I am working for a few weeks as a maternity nurse for Debbie, a first time mother whose baby came earlier than expected. Having arrived before lunch, the first day here has been full of learning curves…
n my role as a maternity nurse, I feel that it is important to support parents and enable them to discover their own best way of parenting. But of course, I will also offer an opinion if it is sought. My aim is to have an “exit strategy” which means that from the first week I will be ensuring that the parents can look after their baby when I leave, and won’t feel utterly bereft and incapable. This is particularly so with twins or triplets – the extra pair of hands that I offer is very useful, but I won’t be there forever. I have spent the morning chatting to Debbie, gently trying to find out how she sees herself as a mother without imposing my preferences on her. After lunch she is, naturally, exhausted and I encourage her to go upstairs and shut the curtains to have a nap. “Oh, no,” she says, “I’ve never been able to sleep in the middle of the day; I’ll just put my feet up here on the sofa and shut my eyes for 20 minutes.” I hesitate in the doorway, the dirty lunch plates piled in my hands, not quite sure how to say what is on my mind. “Oh, you look disapproving,” comments Debbie, and there’s a short pause, then we both smile. I tell her she should do what feels best, but that she will need to grab every opportunity for proper rests when she can. She agrees, and goes up to her room. I decide that, from tomorrow, I will go straight upstairs after lunch and close her curtains for her so she knows where she is expected to be.
I smile to myself – I am not really a bossy person, but I realise that women who are used to rushing around and packing as much as they can into every minute of the day need to be encouraged to stop and replenish their own batteries once they become mothers.
I tidy the kitchen then make my way upstairs to my own room and unpack. As this was an emergency booking, there wasn’t time for an interview so we decided that the first two days would be a trial period for us both. Debbie’s husband is self-employed and had a foreign trip planned which could only go ahead if I was able to be here – I haven’t met him yet, but he will be back at the weekend. Josh is sleeping peacefully in his Moses basket in the sitting room so I go back downstairs and sit beside him. I watch him for a while, learning what he is like. I will help Debbie do this herself over the next few days – it is important to know what your baby is like when he is healthy and at rest, so that if unusual symptoms occur, you can work out how serious they are. We will take his temperature, we will keep an eye on the nappies we change, we will take notes of how long he feeds and when. If he were bottle fed, we would also take notes on quantities. In the first few days, I feel it is important to let things settle down gradually and not to impose too much on a new mother and baby, but gradually we can begin to create little routines for Josh. It is quite likely that he will create some of them himself – a baby’s body is as finely tuned as a Swiss clock and can tell the time as precisely. If we can maximise Josh’s natural Circadian cycle, his body clock, we will make his and Debbie’s lives a lot easier. I am musing on all this when Josh’s eyes begin to twitch and some colour trickles into his cheeks. I check the time and wait for him to wake up properly. He has been asleep for 2½ hours, which is pretty good for his age. I wait, to be sure that he is going to wake up properly and not fall back to sleep again, but he is definitely ready for a feed. I pick him up and take him to Debbie’s room. I knock gently on the door and walk in. Debbie wakens more slowly than Josh did and levers herself up to sit against the pillows. I make sure she is comfortable and lower Josh into her arms. I watch him latching on and sit in the chair at the end of the bed. It is a very peaceful scene, and eventually Debbie says: “You were so right to make me come to bed – I feel so much better.”
When Josh has completed his feed he seems wide awake. Debbie is chatting to him, telling him all about his father and how keen he is to get back home to get to know his new son better. “But you came a bit quickly,” Debbie smiles at him, “and took us all by surprise.” She glances up at me. “I’d feel a bit of a fool burbling to him in baby language, but he can’t really understand a word I say!” She laughs, and Josh gurgles at her. “Oh, you should talk to him as much as you can,” I tell her. I explain how babies learn to communicate by watching their parents’ facial expressions and matching them to the tone of voice used; I tell her how the perfect distance for a baby to learn is the same as the distance between the baby and his mother when he is at the breast; I recount what I learnt from a Speech Therapist friend: that babies are born knowing over 100 phonic sounds but by their first birthday they have retained less than 50% of them – the ones relating to their mother tongue; that 60-90% of what we understand as adults is communicated through body language alone, and for babies it is 100%; and that babies will learn appropriate social behaviour through watching the interaction of the people around them. “So the importance of face-to-face communication cannot be underestimated,” I conclude. “Oh, my goodness, I hadn’t realised there was so much involved!” exclaims Debbie. “Oh yes, research into babies’ brains and how they communicate is a big business.” I tell her. And Josh gurgles his agreement.
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