Doctor No

I’m at the doctors again. I am always in this waiting room with the leaflets about Alzheimers and posters about caring for the elderly. I see one for Meningitis. It lists all of the warning signs but a lot of the symptoms are the same as a cold or flu, except for the rash – although you don’t have to display a rash to be in the clutches of Meningitus, so altogether it’s very alarming.

I came here at least once a week when Mayhem was little. Milk thought it was the library because we read so many books. But this time I am here for myself and I am alone. Milk and Mayhem are with the grandparents, and I am using my precious child-free time to sit in a room full of sick people. When my name is called I hardly recognise it; no one really says my name anymore.

I’m not seeing my usual doctor. I couldn’t get an appointment with him, because everyone wants to see him. I’m looking at a new doctor. This one has wild grey hair, is tall and slim and has piercing blue eyes and a wonky nose.

I explain to her I had a mole removed and I’m worried it is infected. I peel off my top and she takes a quick look.

“Nope that’s fine. A little bit sore perhaps but that’s normal. Have you taken pain killers?”

“You mean paracetamol? I take them just to get through each day,” I smile.

“You really shouldn’t.”

“No, I was joking.”

She stares at me. “Anything else?”

“Yes. I have swollen fingers.”

“It is hot.”

“No. No, this happened before it got hot, when everyone was moaning about it being cold.”

She looks at my hands, and then her eyes run over my body.

“Right. It could be lack of movement, it could be diet, or it could be both of those.”

She is saying I am a lazy fat cow.

“Do you have a good diet?” She prompts, seemingly unaware that my silence is hostile.

I am honest. “Not really. It’s not terrible but I certainly don’t have my five a day.”

“What I find is that if you don’t buy bad things, or have bad things in the house, then you don’t tend to eat them.” She smiles.

Maybe she got that crook in her nose from someone hitting her in the face.

I shake my head. “I don’t sit at home and eat biscuits if that’s what you mean.”

She nodds. “If you do want to eat biscuits then making your own is a good idea as then you know what goes into them.”

“I don’t sit at home eating biscuits.” I repeat and my voice catches in my throat.

“What you needs is the Mediterranean diet. That’s great I’ll print some notes off.”

She hands me the list of things I should eat to deflate myself.

“If the swelling continues, once this hot weather has passed, I suggest you come back and see me.”

I get up.

“How old is your little one?”

“I have two.”

“Oh so you haven’t got much time for baking then?”

I shrug. The damage is done. She can’t crawl back to humanity now.

“Anything else?”

I want to say lots more, like how I feel sick and dizzy from being so tired, that I cry most nights about what would happen if I lost my family, and that I want to go vegetarian but I can’t stop eating meat. But I am laden down with notes on oily fish and moderate red wine consumption, so I leave and go and sit in the car and cry there instead.

When I next have some free time, I think I’ll go to the dentist.

Teeth, breasts and guns

The World Health Organisation recommends women breast feed for two years as a minimum. I am sure this is because they are talking to the whole world, and the UK is only a small part of the whole world. In fact, according to just over half of the people who voted, the UK wants to be on its own entirely and not even part of Europe, even though that is geographically impossible.

Anyway my theory is that the two years must be aimed at developing countries who can’t feed their kids proper nutritious solids. I mean if you start weaning at six months and all you can give them is rice or potatoes then breast milk is probably better, right? I could be wrong and I could look into it more, but I don’t have time because I have a baby to look after. I convince myself I am right about this but I then read the UK is not great at breastfeeding their kids. I don’t mean we are bad at it like we spray people in the face, but we do it for the shortest time in the ‘developed’ world, or not at all.

I breast fed mine for a year but around seven months it got really tricky.  I remember  when Milk got a couple of teeth. As much as I rejoiced in those tiny little white bumps, I was soon cursing the day teething was successful. He started to test out his teeth on my nipple. Some people might enjoy being bitten on the nipple, but when a baby decides to bite your nipple as you are gently feeding him, it is a monumental shock – and it hurts a lot. It’s a pain which grows as the seconds pass. It’s like when you stub your toe on the corner of a chest of drawers and you yell out, but then the pain swells and you wonder if you have actually lost your foot.

