My one-year-old daughter doesn’t tend to know a lot of people that I don’t know, so I admit I was a little thrown as I answered yes.
The nice lady on the phone then explained that she is a health visitor in our area, and that she was calling because they’d had notification that Eilidh had attended A&E at the weekend.
I assured her that everything was ok and that Mouse has a bad ear infection but really we were only there cos the OOH doc sent us and we just needed some antibiotics. These things always seem to happen at the weekend.
There are notices everywhere at A&E saying that your health visitor will be informed, and it’s really nice that they call and check up (although, thinking about it, we’ve had Arran at A&E three times with breathing difficulties, two of those arriving by ambulance, and they’ve never phoned before… ) I’m glad that we are part of a system where the children are being looked after.
It’s not foolproof by any means. How much could she really tell from talking to me on the phone? I do also know that some of the children my mum fosters have been with families that are ‘known’ to their local health visitor and it still has taken, in some cases, years for them to be removed from an abusive or neglectful situation.
It’s a start, though, and I do think that most health visitors are at least well meaning. I’ve been surprised, however, by how disliked they are by quite a lot of mothers, and I’ve been trying to work out why.
I think partly it is because they give out advice, and even although mothers often go to them for just that, being told anything about your baby is often enough to get any mother’s hackles rising. When you’re a mum – especially a new mum – people are so keen to shove their oar in give well-meaning advice and sometimes it can feel like a health visitor is just one of those people.
A friend’s husband 'banned' her from seeing the health visitor, as he said that she would leave the house a confident woman with a healthy baby and come back with an over/under weight baby who wasn’t rolling over/sitting up/clapping hands on cue yet. I think that perhaps some health visitors set too much store by centiles and charts and lines and mums then see the health visitor as someone who makes them feel bad about the thing that they are most invested in and most proud of. Perhaps some (definitely not all!) health visitors could do with learning how to boost mums confidence rather than bring it down.
With Arran, I went to the baby clinic every fortnight, had him weighed, fretting if he’d gained less than expected and rejoicing over every gram of fat on his (frankly perfectly chunky) little form. With Eilidh, she was weighed till she was ten days old (and that was because they came to my house every day with a set of scales!) and on day ten she hadn’t quite gained what she was ‘supposed’ to (damn, don’t these babies ever read the books?) and I just said I was happy with that and persuaded the midwife to discharge us. I’ve never taken her to baby clinic. One of the blessings of being a second time mum is that I can just look at her and go, ‘Yep, she’s fine’.
Having said all that, I really do feel happy that we live in a country where health visitors exist. When Arran turned two, they phoned up to arrange for me to take him in for a check up. This was inconvenient as I had a new baby, so I declined and said that I was confident that his development was fine. They weren’t happy about this, so agreed to come to the house. When the (very lovely) health visitor arrived, I asked her politely why this check was felt to be so necessary, and she pointed out that for families like us, it’s not necessary but that they have to make sure that they see all of the families, so that nobody falls through the net.
Some people see it as stifling and big brother-ish – another sign of the nanny state. I just think it’s nice. I’m really lucky to be in a position to not need the help of a health visitor, and I’d rather be swept up in a big net and let go again after a bit of wasted time than have any mums out there, floundering and having no safety net at all.
So, power to the health visitors I say. There’ll be some good ones and some bad ones – as in any profession – I'm sure, but I’m glad they exist.