we’ve come across. But again that’s our experience.

For those of you in a similar position, I’d love to know what gems of wisdom you’ve had from your health visitor, or the positive difference they’ve made for you, and I hope that in the future when Scarlett maybe has a sibling, we’ll be able to share a more positive experience! In the meantime, I’m going to ‘look forward’ to an upcoming hospital appointment, which I never would be able to have if it wasn’t for our wonderful NHS! 

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