Anyway, Milk was testing out his teeth, giving the odd nip here and there and I am wondering if I should take this as a sign to stop breast feeding. I live in fear of feeding him and every time I get my boob out his eyes gleam with recognition. It’s a little stressful, like if you gave your older kid cereal, and every day you wondered if they were going to head butt you as you passed them the bowl.

Gradually though I realise that maybe Milk just likes eating more than drinking.
“I think Milk is stopping breastfeeding I tell a Health Visitor at a children’s play group. “He’s been doing it for seven months and I think he has finished.”
“Well that’s up to you” she says and turns to face me, her eyes penetrating mine.
“Er, no I am saying I think he is stopping.” I speak clearly but my eyes are filling with tears.
The HV sees she has a bit of a wobbler on her hands. “Well it can happen naturally but have you changed your diet, or are you stressed? Sometimes these things can affect the milk supply.”
How would I know about my milk supply? It’s not like I can see a milkman delivering four pints and only two being drunk.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I mean maybe I’m a bit stressed.”
“With your husband?”
I think about my husband and how at the moment he is the only person I want to be around. It’s a strange assumption the HV is making, but maybe other blokes are arseholes to their tired, cranky emotional wives.
“No, with my baby”

As soon as the words leave my mouth I realise I shouldn’t have said them. I didn’t even really mean it, I just meant I was stressed with my baby biting my nipples. But the HV is onto me. She is looking at me more closely. She looks at Milk who is chewing a wooden brick on the floor.
She takes me by the elbow and turns me away from the rest of the bustle of the group.
“Do you feel close to tears or think harmful thoughts towards your baby at all?”
“No I don’t, I’m just trying to tell you he is biting me during breastfeeding and I think it may be because he wants to eat rather than drink.”
The HV looks almost disappointed and steps back. “Perfectly normal I’m afraid.”
“But painful none the less…” I add, hoping there may be some kind words coming.
“Yes but normal. Push on through I would, you’ve done well so far and the WHO…”
“…Yes I know all about that and the UK is very bad at breastfeeding, while the USA has a great record, but they also have a higher rate of toddlers shooting their mums dead.”
This completely stumps her. It takes her a while to compose herself. She manages a tight smile. “That’s because they have guns in America, and if you have guns you will use them.”
“Exactly,” I say “And if you have teeth…?”

The NCT myth and magic

It’s nearly Milk’s birthday and I spend a quiet moment on the loo thinking about the exciting and ignorant weeks before he arrived.

When people say pregnancy lasts for nine months it’s just one of the very big fat lies they tell you about becoming a mum. Most of the health professionals want you to have your baby at around 40 weeks, which is four weeks longer than nine months. And four weeks, when you are carrying around an extra human being, feels quite a long time.

Another pointless exercise is having a due date. Apparently only five per cent of babies arrive “on time”. Except in Louisiana USA, where I once saw a weird woman on TV saying that her doctor correctly predicted the arrival of all five of her children. She said this while patting the rolls of skin on her tummy as if her doctor was magical. Surely if there was someone who knew how this clock ticked no one would be telling us to order Vindaloos or have hot baths or try and hump each other with a massive bump in the way.

In the weeks before Milk’s arrival we meet up with an NCT group. The only way to survive parenthood, according to those gurus who are already parents, is to buy friends in the local area who had sex and got pregnant at the same time as you.

“Can’t we just go to the pub and talk to people?” I say before my husband sends the payment.

“Not many pregnant people hang out in pubs. Or do you?” he raises an eyebrow.

“I wish I could drink,” I say stroking my belly. I have abstained from alcohol from the moment I found out I was pregnant. It’s a choice every pregnant woman has to make and I chose to be a martyr.

“For that money I hope the teacher explains what the bloke has to do during labour.”

“I’m gonna be watching the Apprentice Final,” he says and clicks send.

We are the last to arrive and I survey the group, milling around sorting out hot drinks and laughing nervously about taking a second biscuit. There is a circle of hard plastic chairs and the facilitator holds her hands together and welcomes us, asking us to introduce ourselves and say three words which best describe us. I stare at everyone and push my leg against my husband when people speak, as if I can transmit my thoughts through his kneecap. He pushes back, but I never hear his thoughts so I just have to hope they aren’t going somewhere else.

The teacher is intense and obsessed with “natural births” as opposed to drugs or C-sections. She explains how her daughter had a home birth and breathed slowly until the child was born. “Any particular concerns?” she asks.

“How do you change a nappy?”

