LLike most parents, I will never forget the day – or in our case, the night – when we brought the baby home from the hospital. How small he looked in his car seat. How I worried that the hat they gave him was too big and might fall off. How in the rush of my preterm labor we hadn’t thought to bring a blanket from the small pile of soft woolen blankets we’d been given by friends and family, so I wrapped him in my cardigan instead. How blinded I was by the revelation that it was our job to keep him warm and alive.
The house was dark – it was late. Most of all, I remember thinking it was cold. We were concerned about the cold as this is a Victorian building prone to damp. We were instructed to keep the temperature at 18-20ºC. We weren’t sure how to do that. That first unmoored night, we sat together and staggered in a living room that felt transfigured like the rest of our apartment. We did not yet know how to live peacefully with this new being, so we kept vigil. An electric oil radiator and hot water bottle to warm the cradle were fitted (it was removed before we put the baby in). It was early March.
I’m telling you this because I can’t stop thinking about all the new babies coming this winter, let alone the babies that are already here. Next month, energy bills will skyrocket as the cost of other necessities continues to rise. My son comes in and his round, full cheeks freeze against my face. When it’s a lot colder and the parents are faced with a choice between heating and eating, what happens to all the kids?
I’m not one of those people who think that becoming a parent automatically makes you more empathetic: the Prime Minister herself refutes this assumption, and she is by no means the first politician to show little concern for children’s suffering. I have always cared about child poverty, and yet since becoming a parent, the thought of all those cold and hungry children has caused me an almost mental pain, such is its emotional intensity. Not long ago I was reading an online thread about how to keep a baby warm when you can’t afford to leave the heating on and I found myself crying.
What level of sociopathy have we reached, politically, that so little is being done to help families as winter approaches. Telling adults to “put on a sweater” is heartless enough. What do those who recite such Dickensian writings say about babies? Do they still claim that they grew up in front of central heating, when there was ice on the inside of the windows, and that they “got good”? The obvious response is that they haven’t actually turned out well, and something inside them – that cozy, friendly place where empathy resides – has become as arctic as their childhood living room.
I wonder about these folks – if questioned thoroughly in their toasty warm semis, would they admit yes, there were many childhood illnesses caused by the cold and wet. Lots of bronchitis and asthma and pneumonia making the rounds. And yes, some children died, either from exposure to the cold or from the more dangerous and extremely common unsafe sleeping practices. “Cold babies cry, hot babies die” is a chilling phrase sometimes used by healthcare workers, alluding to the possible consequences of babies being rolled up in too many layers or the heating turned up too high.
It’s also dangerous to wrap them in loose blankets indoors or put a hat on them, but desperate parents will be tempted this year. “We had to say ‘Try not to sleep in bed with your baby,'” an expert from the Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation told news outlets. “People say, ‘Let’s all cuddle together, this will keep us warm’ – again one of the main risk factors for SIDS.” The Lullaby Trust, which is raising awareness of SIDS, has to publish specific advice on the fuel crisis, and it should be a public awareness campaign. Retailers could help by donating baby sleeping bags, which are much safer than blankets but often prohibitively expensive (one reader tips me that George is cheaper than most at Asda).
But with such a cruel government, there is only so much we can do for the rest of us. Over the years of austerity, the callous tendency to accept children’s suffering based on their parents’ political, biased perceptions has grown and grown. “You chose to have her,” such people say when a parent admits they have trouble feeding their child or keeping them warm. No wonder I feel the same about this country as I felt about my home when I came out of the hospital that night, completely devastated. What is this cold, inhospitable place? I look around for a familiar sight to calm myself, but I hardly recognize him.
Speaking of safe sleeping, baby has finally outgrown their snuzpod, a cot that sits by the bed and gives you some of the benefits of co-sleeping without the risks. I will miss the ease of being able to pull him to bed to feed without having to get up and his closeness at night. Nonetheless, I am grateful that such inventions exist and would urge expectant parents to consider bedside beds. Many are also available second-hand.
What is not
I was upset to read that the women behind ethical clothing social enterprise Bshirt, the makers of my all-time favorite nursing tops, have been banned from promoting “adult content” on Facebook. This is what reports are saying without even showing a nipple (to which I wanted to reply: would it be so bad if they did?) The ban was lifted, but they lost business as a result, and it’s another example of the ridiculous one Prude about breastfeeding in public. Free the nipple!