When something goes wrong. What if your baby is among the small percentage who are not perfect at birth? Perhaps she has a cleft lip or club feet or some other more serious problem. Who will tell you and how will you handle it?

No one but the parents can fully appreciate the shock of discovering their baby is less than perfect; but one would have to be callous indeed not to break the news as gently and compassionately as possible. Your doctor will be the first person to talk to you about it and hopefully he will do so patiently and fully. But you will most likely be too confused and upset to think of all the questions that need answering. Happily, there are many organisations which do splendid work in helping parents cope with such problems. If and when a child is born with a congenital abnormality, a social worker as well as a suitable person who has coped with a similar experience should be on hand as soon as possible to offer parents the kind of detailed and personalised information they thirst after.

When you meet someone who has been through what you are experiencing it makes coping with the crisis so much easier. A mother who has a baby with Down syndrome (mongolism) wants to hear about it from another mother. Simply seeing a child with a repaired cleft lip is sure to cheer the parents of a child with a similar defect. Too often parents are given expert medical attention but are left to flounder emotionally. The mother, especially, may have guilt feelings or become severely depressed – but the whole family needs help to come to terms with reality. See Post 11 for associations for various disorders.

Going home. Depending on the system at the nursing home, you will be discharged anything from 48 hours to 10 days after the birth (if you have had a Caesarean section), although the average stay is more likely to be seven days or until your baby regains her birth mass. Before you leave, you will be given a chart with details of your babys short history, her birth mass and her mass on discharge. If she is not breast fed, the formula she is taking will be noted, with the number of feeds she is having in a 24-hour period. Thus armed, and with the pathetic remains of your flowers stacked in the car, you bid an emotional farewell to the staff and sundry personnel. Your baby will be dressed in her own clothes for the first time (most nursing homes provide garments for use in the hospital), and you will be in non-maternity clothes at last (even though you may still look four months pregnant).

On the way home, your husband drives the car as if the road is paved with eggs, while you hold your precious bundle, tensed against the slightest bump, in case, like a soap bubble, she should disintegrate and disappear Finally, you make it home to a welcoming committee of relatives and friends and your initiation into motherhood begins.

What you really need is a nice cup of tea, time alone with your husband and, with any luck, a haby that will sleep for an hour or two longer. But what do you get? A lot of oohing and aahing and poking between the blankets, while you are going crazy worrying about germs and cringing at the idea that shes got uncle Erics nose.


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