Dear Health Visitor



Dear Health Visitor,

I must confess, I lied.  I didn't set out to be untruthful, but I felt like I had no other option at the time.  I should obviously take full responsibility for my untruth, after all, I had the audacity to be a first-time mum, with the sheer cheek to want the very best for my baby girl.  You see, I didn't actually leave my angel to cry.  I didn't really look past her gaze at night time to avoid eye-contact.  I didn't even offer her a sip of water instead of my breast.  She didn't, in truth, actually sleep for those 8 hours that I told you about.

In fact, she has never slept for 8 hours in a row...not when you take into account all of the snuggling, smiles, little kisses and breastfeeds that naturally occur throughout our night.  Yes, Health Visitor, I did say 'our night'; my little girl and I sleep side-by-side, drifting in and out of our own special sleep dance - perfectly in tune, feeling warm, safe and happy.  I guess that's something else that I wasn't exactly truthful about at the time.

You see, Health Visitor, I led you to believe that your advice, excuse me, your instructions, were right for us.  I led you to believe that your dated and unsafe methods actually 'worked'...if 'success' is deemed by the behaviour of a child instead of the feelings.  If only I had been honest from the start, perhaps the footprints that you came to leave in the next unsuspecting mother's life would have been softer.  Perhaps, just perhaps, you might have questioned your own methods and goals, seeking evidence-based, research-led data that would broaden and accelerate your grasp of understanding of the subject matter you preach daily.  Or perhaps not.

For you and your team, my innocent baby was simply a tick in a box, but I didn't actually ask for 'help', if you remember.
  • It was your colleague who rang me at 10 weeks postpartum, when my iron levels were still so low after nearly dying of a postpartum haemorrhage, that I could easily have been admitted to hospital: "Are you getting out much?  I haven't seen you at the drop-in weight-clinic, 10 weeks is by far enough time to be back to normal."
  • It was your colleague who told me at a breast feeding 'support' group at 4 months that any more than one night feed was nothing more than "pure manipulation" on my baby's part.  Funnily enough, no mention of growth spurts, sleep regressions, or of baby-brain maturity rendering my daughter physiologically incapable of "manipulation".
  • It was your colleague who told me repeatedly, again at the breast feeding support group, that my baby fed too frequently and to offer her water instead of the breast.  Funnily enough, no check for tongue-tie, which was totally missed until 18 months.  Or allergy, which was missed until a major Type 1 reaction on the introduction of solids.  It seems that the 'Health' in 'Health Visitor' is there for no more than decoration.
  • It was your colleague who told me (with a sneer) at my daughter's 9 month check, that children who aren't put in their cots at 7pm and left there without contact for the proceeding 12 hours will turn into "teenagers who sleep with their parents."
But it was you, dear Health Visitor, who quietly watched, gently checked-in and slowly nodded.  It was you who chip, chip, chipped away at my mother's instincts and confidence.  If only I hadn't have answered truthfully in the PND test, if only my results hadn't flagged as borderline and placed me under fortnightly drop-ins for an 'innocent chat.'  I was honest here, Health Visitor.  I was telling the truth when I said I was happy, that I had never felt more content and fulfilled than when my darling daughter would gaze lovingly into my eyes at the breast.  I was being honest when I said that the only reason I scored highly on the 'anxiety' section was because I couldn't shake the memory of crashing during childbirth...the memory of my wonderful husband holding our baby with nothing but terror in his eyes whilst a team of doctors worked on me, all the while as the world grew fuzzy-white and I fought to stay awake.  You see, Health Visitor, my 'problem' wasn't with being a mother, it was with the memory of almost NOT being a mother...of almost missing out on every single second of pure joy that my child brings me.  It was with a slow, unapologetic nod and change of subject that you met this truth.  

You are the expert after all.  You know sleep deprivation when you see it.  In fairness, you were quite right; I was tired, but the difference between you and I is that I don't see tiredness as a bad thing.  Being tired was a crucial part of my new mum experience; it allowed me to switch off the world outside and focus on the only thing that matters: my baby.

So I say again, it was you, Health Visitor, who instructed me on every single drop-in visit, to leave my daughter to cry in her cot, alone, "for as long as it takes, even if she is sick."  It was you who instructed me on every single visit, to "keep it up for as many days or weeks as is necessary, and if you need to change the sheets to remove the vomit, don't look her in the eye."  It was you who told me that "every mum has a breaking point."  You were determined to reach mine, weren't you, dear Health Visitor.

