The health visitor visits

L0025727 Health Visitors' Association.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Health Visitors’ Association. Health care leaflets: What is a Health Visitor? Produced by Sterling Health. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

“Voicemail has 1 new message. Please dial 121”.

For some reason, probably lodged deep within my psyche, this innocuous text message never fails to fill me with dread. I’m usually getting on with my day quite happily and then… Someone needs to talk to me. I have no idea who it might be. They will probably want me to do something. Or at least need me to call them back. It could be urgent. Maybe it’s bad news.

In an instant my blissful, carefree world is punctured by a nagging doubt; a psychological stone in my shoe.

I avoid listening to the message for as long as a can, keeping my attention on the kids and pretending that I can get on with life for a few more hours as though nothing had changed. But I can’t help not knowing.

Inevitably I give in and listen.

“Good morning Mr X, this is Y, the health visitor. I’ve seen you’ve recently registered yourself and the children at the surgery, and if it’s alright with you I’d like to come and visit you at home to see how you are all doing. Perhaps next Wednesday? If you could give me a call back and let me know if that’s possible I would appreciate it. Thank you”.

Though hardly terrifying, it was certainly unexpected. Since taking over care of the kids in November I’d carried out my role in an off-grid way. We were registered at the GP but had never been. I’d never had the baby weighed; I didn’t even know where the local clinic was. We existed somewhere between our kitchen, the local park, and Pizza Express, and that was perfectly good for us. I hadn’t expected that at some point we would need to interact with ‘the system’.

I wondered how had she had known to call me and not my wife. I don’t think I ticked ‘stay at home dad’ on any forms. Was I being checked up on? Did they doubt my competence? I know the health visitor visits every new baby, but ours was now seven months old. Aren’t these visits usually only in the first few weeks?

With paranoia setting in I returned the call. It went to her voicemail. I did my best to sound composed and told her next Wednesday would be fine.

The day arrives

Fast-forward a week and the day arrives. With the stairgates closed, plug sockets covered, evidence of formula-feeding removed (how else would she think I fed the baby?), and children in clean clothes, I awaited my fate.

The doorbell rang. My toddler launched himself into the situation with gusto. He wanted to show her his train set. She was glad to be shown it. She suggested they play a card game together; he was appreciative of having someone new to play with.

I made us both a cup of tea. We talked potty training and language development. Toddler did a great job of showcasing some of the more impressive recent additions to his vocabulary. We talked about entertaining him, and the activities available at the local children’s centre.

We talked about the baby. About feeding (with not a hint of condescension about the formula), vaccinations, his weight and sleep and his entertainment and development.

And we talked about me. About how wonderful it was for me to have the opportunity to look after my children full-time. We talked about my mental health and general wellbeing. About the importance of sleep and keeping my batteries recharged between the rough nights. We talked about my doubts, concerns, and frustrations with parenthood.

It dawned on me afterwards that I had probably been treated in exactly the same way that any mum would have been. It wasn’t an abridged, man-friendly version of the conversation for the stereotypical hapless dads who head off to the pub at the first whiff of a dirty nappy. We covered everything; there was no topic off-limits. I was treated as a serious parent, as competent as anyone at looking after children albeit still able to learn a few tricks of the trade.

I know not everyone’s experience of the health visitor is as rosy as this. I know that some of them can be old-fashioned and sometimes judgmental. But in this case I needn’t have been worried. We parted company with her visit having done me and the boys the world of good.

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26 comments

    • Dad on Leave

      Thanks for the comment. It was helpful, but it was also nice to be treated as a proper parent. Lots of people I meet (not specifically HVs) can be a bit condescending towards dads sometimes.

      Like

  1. carnalily

    Thank you for writing this. As a health visitor I would hope my visits would be as reassuring and not any different for gender… It’s about working out how we can help any parent and their individual needs. Glad you had a good experience and thank you for the insight into how you felt prior to the visit

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dad on Leave

      I was certainly nervous beforehand! I think it’s probably the same for many mums too, but particularly as a dad you’re not quite sure what to expect. All of the pre and antenatal healthcare services I’d experienced before this appointment were all directed towards my wife, so it was nice to have someone interested in how I was doing.

      Like

  2. Victoria

    I’m a Health Visitor and I’ve recently done research into fathers and the hv service. I’m looking to take this research further and I’m pleased to hear dad’s having a positive experience with the service. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mark Edwards

    as one of the few male health visitors I found your piece insightful and thought provoking. I occasionally have male health visitors shadow me and generally we will come to the conclusion that gender isn’t really an issue. Parents are receptive to people who listen, man women or Martian 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dad on Leave

      Thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it. It is good to hear that gender isn’t really an issue from your experience. As I’ve said elsewhere, people can sometimes be a bit patronising towards dads – as though they don’t really know what they are doing – so for me it was great to meet a health professional who took me seriously as a parent.

      Like

  4. Dm

    I’m a HV currently on maternity leave and a colleague has just shared this with me. I was very eager to read it, keen to gain more understanding of a dad’s experience of the service. The reality is that at the moment, you guys, dads on leave, are definitely in the minority so I have to say I would meet less stay at home dad’s than mums during my working day and if there were any pearls of wisdom shared in this as to how to make them feel more included and supported, I wanted to know. However, I opened the link with a very similar feeling to how you describe receiving/retrieving the voicemail message, despite being keen to know the contents! HVs can get a bad wrap for giving advice or for the times when something offered as support to a sleep deprived, exhausted parent battling with managing a teething baby or strong willed toddler, is misinterpreted as condescending or patronising. As a mum of three currently on maternity leave, I regularly meet parents who are only too willing to share these negative experiences within the group (probably before knowing that is my actual job when not on leave). I personally have a wonderful HV who has helped me with any issues, no matter how big or small. And I’m keen to share this experience of the service, like you. I guess I was nervous that this post may have been a negative account of the experience… But, just like one of the posts above, reading it on this quiet moment on a Saturday afternoon has made my heart sing too! Thank you Dad on Leave for sharing and well done to your HV for carrying out a lovely professional visit.

    Like

    • Dad on Leave

      Thanks so much for the kind feedback and for taking the time to comment. You’re right that dads doing childcare are still very much in the minority. But that is slowly changing: there are now many more options available to allow dads to do more of it, and although we’ve got a long way to go I really do hope more people take those options up over time. That is really why I started this blog: to share my experiences of looking after our children and encourage other dads to do the same.

      Regarding Health Visitors, I do agree that you sometimes get a bad rap! I can only really comment on my own experience, but I certainly found it helpful.

      Like

  5. Margaret Kennedy

    So nice to read something Positive about the Health Visiter and how this dad who was originally dreading this visit really benefited from the advice and support that was offered to him regarding the health and wellbeing of both himself and his family.

    Like

  6. mhilditch

    What a lovely experience for you and just like all the others who have commented it’s good to hear positive comments about our work

    Like

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