When I had Zoë I was very young and silly. I knew hardly a thing about babies and yet I thought I knew everything. I was not looking forward to meeting our Health Visitor. Matty had told me that District Nurses and Health Visitors were terrible old harridans who would ‘ate the face of you for anything’ I was dreading her visit for I thought we would disagree about everything
Now at that time my father kept a couple of sows and soon after I came home with the new baby one of them pigged. As usual there was a runt in the litter and he was brought into the house for hand feeding. This became my job so it meant I had two babies to feed. The piglet was always fed first as he squealed a lot harder than Zoë.
The morning of the Health Visitor’s first visit Zoë, the pig and myself were the only ones at home. I’d fed the pig and nursed Zoë and I was just about to give her a bath. I had the baby bath ready on the living room floor and I was undressing her when the door knocked. Oh no! My first visit from the Health Visitor and the baby is half-naked and unwashed. I invited her in. She sat down. I decided to abandon the bath for fear of accidentally drowning the child owing to my state of nerves but still went all fingers and thumbs and couldn’t operate the poppers on Zoë’s babygro at all. I felt sure the Health Visitor was watching me and thinking that I was a very ineffectual mother.
Then the piglet started to squeal from his box beside the Rayburn. “What’s the noise?” the Health Visitor asked. “It’s a baby pig.” I replied. She looked a bit nervous at this for she was from Belfast. “It’s OK,” I said, “It can’t get out of the box.” Just then the piglet chose to make a liar of me by jumping out of the box and looking around expectantly. The Health Visitor gasped. The piglet came over to me and snuffled at my feet. Then he got into the baby bath and had a little paddle about. He climbed out of the bath with his little wet trotters and sniffed at the Health Visitor’s feet. She screamed and drew her feet up as if the pig was going to bite her. I managed to lay the unpoppered Zoë down without dropping her and got the pig back into his box. I closed the lid on him and set an iron on top of it to keep him from escaping again. I was mortified and thought that the Health Visitor would be horrified that I was rearing my baby along with a pig.
I spent the next few days anxiously waiting for the Welfare to take Zoë into care. I truly believed that the authorities would take a very dim view of her being reared in close proximity to a pig. But no one came and I began to relax again.
The next time the Health Visitor came her first enquiry was for the pig. Well I suppose babies were in every house she went into but pigs were not as common. I told her that he was strong enough now to fight his own corner and he was back in the pig house with the others. She seemed pleased at this although whether it was at his having survived or being back in the shed I do not know.
She turned out to be a great Health Visitor and visited me regularly with little mention made of Zoë. She brought ice cream, which we shared and we would talk about life and books and stuff. She introduced me to CS Lewis’ non-fiction writing for which she had a huge admiration. I cannot say I got much out of them for I much preferred the Narnia books and the Space Trilogy.
It’s all the talk about the Narnia books that has brought Joan the Health Visitor back into my mind. In our house it was Ganching who was the first to read the Narnia Chronicles. I was a bit older than the recommended reading age (mid-teens) but I loved them anyway. The Christian allegorical part passed me by but I do remember thinking along these lines ‘Aslan reminds me of Jesus,’ but being Catholic reared I took that to be heretical and pagan rather than Christian. I guess I just didn’t get allegory then.