One of the reasons people thought we were mental to travel around the world with a baby (and there were many) was because of the perceived danger. The world is a hazardous place if you are small and inquisitive. But abroad, those risks become much higher, or at least they can seem it because they are far from home.
The flights, the germs, the foreign illnesses, the dangerous creatures (yes, Australia, I’m looking at you) the sea, the swimming pools, the cars, the trains, the heights, the depths. It’s enough to make any parent lock themselves in a darkened room until their child is 25.
Wild animals in Australia? Not a problem.
Safety was, of course, a factor in our planning. The countries we chose didn’t necessitate jabs before we left, and were free of malaria and dengue fever. Our choice of destination also made sure that we were never that far away from a doctor or hospital should we need it (perhaps not including Corcovado in Costa Rica). In fact, we had her final round in vaccinations in Australia, and had checked before we left that they would be the same.
Had we spent too long cataloguing the list of possible dangers, we probably would never have left. Apart from one night in the van in Australia when I imagined a beast slithering up and devouring our infant (I was sleep-deprived), we didn’t really think that much about it. We assumed she’d be fine.
Volcanoes and geothermal activity in New Zealand? No worries.
And she was. A couple of mind sniffles is all we had to contend with. Only in LA under the forceful blast of air conditioning did she get anything approaching a cold, and even then it was very short-lived. Thousands of miles, four continents, temperatures ranging from -5ºC to 45ºC and she was absolutely fine.
So it didn’t occur to me to be particularly watchful once we were home. Serves me right for being complacent.
Perhaps it’s the thin curtains and bright mornings, or the novelty of sleeping in a big wide cot rather than a tent, but she’s developed the tiring habit of waking up around 6am every morning. Invariably she’s still very tired, but refuses to go back to sleep. We get up and have breakfast, followed by a bit of whining before I put her back to bed and she has a massive morning nap.
Picnic near an ant’s nest in Mexico? Nothing to worry about.
Just a few days ago, her cries woke me up at the unearthly time of 5:50am. After silently willing her to drop off by herself, I eventually gave up and carried her downstairs. I arranged a number of toys around her, but she was not happy. So I decided to try breakfast. In the high chair, she grumbled at me between spoonfuls of Weetabix. Clearly it was one of those mornings.
I put her down on the floor, and wasn’t too surprised when she started crying a few minutes later. But then I realised there was something more urgent in the tone. She was hurt. I scooped her up, shushing her and trying to examine her flailing limbs.
Then I saw it. Crawling along the floor, its dark body and pointed wings. A wasp. After cursing it and all of the damned stripy things, I held her close, trying to soothe her and wondering what to do. My mind was racing. I’d never gone to that First Aid course for babies. I didn’t know what to do with an allergic reaction. I hadn’t even googled it. Her arm was looking red, and I didn’t know what to do.
Summer in the UK? Terrifying.
So I asked my mum for help. Not exactly a grownup and responsible action, but I didn’t know what else to do. Waving a screaming baby in someone’s face at 7:30 in the morning is hardly a nice way to be woken up, but these were exceptional circumstances.
We got on the phone to the NHS, answering their questions and trying to figure out what her symptoms were. Then I felt her hand. It was cold. Two of her fingers were darkening, going an alarming purple colour. In a flash, our plans changed. I rushed upstairs to throw some clothes on so we could take her to A+E. The recommendation had been to take her to the doctor’s but we were too worried about the colour of her hand. Surely it couldn’t be right? It looked like she didn’t have any circulation.
As I was shoving my shoes on, I had another look at the hand. It felt much warmer. It was changing back from a startling scarlet to a much more human colour. Where before she’d been waving her arms about and looking distressed, she was now trying to grab my hair and pull it. We seemed to be out of the danger zone.
We found three wasps nests in the garden. Ouch.
Scuttling over to the doctor’s a few minutes later, I clutched her to me, still worried that there might be some after effects. She was, thankfully, absolutely fine. I, however, must have looked a bit of a state. The doctor asked me if I had a car, or a way of getting to a pharmacy. I wanted to communicate to her that I was a capable mother. That I hadn’t simply panicked when something bad had happened. That I knew what I was doing.
But the problem is, half the time I feel like I don’t. Muddling through, searching the internet and talking to my family are my coping strategies. Especially with so many months on the road, my parenting has been cobbled together and figured out as I go along. While I’m deeply relieved that wasp sting allergies won’t be on our list in the future, I do hope that any future emergencies will be dealt with a bit more skilfully. Until then, there is some anti-allergy medicine in my cupboard and an even deeper seated hatred for wasps.