Not all firsts are celebrated equally in parenthood.
Married Life: Dealing with many firsts, including paranoia about baby's first illness
In the world of newly wedded bliss, couples tend to celebrate “firsts” like it’s some kind of obligation. The first meal cooked together over that tiny, unfamiliar, hot stove; the first time he comes home with a bouquet of flowers for no reason other than “just because”; the first time she dyes all his work shirts a sickly shade of uneven pink because a red item managed to find its way into the white load of laundry – firsts are part of the fabric of those early days of marriage, memories to recall with fondness (or derision) later down the road.
Then there’s the land of new parenthood, where “firsts” induce panic just as often as they bring on elation. My heart may have fallen down to settle somewhere around my ankles before shooting up to flutter at my throat when Baby A uttered her first gurgle in response to her father’s silly antics, and by gurgle I mean World’s Cutest Laugh. And, sure, I might have squealed at a very high decibel when she said “da da” for the first time while simultaneously pointing at Mr T. Firsts, what can you do.
But then there are those other “firsts”. The first time she fell off the bed. And the first time she banged her head. And the first time she tripped and fell. Not to mention the first time a welt developed on her cheek, or a bruise appeared on her forehead, or a scab formed on her heel. Those firsts are greeted with a sharp intake of breath and blood rushing to the head, then usually resolved with a gush of relieved tears.
This past weekend, Baby A contracted her first virus and came down with her first unexplained fever. The slight fever that spiked when she received her vaccinations absolutely doesn’t count compared with the high temperatures she battled for three days straight. And with this first came a personal realisation: I didn’t even know I could get so neurotic.
A quick trip to the paediatrician confirmed that there’s nothing to worry about and that the fever would spike every three to four hours. “The fever is her body’s way of fighting the infection, don’t worry,” I was told. Apparently, I was deaf when the paediatrician was reassuring me, because once I was home staring at a digital thermometer that continued to register high numbers despite the fever-reducing medicine I had just poured down Her Dictatorship’s throat, I lost all semblance of thought or reason.
Did you know that if you sound crazy enough on the phone, a hospital worker just might spit out your doctor’s personal mobile phone number, simply to be rid of you?
And did you know that using two different types of digital thermometers, as well as a forehead thermometer strip, and in addition to an ear thermometer, does not necessarily mean you will receive the same results, even if you took the measurements within two seconds of each reading?
And did you know that husbands might feel completely justified in removing said thermometers, forcefully, from your grip, when you begin taking temperature measurements every minute, on the minute?
I see now why part of the guilt trips mothers like to inflict on their offspring are something along the lines of “I carried you in my womb for nine months”, or “I was in labour for X number of hours”, or “I stayed up night after night pacing with you in my arms and comforting you when you were sick while racked with terror that I couldn’t make you feel better immediately”.
I already have so much ammunition to use with Baby A when her behaviour calls for a guilt trip.
Hala Khalaf is the deputy Arts&Life editor at The National
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