New parents tend to be pretty uptight about their first baby. When you bring that first child home from the hospital, it suddenly hits you that you're completely in charge of a miniature human being. It's pretty daunting. You don't want to screw up. So you read a lot of parenting books in the hopes that you'll do everything correctly. And you try to avoid every scenario that may present even the most hypothetical, remote danger to the baby.
By your third or fourth child, you lighten up. You accept the fact that you can't protect your child from every possible harm known to mankind. There will always be playground bullies, flu outbreaks, and bike accidents that even the most careful parent can't prevent.
I was no exception to the borderline paranoid tendencies that I now refer to as "first-time parent syndrome." I think I could qualify as a textbook case. No, I think I could write the textbook.
For example, I've seen enough cuts, scrapes and bruises by now such that I simply hand over a band-aid without batting an eye. As long as there are no broken bones, we're good. But the first time I saw blood, I panicked.
I had been a working mom through most of my first son's infancy. After the standard maternity leave, I was back at the law firm while my husband worked from home and took care of the baby during the day. About a year into this arrangement, he was called away on a business trip to the West Coast. So I took a week of vacation and brought my case files home. This was the first time I had sole responsibility of my firstborn for more than a few hours.
Toward the end of this week, I was finally beginning to feel confident in my mothering skills. By Friday morning, I had figured out how to review depositions and entertain a 10-month old at the same time. Close to noon, the telephone rang. I hurried out of the bedroom to answer it, intending to return immediately with the phone in hand. However, the baby started in my direction, anxious to follow me. In his eagerness, he stumbled over a wooden alphabet block and fell, facedown, on top of it.
Mind you, he was not yet walking, so the distance a crawling baby has to hit the ground is only a few inches. Nevertheless, he somehow managed to cut the inside of his lip, right near the gum line.
Before I knew it, his mouth filled with blood. I tried to apply pressure, but I couldn't see the cut, and I panicked. The following questions crossed my mind: Is it possible for a baby to choke on his own blood? Is there some kind of oral analgesic or first aid I'm supposed to use to treat a cut inside a baby's mouth? Was this scenario covered in one of the baby books, and if so, how could I have missed it?
I thought about calling the pediatrician's office for advice, but knew it would take several minutes before any nurse would return the call. So I did the only thing I could think of at that moment... I dialed 911.
In my defense, I had never called 911 before, and I figured someone would just talk me through how to treat the cut on the phone. However, five minutes later, three stocky paramedics showed up in an ambulance at my front door. They rushed in, carrying a defibrillator and various other bulky life saving equipment.
"Where's the baby?" one of them asked, rapidly scanning my house.
The little guy was sitting in a corner. His face was smeared with dried blood. But by now, the bleeding had already stopped on its own. I picked him up, and he giggled.
"Where did you say he fell?" another inquired, examining the patient.
"He didn't exactly fall," I replied sheepishly.
"Did he roll down the stairs?"
"No, that wasn't what happened either." The paramedic looked perplexed.
"Well," I continued, "he was crawling on the floor, and I suppose he must have slipped on a toy." The three paramedics exchanged glances at each other.
"Was he unconscious for any period of time?"
"No." The baby giggled again.
"So let me get this straight," the head paramedic concluded, "the baby didn't fall down a flight of stairs, he never lost consciousness, and the bleeding stopped right after you called 911."
I nodded, wondering if there was some law that allows emergency response teams to sue people for wasting their time. He just chuckled.
"I'm guessing this is your first child." There are few times in my life when I've felt more ridiculous.
The entire visit probably lasted five minutes. The head paramedic awkwardly asked me to sign a waiver to refuse emergency transport to the hospital, apologizing that it was standard procedure. I could tell they would all have a good laugh at my expense once they were back in the privacy of the ambulance.
My only excuse for all of this crazy behavior? A bad case of first-time parent syndrome. Until you've been afflicted, don't judge too harshly. And the cure? That's easy... just have another child.