As I prepared to be discharged from hospital with my tiny 30 weeker, I kept getting told by the staff to avoid supermarkets. I was completely baffled – were supermarkets really such an awful breeding ground for germs?! I solemnly promised the consultant that I wouldn’t go near supermarkets until Luca’s due date. Once we were home, I asked the outreach nurse about the rationale for supermarket avoidance. She said people in supermarkets have a tendency to touch small babies in their prams. I laughed – why would anyone pay attention to me pushing a pram around with a screaming baby?!
Oh how wrong I was.
From the day I felt more confident to take Luca out (around his due date), I’ve faced a constant stream of people trying to touch my baby or asking personal questions. For some reason, a teeny baby seems to be public property. After spending weeks of religiously sanitising hands before touching your baby, the sight of anyone putting their hands near Luca was enough to send me into a rage. Some people just don’t seem to have any concept of a mum and baby’s personal space. I’ve had family members and friends visit us in NICU, longing for a cuddle but knowing I was the only one allowed to hold my baby.
I didn’t let anyone hold Luca until his due date arrived. He was only 4lb when I took him home. So the very last thing I wanted was strange hands all over his little body in the pram. There have been times where I have rushed around the supermarket close to tears, praying for Luca to stop crying too so I can avoid taking him out of the pram for comfort. My reaction to unwanted contact has been a firm ‘don’t touch my baby – he’s premature’ has had mixed results. Usually, people appear mortified and apologise. But no baby deserves unsolicited contact, premature or term. On other occasions, I’ve received some sharp advice. I should put a blanket over my baby’s pram if I don’t want people to touch. Why am I taking such a young baby outside anyway?! (He was 3 months old at this point). Silly me, for wanting some normality after the horrors of NICU for 6 weeks. Not that I had much choice; as a single parent, if I didn’t run errands, they wouldn’t get done at all.
As the months have passed, it hasn’t got any easier. Luca is now nearly 6 months and has finally tipped over the 10lb mark on the scales. But I’m still stopped regularly by people who want to admire my ‘new baby’. The only thing new about him is his smile, finally! I’ve developed a thicker skin and a few coping mechanisms since discharge:
– Get a sign to alert people to your baby’s special status. Luca’s ‘don’t touch’ sign has mainly positive results, but there is still the odd oblivious person who thinks THEY are allowed to touch. It also has the unintended benefit of attracting other preemie relatives for a chat. I got our sign from Etsy and another preemie parent has also produced a badge to keep unwanted hands away.
– Wear your baby in a sling. I’ve yet to encounter someone rude enough to put their hands down my top – but never say never!
– Use your raincovers as a barrier. I have looked slightly odd on sunny days but I will use my raincovers in crowded places such as surgery waiting rooms if we’re in a confined space.
– Be firm. I will wheel Luca’s pram out of people’s reach and tell them (abruptly) not to touch my baby.
After the NICU rollercoaster, being rude to someone risking my baby’s health is the least of my worries.
Guest post by Carla, mum to Luca born at 30+6 (emergency c-section for absent end diastolic flow and IUGR)