Dad’s story – coping with your baby’s first illness

Bill Rayworth found that when it came to playing Dr Dad to 15-month-old Florence, he’s no better than a headless chicken

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In sickness and in health

Nothing prepares you for the first time your baby becomes ill. In your mind’s eye you see yourself as a calm, logical parent, soothing the fevered brow of your child and softly seeing them through the frightening days of their first illness. That’s how I saw myself anyway. Sort of a cross between David Attenborough and George Clooney when he was in ER.

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The reality, for me, was quite different. Florence was about 8 months old at the time and hadn’t been herself all day. To say she’s a live wire is an understatement of the highest order: Florence doesn’t stop from dawn to dusk, and then pops up and down a few times during the night to keep her hand in. That day she was floppy, and actually wanted to go to bed. During the night she woke up screaming, and really hot all over. Well, all my fantasy training went right out the window. My partner, Vicky, was no better. ‘This isn’t right, she’s boiling!’ Vicky screamed. ‘Well what shall we do?’ I screamed back, all the while probably scaring Florence into a hysterical frenzy.

Panic stations!

Needless to say, we called the emergency doctor in a blind panic. He sounded very blasé about the situation, told us to monitor her temperature, and if it got worse to call in the following day. Thankfully, Florence was right as rain the next day, and we realised that when it comes to your child’s health, nothing quite prepares you for the bumps in the road.

With children, illness becomes magnified much larger than when you’re simply looking after yourself. A few weeks ago Vicky, Florence and I all went down with a terrible stomach bug. It had been doing the rounds at the playgroup and our time had come. It was ridiculous. None of us could do anything, but we had to go through all the usual ritual of the day with Florence. Luckily, she was as immobilised as we were, and we all came out of it at the same time.

Decisions, decisions

And what about vaccinations? Trying to decide on the best option for MMR – if, indeed, to have MMR at all – is so complicated it’s amazing any parents know what to do. Well, we decided we did want Florence to be vaccinated, but then we found out about single jabs, and now we’re ploughing through a veritable library of information, trying to make a final decision. And these decisions don’t come easy: it’s your child’s health we’re talking about. Now the internet has made things ten times worse because you can look up any health scare, and you’ll find hundreds of conflicting stories. In the end we’re going with the advice of our doctor, and having the MMR. It’s not been an easy decision, and we’ve yet to actually book an appointment. Last time Florence had a shot she screamed so much it felt like a dagger through my heart. Perhaps that’s the problem with parents and their kids’ health: everything’s magnified a hundred times for the parent. I just don’t know if I’m strong enough.

Friends and family say:

Best mate says:  ‘Prop ’em up when they’re full of snot’

My best friend has developed a ‘pillow ramp’, which keeps his daughter’s head raised, and eases the discomfort of a clogged nose. I’ve tried it and it works like a dream. It’s a fail-safe technique for riding out childhood colds.

Grandma says:  ‘Spike their water with a bit of sugar’

When babies get stomach bugs it can be tricky because they won’t eat or drink, and can get dehydrated very easily. Florence’s granny swears by cooled boiled water with the tiniest hint of sugar. Yes, the sugar is ‘bad’ but they do seem to chug the stuff down – and that’s vital when they need liquids.

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Top baby tips:

  • Put a damp flannel in the freezer for teething emergencies: Florence loves biting down on the cold cloth.
  • If your child doesn’t want a bath, get a waterproof doll and let her ‘wash’ it.
  • To avoid your house becoming a sticker mess, get a big ‘sticker box’ and let your tot put all their stickers on that.
  • First cover the whole tabletop in taped down paper, then you can confidently let them loose with the crayons and paints.
  • The bigger the drama, the calmer you act. When Florence jammed her finger in the door I stayed cool, even though I hate the sight of blood.

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