First you bring a lovely little baby home, or in from the playroom if you are a fantastically high achieving middle class stereotype.
You breastfeed the baby, because you can and you have before (At this point I should admit that babyhood is one of my favourite bits of parenting.The dreamy, sleepy, milky days where you can lounge on the sofa in between applying cold cabbage leaves to cracked nipples-I really don’t mind.The singing, smelling cuddly bits especially when you know this is the last one. Bit fab actually)
This child fits in really well with the two others, has to, they are both at school. You have a routine.
This baby sleeps. A lot. This is good. You have two busy children and you like 10 hours sleep a night (yes truly). When she is not sleeping she does baby things. Looks at everything, waves her arms and makes noises. She passes her baby tests at 6 weeks old and her hearing tests. Also at 6 weeks when she realises you are knackered and her survival depends on it she learns to smile. The child is clearly a genius just like the other two.
But… Somewhere deep within your mother’s heart there is a stirring of disquiet. She does sleep an awful lot. Her baby friends born at the same time, seem to hold their heads up more strongly. Gloriously these peers are at your church and all born within a month of each other, so you can check their progress every week and be ABSOLUTELY delighted for them. Her feet (which I’ve always thought were the best bit of the baby, small soft, unfootlike, yet full of potential) are permanently cold and very dark. You are referred to a Paediatrician, he checks her, she’s fine. She has poor circulation in her feet (so do you) End of story, no worries, no further contact necessary. Warm socks, leather booties job done.
So now she’s 6 months old, fitting in nicely, smiley, biddable and happy. And adored.It is possible that no baby was ever doted on as much as this one. Her two older siblings bounce her, sing to her and love her, and she loves them right back. The baby friends are rolling, sitting up and starting to babble. This baby here, this precious Pearl is happy, vocal but surprisingly floppy. She is progressing along a developmental line, but slowly. Either that or the baby friends are all superhuman. They probably are. Her elder brother and sister were ridiculously precocious, so it seems likely this is what normal development looks like.
At this point you’re confident, as she’s clearly perfect, but concerned enough to dig out an old textbook with a month by month developmental scale on it. Actually it’s OK. She is following a line, she’s lost a couple of months in all areas except speech.
Oh. But her babbling is a bit odd in the mornings. No consonants to speak of (do you see what I did there?). Nobody else in the family is a trained Speech And Language Therapist so they don’t notice, and you haven’t worked with children for years so might be wrong.
This is the stage when an older lady of your acquaintance utters the immortal phrase “You worry more about that child than any of the others” Just you wait Mum, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
So you plod along happily, bit bothered, watching, waiting and soon it’s the glorious day of the 6 month check.
Ideally a 6 month check won’t be delayed ’til 9 months because of an admin error, and ideally it isn’t scheduled to coincide with the nap time of the said 9 month year old.
From the moment I took off Pearl’s coat, and she sat with her chin on her chest and her back rounded, I could see the Health Visitor was worried.In a spirit of being no bother at all, I told her everything was fine. Pearl was tired (she was) she was slow (also true) but that was all. Babies all develop at different rates don’t you know. By the end of the visit I was cross, upset and booked into see the Paediatrician the following day.
Despite my concerns I did think that it was all an over reaction. Nobody in our family or friend group were concerned, it was only me, and I think we’ve already established I was making a fuss. Anyway as an assertive, knowledgeable woman I took Pearl to see the Paediatrician early in the morning when she was at her best and persuaded him it was a fuss about nothing. He agreed and arranged to review us in 3 months. We were referred to Physio for further assessment and to watch her progress.
And this dear reader, was the moment when all the joy began to be slowly leeched out of being with my beloved Pearl to be replaced by assessments, monitoring and a growing feeling of losing control. I had the first desire to scoop her up and run away with her somewhere safe and secret away from prying eyes. this feeling was to become increasingly familiar over the next few months.