She seems disappointed at the group’s lack of interest in hanging from a tree in the fairy woods while breathing out a baby onto a lotus leaf.

“We’ll show you all that,” she says with a tight smile. “Soon you will be doing it in your sleep.”

As we drive home we are both buzzing.

“So what do you think? Did you like everyone?” I look at my husband’s profile in the yellow light of the car.

“Yeah everyone seems OK.”

Typical husband answer.

“Who was the prettiest do you think?”

“You.”

“Ha. I’m not stupid I know you were looking at Sara.”

“Zara.”

“See, you even know her name.”

“Well everyone does – they introduced themselves.” He turns the wheel as we pull into our road.

“Mmm. She is pretty though, isn’t she?”

“Shut up. Did you like any of the blokes?”

I don’t answer. Not because I liked any of the blokes but because I did not notice the men at all. I was too busy staring at all the girls and their solid bumps and fabulous boobs and pretty shoes and shiny hair. I am trying to ascertain where I am on the friendship scale and whether I will get on with these people. I don’t care if they have big boobs, but if they have big boobs and wear loafers – well, we are not going to be mates. I haven’t told my husband about the way I make friends, I’m not sure he would approve and also I don’t want him to think about the big boobs – except mine, which are incredible at the moment. First time I have ever had a cleavage, and I like it.

I am jerked out of my toilet reverie by the sound of Milk and Mayhem screaming “stuck stuck” and I race down the stairs with my knickers twisted up my bum, to find them locked in a panicked embrace under every possible soft furnishing they could find in the time it took me to have a pee.

The Harvest Festival

I’m searching through our cupboards for some food for the Harvest Festival. I spy a tin of butter beans at the back and carefully extract it from the sticky ooze next to the honey jar. My husband is a relative of Winnie the Pooh. I can track his movements around the kitchen. He has been to the fridge and also by some miracle worked out how to put on the washing machine. His laptop has sticky keys.

The question is would a person less fortunate than me want a tin of butter beans? I don’t think so – I haven’t wanted to eat them for the past year so it seems a bit mean to palm them off on someone else. I rummage around and knock over several small bottles of spices the contents solidified against the thick glass.

Non-perishable goods. Nothing containing nuts. Nothing too heavy. The school does not want toes broken by a four pack of baked beans. I find a packet of curry flavoured instant noodles. I am not sure this is suitable. I’m not even sure they count as food and I am definitely not comfortable with the idea of my four-year-old, Milk, carrying them though the church as a nutritional offering. I settle on a small box of tea bags.

Off to church we go. I say we because I foolishly take my two-year-old Mayhem with me. What could possibly go wrong? We are offered a cup of tea as we step into the darkness, which is a bonus as I wasn’t sure if drinking in church was allowed, but then they do knock back the wine on occasion. I don’t get to touch my tea. I know this will happen but I am a hopeful soul. I am far too early. A two-year-old does not understand the concept of a) church b) waiting c) silence d) personal space. Mayhem shows everyone his Playmobil musician and then he focuses on an elderly lady across the aisle and pushes his toy up her skirt. I pretend I don’t notice and pull him away. He wants to lie on the floor, someone’s grave I think, and as the school children arrive he says hello to them all, tilting his head sideways and shoving his face into theirs.

“Yellow! Yellow!” he shouts with a manic grin.

“Let’s see if we can spot your brother,” I say brightly pulling his struggling mass onto my lap. He slaps my face and laughs and then, as the first song begins, he dances on my legs jumping energetically as if I am a mini trampoline. He cleverly uses my head as a support. I see cans of soup and cartons of porridge passing me in a blur like a game of Supermarket Sweep. We wave to Milk who is carrying his tea bags in his little outstretched hands, palms upwards as if it is a gift to the baby Jesus. Gold, Frankincense and PG Tips.

Mayhem and I don’t make it past the first reading, to the silent relief of the rest of the congregation. My cup of tea has gone cold and I sneak out as the vicar begins his tale of hunger and despair. I am so relieved to get outside I feed Mayhem biscuits one after the other, and he raises his hand as soon as one has been deposited in his mouth. I walk increasingly quickly to a chant of “More! More! More!” and can’t wait to get home and put the kettle on. I open the tea caddy and am faced with nothing but a dusting of silt at the bottom. I sit staring at the butter beans while Mayhem pours cumin into my shoes.