I’m approaching impending dadhood (very impending, in fact – D-Day Thursday (although see below for the difference between ‘due date’ and ‘expected date’…)) with what I assume is about the usual mix of excitement and fear. One thing I definitely can’t wait to be rid of, though, is the torrent of antenatal advice that floods in from all directions. Oh, I know, advice on every aspect of parenting is sure to follow, but I figure I will at least be in a better position to sort the wheat from the chaff once Jr. enters the real world and ceases to be (for me – his/her mum, of course, has already become reasonably intimately acquanted with him/her as an actual physical being!) somwhat hypothetical. Now, as Mike wrote the other day, parenthood comes with no manual, so you would think I’d be grateful for advice. And that’s absolutely right – there are things we didn’t know, that we needed to know, and that we do now, thanks to a few NHS antenatal classes, as well as those run by the NCT (all of which I missed – Bad Dad!) and some yoga (which aimed to relax us, but had the opposite effect on me through use of the term ‘energy’ in a non thermodynamic sense). The problem is not that there is no good, sensible advice. It’s that it is more or less impossible to sift this out from the rubbish. You just know that some of what you hear or read comes straight from anti-vaccine nutjobs, or at least people who would rather place their trust in mystical gobbledegook than the nasty medical establishment. But, without spending an age tracking down sources for bit of information, it’s very hard to tell these points of view apart.
Part of the problem is the general aversion to numbers in any of the leaflets, classes, or whatever. Now, I know there are reasons for this. For instance, the midwife refused to give me any kind of ballpark figure about what, in degrees C, constitutes ‘warm’ (for a baby’s bath), largely I think because she doesn’t want people becoming absolutely neurotic about such things. (I asked, incidentally, out of interest – I used to make a lot of bread, so have a reasonable feel for different temperatures of water, and was curious what ‘warm’ is!)
Other times, it is to do with the nationalised nature of our health service. Now, I will not have a bad word said about the NHS – it’s a wonderful institution that, despite its faults, works amazingly well, and I fear for it under our current government. But, the NHS has to issue advice that will do the maximum good to the maximum number of people (the National Institute of Clinical Excellence has the tough job of making such calls, and does so very well). The calculation has clearly been done, for example, that the potential risk to the developing foetus of too much vitamin A outweighs, on average, the benefits of certain foods to pregnant mums: hence, no liver when pregnant. An individual-level assessment may have concluded that, in our case, liver would have been good – and would have maybe avoided a recent bout of anaemia.
Of course, as a society we are terrible at assessing risk, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there are so few details given about these things that thou shalt not do. So for instance, with an excess of vitamin A, what does the risk of foetal abnormality increase from and to? If we hadn’t bought a new matress for the second hand cot, I know from the FSID (who, by the way, do fantastic work, which you all should support) this would apparently increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death, but again, from what, and to what? For some issues, some of us might accept even a doubling of risk in some circumstances, if it was from, say, a miniscule risk to a tiny risk.
Now, I know this level of detail is going to be of interest to a very small proportion of expectant parents. And if I really wanted, I could spend hours on the internet hunting down sources (you would think, anyway – although a colleague, having absent-mindedly made some mayonnaise for his partner, failed in a flurry of panicked research to find any evidence of a raw egg ever having hurt anyone during pregnancy!) But for those of us who take an interest in such things, without obsessing over them, it would be nice if routine leaflets and so on had some kind of… appendix, I suppose, with some numbers there.
One final bugbear – as I said, our ‘due date’ is this Thursday, 18th. But, as everyone knows, first children are always late (or, about 90% of them are). So, the ‘due date’ is clearly not the ‘expected date’, in terms of the day that Jr. is most likely to appear. Wouldn’t it make more sense to give us a due date that reflects the expected arrival? Then I have a day or two more, anyway, of not jumping out of my skin every time the phone goes.
Right, off to take Mike’s advice and get some pre-emptive sleep…