Me – I am afraid of the health visitor. Not all health visitors that is – just my specific one. I wasn’t always terrified of her – before I met her I was very excited to meet her. I had no clue what a health visitor was, but I was new to the city, knew no one apart from my partner, we were accidentally pregnant, I had no clue what I was doing and I was so excited to have a visitor. And ‘health’ only has positive connotations.
She arrived wielding her red book and a clip board and sat on my sofa with a cup of tea before starting a long list of questions. They included “What type of parent will you be?” and “How will you bond with your baby?” both of which I didn’t know the answer to. I started to panic. She asked me repeatedly about domestic abuse, depression, anxiety and if I was isolated. I started to realise I was isolated. She couldn’t believe I hadn’t been to any “mum to be” groups and kept pressing on the fact I had no friends here. After a few minutes I sat in front of her sobbing and shaking. She asked what I had had for lunch that day and I choked out, honestly “chocolate biscuits.” She scribbled things down on her clipboard (I imagined it read ‘shit mum to be’), one eyebrow raised and finished our meeting with “You have your head in the sand.”
She visited a few times after that and no matter how good I felt prior to our meeting I would always be reduced to tears. She criticised our rented home (the wooden floors, the lack of heat) and she never seemed to be able to just accept my answers of no to questions about domestic abuse and depression. My partner was so furious that he stayed at home on one occasion and hung around the kitchen, arms folded, with an annoyed expression – which probably didn’t help with her perception of us. If she wasn’t criticising my lack of friends, our home or my diet she was telling me repeatedly about how dangerous an array of things were that could be fatal to newborn babies. I was convinced I was doomed, I couldn’t be a parent and if I wasn’t at least feeling depressed before – I was now.
Two and a bit years on and I was pregnant again. Eight months’ pregnant to be exact and I got the letter saying I was soon to be visited by… dom, dom, dom. I recognised the name and realised I had the same woman. I immediately started to panic and thought about asking if I could just not have one this time. But I decided that everyone deserves a second chance – myself included.
I tidied the house a little, but not to the degree I had before – I’m too busy with a toddler. I decided not to be anxious about her visit and if I was offended by anything to, for once in my life, stick up for myself. She would be impressed with how far I had come I thought.
Except she wouldn’t be –
because it became apparent moments in to our meeting that she had no recollection of me at all. I didn’t mention that we were old friends and watched her get out her clipboard and ask the exact same list of questions – identically to the first time.
“What was my partner’s name? What did he do for a living? You’re a teacher? That’s amazing! You have a son? What’s his name? How was your first labour?” Yes – she had absolutely no recollection of me, that was for sure.
This time she seemed to take my no’s to her questions much more seriously. When she asked about food – I lied. I have a great diet, it transpires. When she asked about going to mum groups I insisted I didn’t need to as I now had a lovely group of supportive friends (true! It just took me over three years to get them – no ‘mum to be’ groups used). She said a few close to the bone comments (like what a shame it was I had ‘given up my career’) but I was able to nod, or argue that this was not the case. There were certainly no tears. She even commented how strange it was that we had moved so many times (I resisted the urge to tell her we had moved because SHE had told me our rented house wasn’t suitable for crawling babies).
And then it hit me – this woman hadn’t changed one bit, it was me that had changed. In over two years of being a mother I had become more … whole. I had gained confidence, I could stick up for myself – when it mattered. What she thought of me or my home didn’t matter anymore. I knew I was capable of anything! I had survived labour and an emergency Cesarean hadn’t I? And there was never a reason to be afraid of this lady – she wasn’t the big bad wolf. She was just a woman doing her job, reading out her list of questions, making her notes, and the sight in front of her was no longer a cause for concern. I wasn’t a shaking, sobbing, vulnerable looking ‘girl’. I suppose I was now an exhausted, well worn ‘woman’ who had her head held high – confident in the knowledge that I would be able to cope with what was to come.
My toddler played in front of her for the half an hour and babbled and giggled in between shouts of “CAR” and “BUS” and when she got up to leave she said genuinely “what a good boy he is!”
I beamed with pride and realised I had done it – I had survived. And look what I had to show for it.
“Has he had his two year review?” she asked.
We have to move again love!
Important Disclaimer: I have wanted to write about my experience with ‘The Health Visitor’ for a very long time now but decided against it for a couple of reasons: Firstly I am sure that there are absolutely wonderful health visitors out there who do an amazing, worthwhile job. I am also a teacher and I would hate to read a negative post about all teachers – just because of one bad experience with one teacher – how unfair would that be? So here I have written about my personal experience and in no way am I talking about health visitors as a group. As ever, on this blog – I can only talk about my own personal experience and am fully aware that my perception of events and people are affected by my own insecurities and mental health issues at the time. Health visitors do a marvellous, important job and I applaud them. I would also encourage, if you have had a positive experience of health visitors, to share them in the comments – as I am sure there are enough health professionals who only hear about negative experiences and not enough who hear the positive ones.
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Twitter – @sivitersteph