There’s nothing so universal, so inevitable, so very normal a part of life as a sick baby; and yet nothing seems able to make you doubt you own parenting abilities in quite the same way. Even a bruised baby (and believe me, since our New Adventures in Standing started with a vengeance we’ve had plenty of bruised baby) doesn’t pierce the parental heart nearly so much; something about a bug or virus really sets off the internal It’s All Your Fault sirens even though in most cases it isn’t, and categorically can’t be anybody’s fault unless you actually are a wandering bacterium with mischief on its mind.
Scarlett has only had a few minor ailments so far – all of the cold-y cough-y variety with a couple of vomity bouts and a nasty touch of conjunctivitis last week. All of these she has borne in very good spirits, pausing only to cough up a ball of mucus or soak a duvet in sick at 6am between her usual smiles and play. I find her illnesses much more distressing than she seems to, and only partly because it’s me rather than her that has to deal with the resulting laundry.
Baby illnesses, even minor ones, are incredibly gross (I mean, have you used a nasal aspirator? Just, ew) and really quite emotionally afflicting with it. We always wish happiness and good things for our babies. We wish it extra super-much for a sick baby; sometimes we can offer a comforting cuddle or a soothing lavender bath, and sometimes that happiness and wellness is not in our gift to give.
Babies that are out of sorts are tough to deal with. Just when you thought you knew what makes your little one tick, along comes a bug that prevents your child from eating as normal and sleeping as normal; that makes your normally sunny little sweetheart cranky and tearful; that messes up any semblance of a routine you might have been getting into; that causes every surface in the house to be covered in Calpol (no, we’re still not very good at getting it into the baby) and breaks all the trust you’ve built up over ten months because now you have to physically pin her down four times daily to insert appropriate medication. Or that’s how it feels up here in Maternal Projectionsville: like my child will never trust me again because last time I gave her a hug she ended up with antibiotic drops in her eye. Intentionally, on that occasion at least.
We’re very, very lucky to have got this far with only minor, common-or-garden ailments; I can’t imagine what it must be like for parents of chronically sick children. Thanks to our unusual situation, we don’t even have to negotiate the minefield that is time off work outside the home (yet), and I’m aware that particular joy is yet to come along with all the properly nasty infectious illnesses of childhood. People manage, of course they manage, but when something as simple as a cold or a nasty eye infection can floor me so completely, I have no idea how caring for a sick child is supposed to tessalate with working or keeping house or simply being. Perhaps badly. Perhaps not at all.
Have you survived the ravages of under-5 illness? Send your comments, suggestions and messages of hope on the back of a snotty hanky, or in the comments below: