I have to admit I was riding high, thinking I was the best new mum in the world when I went to my second maternal health check. Sure we didn’t have it all figured out, but from where I stood, we were smashing it – bub was still alive, we were yet to drop him (on a very hard surface) and I’d started vacuuming our carpet at least once a month in anticipation that he might, you know, one day crawl and the last thing I wanted was him choking on the remnants of a truffle flavoured potato crisp from our earlier, decadent child-free days. There was no hiding it, we were nailing this parenting shit.
So you can imagine my surprise when I met Kathleen. My new maternal health nurse, complete with a nifty fanny pack around her waist because she liked to keep everything she needed close to her as she wasn’t a fan ‘of reaching for things.’
As was usual I’d gone to this ‘not mandatory but strongly advised’ appointment with our sex trophies’ co-creator, his father, which doesn’t seem so odd until I point out that it would have been just as useful to bring a potted plant along, given Kathleen chose not to even acknowledge his existence.
‘These appointments aren’t for the father’ she pointed out. ‘There to see how your son is developing both emotionally and physically with you as a mother.’
‘Detrimentally’ I joked. She did not laugh. Kathleen never laughed.
‘The thing is’ I pointed out ‘Kathleen, I can call you Kathleen right? Both JK and I are around all our son all the time. We’ve both taken time off, together, to be with him and I think it’s important to –
‘- it says here you had a c-section’
‘Um, yep – but as I was saying, it’s important we acknowledge the father-’
‘If that’s the case you shouldn’t be sitting like that…with your legs crossed.’
‘Crossed? It’s fine.’ I said ‘my physio said it’s fine.’
‘Oh well, feel free to take someone else’s advice, that’s your choice pet, but I’m saying I don’t think it’ a good idea.’
‘My doctor also said it was ok.’
‘Well if your doctor said it was ok, and they are a doctor and I’m just a -’
‘Huh! Maternal Health Specialist Nurse deary –
‘ – it wasn’t meant to insult you’
‘ – no insult was taken. If you want to believe your doctor that’s your call but if I were you and I’d had a c-section I wouldn’t sit like that, not if I wanted to have another child in the future, just saying.’
I kept my legs crossed in silent protest. Her eyes flaring up, my defiance noted.
‘Are you breastfeeding?’
‘No. He’s been combination fed since he was born.’
‘Was there a reason?’
‘He was early. It should all be written there. We did discuss this last time we came in.’
She sighed, rubbing her temple as if the fate of every child rested on her shoulders.
‘Louise, is telling me your child’s health history an inconvenience to you, because please let me know if it is and I’ll take some time now to read up on him?’
I crossed my legs a little further.
‘So you bottle feed?’
‘Yep, about once a day. It’s good, it allows JK to be part of the feeding process and lets me get a little sleep.’
‘Hmmm,’ she scribbled something down for effect.
‘And what’s the reason for that?’
‘Like I said, I get a little sleep, JK can bond –
‘- well it is your choice. Sleep is very important…’
I couldn’t hold back.
‘It’s just if I was you and I could breastfeed, well the literature says to breastfeed exclusively, but that’s just me, and the literature.’
‘I’m not very literary,’ I said ‘I’ll continue to give him a bottle then.’
And then to my astonishment, she mumbled under her breath ‘You do what you want, don’t mind me. I’m just the maternal health specialist.’
I turned to my pot-plant for support but he was focused on distracting our sex trophy from his mother’s demise.
‘Ok’ Kathleen jumped up.
‘Lets get him undressed and weighed.’
JK stood up, starting to get bub ready, when Kathleen turned to me.
‘I’d like to see the mother get him ready’
‘I’m assuming I’m the mother in this scenario’ I sparked back.
She did not smile.
‘I’ll let you get on with it then.’
The colour drained from my face. JK was the master of getting bub’s t-shirts off quickly without squashing his head. I was not. My strong suit up until this point had been keeping bub alive with my boobs, but even that seemed to hold no sway at this point in time.
Fumbling as I got him undressed, under the vengeful eye of Kathleen I suddenly became concerned that as his jumper stuck around his head, and his little arms flailed about that I might lose custody of him just for being a bad baby un-dresser. I wasn’t smashing this parenting thing. I’d deluded myself. Maybe he was better off being raised by a woman who didn’t cross her legs?
Finally, his little head came free and he smiled as if to say ‘I only lost a little oxygen mum.’
I nodded my thanks back.
‘Turn him over’ barked Kathleen.
‘Now I have to tell you…Baby is dry’ she said.
Finally, I smiled. Something I got right. ‘Yeah, I dried him after his bath this morning. I was pretty thorough -’
‘ – no, I mean his skin is too dry. Do you moisturise?’
‘Um yes, daily.’
‘It should be forty times a day!’ (*slight exaggeration in the retelling but you get the idea…)
‘And what do you use?’
‘Mineral oil – just like we were told’
‘No! Edible oils only’
And that’s when I cracked it.
‘Really? Because last time we were here- ’
‘ – Yes we!’ JK shouted out. Thanks, babe…
‘We were told there was new research and edible oils could lead to skin conditions when he’s older’
‘Then you were told the wrong information.’
‘By two of your colleagues, the other midwife-’
‘We are not midwives. We are maternal health specialists and we’re here to help you be better parents. You need to listen to me for the sake of your son. You need to know I have his best interests at heart before you continue to have a go at me.’
My hands curled up in anger.
‘Me, have a go at you? You’ve done nothing but make me feel like a barely adequate parent, no, a barely adequate human being since I’ve been here and -’
I stopped. Suddenly Kathleen’s face distorted. Her tongue recoiling back into her face with horror as urine sprayed out at her care of my son’s well aiming and meaning penis.
And then just like that, any concerns I had about being a bad mum have washed away. He’d done me proud. He’d done every mother and or father being told they’re doing a bad job proud. He was my hero.
And so without finishing the appointment we grabbed our naked, still peeing son and left.
JK making a point to say we would be making a formal complaint against Kathleen because he was concerned she would upset other parents, what with her fanny-pack full of judgement. I watched him go to bat for me, I couldn’t help but smile as urine continued to run down my leg and into my shoe because we’d left the spare nappy at home…that wasn’t important right now. Being righteous parents was.