I simply must confess to you, that I lied.  I did not follow your orders.  I did not leave my daughter alone in her cot to cry and puke and learn helplessness.  Instead, I cuddled, cradled, snuggled and breastfed my baby girl so that she can learn what it is to be human.  Because isn't that what we are missing in all of this?  Isn't it eye contact, innate communication, respect, kindness and love that define us as human?  It is with nothing but pure love that I treat my daughter.  I see your instructions as nothing more than neglect, and it is because of this that I am sorry.  I am sorry that I led you to believe that I had taken your advice; in explanation, I simply wanted your visits to stop.  I am truly sorry to all of the other mums who had to endure your mantra.  I am so very sorry to all of the other babies that had to endure the consequences of your orders.  I hope that now, with hindsight and with my admission, you will understand that your role is not just a day job.  You are on the front line, so to speak, you have the access to truly make a difference in the lives of hundreds of families.  Let's strive away from learned helplessness and perhaps in so doing you will learn helpfulness...we can but hope.

Sincerely,

Mama Bean


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40 comments:

  1. My god what kind of a health visitor is this! She should be sacked,I've never heard such nonsense in my life. You sound a great mum and sensible enough to tell them what they want to hear and then do your own thing. But something should be done about HVs like her.

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  2. Sorry your HV was completely uninformed. Good on you for following your instincts and being that strong mamabear moronic things your health visitor said

    http://m.facebook.com/profile.php?id=275393845816600&__user=649515733

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  3. I want to print this to give to the woman who will never be allowed back into my home. We should perhaps thank such incompetence for making sure that from day 1 we fight for what is right for us and our children. Oh to live in a world of support and nurture,such a world as dreams are made of.

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  4. What a heartfelt post - so sorry that you had such a horrible experience. Have you considered a formal complaint? It would be very worthwhile. It is so sad to hear how mothers don't get the support they need and instead get outdated (and plain wrong) advice they didn't ask for.

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  5. sounds like we could of shared the same health visitor... 2 babies in and I've just nodded and agreed both times then gone home and co-slept with my formula fed baby who I told her was still breastfeeding....

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  6. Isn't it sad that we feel forced to lie to medical professionals who should be giving us assistance rather than making us feel threatened. We had a great pediatrician, who actually never asked about things like sleeping through the night. I never volunteered the information that my 9 month old was waking every hour, I never volunteered the information that she didn't wean until five and a half. I'm sorry to some extent that I didn't because I do believe that they need to be educated in what's normal. Perhaps more of us should write this sort of letter, after our kids are past the early stages. Perhaps if doctors, health visitors, even meddling mothers-in-law, knew that we hadn't followed their advice and our kids didn't turn out to be teenagers who slept in our beds or strange anti-social misfits they might change their tune.

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  7. Thanks all, I couldn't agree more with your comments! I'm hoping that my letter might give mums the confidence to use their voice and in so doing, perhaps build a more child-focussed landscape for our health professionals to work off....
    Really appreciate the positive feedback; it was nerve-wracking posting this to be honest!

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    1. I totally agree with your post. I declined the service with my first baby after getting told to weigh her every day (tongue tie).
      With my second i've just complained to my Childrens centre who is now supporting me. My most recent visit of weighing my son finished with my being reported by the nurse to the hv because my son had "marks" on his head (he scratched his head whilst tired one night with long nails) so instead of coming out feeling happy my son is"tracking his percentile" I came away doubting my parenting-again.
      Glad I won't be going back to weigh him there ever again and won't feel guilty for trying to ensure he's healthy.
      Thank you, i'm pleased i'm not alone.
      You know,I even had a friend of a friend post on my fb page when I vented on there that she among others are"just doing their job". I hope other mothers, ESP those in UK are supported or have encouragement to complain. I think they need some serious training in language skills as I believe if they actually got to know us, they'd realise we are just doing our best as mums and would like informed choice, not dictatorship.
      PS. I "failed"my postnatal depression form because I was honest the first time,I lied this time and"passed"!

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    2. @doing my best - thank you for your comment and for 'getting it'...my letter is very personal and specific, but I decided to publish it because I *hope* it can give other mums the confidence to use their voice and make their own choices in the face of pressure from 'experts'. It's amazingly worrying how much my letter has resonated with mums worldwide...too many of us have had similar experiences. I'm really sorry to hear of yours - it sounds like you are right not to go back to your CC and well done for complaining...small steps make big changes. x

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  8. This is fantastic, you should keep up a blog!

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    1. Thanks Julie :-) I'm starting to consider it!

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  9. Please please please ---- share this with your HV, with your GP, with the board of trainers of HVs, with everyone far and wide! I felt helpless and angry myself reading this!

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    1. I will be sharing, and at over 5000 views since Wednesday it looks like so will you guys :-) Thanks so much for all the support...it's worrying that so many people can relate so easily to my experience. *Hoping for change.*

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  10. You rock!

    I have tweeted this story. You may be interested in posting it on Patient Opinion (https://www.patientopinion.org.uk/), they're an independent social enterprise that collates and shares stories about healthcare like this.

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  11. I never went back after being told my 10wk old son shouldn't dictate my day. That I should leave him in his cot even if he's screaming...and if he throws up he's just manipulating me.
    I did try it once, thinking the professionals know best...but it made my heart break and felt wrong. I realised that I am the expert on my son.
    We had a traumatic birth and a horrible breastfeeding experience (midwives forcibly holding his head to my breast as I was too weak)...
    12mths later we still cuddle to sleep and share a bed and he's happier for it.

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    1. Keira I am so sorry to hear of your traumatic experience...sending healing thoughts your way. x

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  12. I am almost 59. I am a grandmother .... and I am stunned. Truly. [I used to be a nurse 'way back when' too!] I am stunned because I was taught both by the nurses training school - and by my HV / midwife etc to 'feed on demand' as you 'can't spoil a baby!' To pick them up and hold them when they cry. To ease them into living in this strange new world !! That CIO was cruel and I actually thought in my innocence that it had died out when I was a baby. My first, my daughter - now 33yrs old - cried and screamed for around 23hrs 40 mins every day for two years - yes it was colic but a nasty form it would seem and the docs/hospital really had nothing that helped her.

    I cannot understand how your HV got it SO wrong. Does she actually HAVE children? Many don't ... and I am not saying that if you don't have children you automatically can't understand .. but .... it must be damned hard if you have never been sleep deprived to the levels some of us have been !!! I would definitely complain - to her and to her superiors. Fast. I wouldn't want her around my grandchildren !!!!

    Thank you for sharing your story ....

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    1. SusanJ, if only there were more health professionals like you!! Your children and grandchildren are very lucky. x

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  13. I really loved this post. My son too needed to co sleep to be comforted at night but I did tell the health visitor and that I tried to leave him to cry once and he was sick. I got the same advice as you to change the bedding without removing him so I told her I would never ever leave him in that state again and had she ever cried so much she was sick? Now although hes stillnot an independent sleeper at 3 he has done everything else wothout a fuss, getting rid of dummy, potty training etc. And this is just another thing that willhappen when hes ready. I would rather have my happy, confident, polite, clever little person inmy bed than make him feel like that again and now I feel im reaping the rewards.

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    1. Good for you Stacey - and seriously well done for telling your HV!! I wish more children were as lucky as your son xxxx

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  14. Great post and thanks so much for having the courage to publish it. I went through a similar experience when a HV told me to stop feeding my 6 weeks old son on demand since he was a "sucky baby" and didn't need to feed this much, and i was making him into a fat adult by “enlarging his tummy”. Something didn’t sound right, so I went home googled and learned about growth spurts. It his unbelievable that the people we rely on for support, know less than the average well informed or well-read mom. I just hope more mothers will learn to trust their instincts when it comes to parenting.

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    1. Oh wow...doesn't it speak volumes when Google is more reliable than our health providers?! Well done you for trusting your instincts and doing the research. Thanks so much for your comment and kind words xx

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  15. I plan on becoming a Health Visitor.
    I also plan on breast feeding, co-sleeping, responding to my baby's feeding cues, baby-wearing etc. when he/she is born.
    It's so sad that people are made to feel that what they think is best for their baby is not okay.
    You sound like you're doing an incredible job!

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    1. Rosie, this is inspiring; we NEED Health Visitors like you; professionals who put baby's needs first and encourage mothers to do the same. Thank you a thousand times over on behalf of the mums and babies who you will no doubt support!! Thank you for your kind words <3

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  16. Your story is undoubtedly saddening and experiencing a poor practitioner in any health care setting (and there are many good and bad professionals in all sectors) is indeed a frustrating experience, however, i cant help but feel that your blog article is most unhelpful. Sadly, this 'profession media bashing' is so common and rarely provides a constructive method of improving practice.

    I wonder why you felt unable to carry forward a legitimate complaint through the appropriate channels? Surely this would be a better way of highlighting the one 'rogue' health visitor you encountered. Your blog proposes a situation where countless women are at the mercy of these professionals who bulldoze their way into your home like some Cruel-la de Vil cartoon character ready to destroy any thoughts you had of being a competent parent. This strikes me as a grossly unfair knock on an entire professional group!

    Clearly, you had your own ideas about your parenting philosophy, I suspect you didn't communicate this to your health visitor and perhaps therefore you gave the impression you needed the support. Surely, as a woman with a strong enough voice to blog on the subject you need to consider your own role in communicating what you wanted from the service rather than taking the victim role and then pursuing social media to have a good moan.

    I for one had a very different experience with the health visiting service but have had variable experiences in other areas of the health service, my policy is to be as open as i can regarding my expectations and if your not happy- say something! Most issues can be sorted without resorting to the complaints procedure.

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    1. I hear you that you feel I am moaning about a collective group unfairly.

      I published this with a hope of empowering other women who find themselves in the same situation, to have the courage to speak up for themselves and feel supported in their choices; to know that they are not alone.

      I wonder, why do you assume that I did not send this letter direct to the team in question...? ;-)

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    2. Just LOVING your AP response Mama Bean! Perfect letter - speaks of SO MANY PEOPLE'S EXPERIENCES!

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  17. I made the assumption (apologies if that was an incorrect assumption) due to the fact the letter appeared as a wholly tongue in cheek whack rather than an appropriate method of communicating a legitimate complaint.

    I hope your complaint prompted a reasonable response for the PCT?

    I feel strongly that bloggers and the like who may or not be known well in their local community use social media wisely to explore their experiences with public sector workers, after all, they hardly get an opportunity to defend themselves in the open arena like other service providers.

    I personally think the UK is unique and privileged to receive healthcare support in the comfort in your own home, a friend who had her baby in the US paid an arm and a leg for a 'lactation consultant' to help her breastfeed her baby, I would have been lost without the support of the health visitor coming over to help when i asked for it.

    If health professionals come into your home and the service isn't for you, communicate it appropriately at the time. It feels unjust to to publicly discredit a profession in an increasingly small world where you may known despite your blogging persona.

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    1. Anonymous: I'm glad that your Health Visitor experience was so much more positive than my own.

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  18. Thank you for this.

    My first health visitor experience was awful and contributed to me giving up breastfeeding at 6 week's, I decided not to bother using the 'service' the 2nd time but fortunately got a wonderful health visitor this time and thanks to her support at the start we are about to hit a full year breastfeeding :-)
    Nevertheless at his 8 month review I evaded all questions regarding sleep, said I was perfectly happy with his sleep (which of course I am) and didn't bother to mention where he slept... Xx

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    1. Thanks so much for commenting Natasha - sounds like you received very poor care with your first; so sorry to hear that. Congratulations on both the 6 weeks and the year though - because every drop counts ;-) Believe in yourself (and your sleeping arrangements!) mama, and thank you for adding to the 'voice' of instinctual and gentle parents everywhere <3 xxx

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  19. I am a health visitor. I am also a mother who Co slept (still do sometimes with 5 year old) and breast fed on demand. I have recently had the opportunity to teach some hv students. I am really saddened by the experience you described from your HV team. They have ignored current research on feeding and attachment although there remains some debate on the safety of Co sleeping. As health professionals we must keep up to date, and we cannot tell parents what to do. Our role is to share evidence, options and empower you to make the right choice for you and your baby. This blog post has been shared on a page for student health visitors which is how I came across it. I hope that they will reflect on their practice in light of your experience. I know I will. Best wishes on your parenting journey.

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    1. Thank you for your comment - I have no doubt that my local team ignored the current research. I can only tell you how happy I am to hear that other mums are receiving professional and helpful support from yourself. Thank you for being open to listening, as unfortunately, my personal experience seems to be representative of so many more.

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  20. As a nearly qualified health visitor I felt compelled to comment. Two things we can only help you if you tell us the truth! Secondly my training has constantly reminded us to be evidence based and use our advanced communication skills to be non judgemental and respectful. The principles of health visiting aim to empower parents to form reciprocal nurturing attachments with their infants. It sounds like the health visitor sussed this situation wrong but we are only human and perhaps you would have developed a more workable relationship with the health visitor if you had been honest from the start!!!!

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    1. Hi Sol, as I said, I was honest about almost everything...I told her one lie after numerous visits of me being crystal-clear about my parenting ethos. My lie was simply, "I did what you said and my daughter slept. I don't need you anymore." Although that second part was also truthful. I'm concerned that you view this as my HV 'sussing the situation wrongly'...no matter how she interprets any 'situation', it is dangerous to leave an infant to cry it out and vomit out of stress. I could link you to a thousand highly-reputatble articles on this matter, but since you are almost newly qualified, I am hoping that you are already familiar with them. I am one mum. With one story. But believe me when I say that this particular story echoes out in many, many homes. I hope you might read this piece again with sensitivity and an eye for learning, as opposed to assuming that a mother is at fault for a HV team's malpractice and unapologetically damaging advice.

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  21. Hi there. Thankyou for your very honest account. I practise as both a health visitor and midwife and really think you should officially complain, as clearly their practice is beyond NMC Rules and Code of Conduct. I like to feel that myself and my lovely colleagues practice differently and more professionally and your horrific experience was a minority. I wish you well and hope you reach a level of peace with your journey. X

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Just the fact that you are acknowledging malpractice shows that you must practice differently to the specific team that I wrote about. I feel very happy knowing that there are HVs like yourself out there, doing good for both mums and babies alike. Thank you on behalf of every mother who may have been let down by a health professional in the past; you give us hope!

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