November 7

How becoming a mother turned me into a germophobe



AS THE leaves turn brown and wither to the ground, all beings prepare to hibernate.

Winter is coming to the UK.

In this part of the world, though we don’t have to worry about all-year tropical diseases, a particular microbe causes misery to families as it strikes at the turn of the season when the weather becomes cold and damp.

Norovirus – a stranger to me before I had my child but is now the invisible terror in my life.

I was always a keen hand washer. The kind of person who cannot relax when my hands are dirty.

Since becoming a mother, this hygiene freakishness has morphed into some kind of obsession.

Soon after my daughter came home from the hospital with us, every cream, ointment and oil that we use for her care ritual was selected carefully.

They had to be organic.

For months, she was completely free of any serious ailments.

Then, she began to crawl, and in the process of doing so, discovered that she could now reach most of the objects of her heart’s desire.

Whatever she found on the floor, food or not, went into her mouth.

Some were spat out in disgust and others made their way safely into her intestines.

The crawling became faster, as I dutifully followed right behind with a baby sanitiser.

Relatives and friends told me to relax and that my daughter needed to pick up bugs to build her immune system.

The all-or-nothing me took the advice and proceeded to allow her to eat while she was crawling on the floor, sometimes picking up food that she dropped.

She seemed well, it must be ok, I thought to myself. I relaxed.

Then, just as I got ready for bed one night, she threw up.

My mind raced through what we did that day – the tube journey into London, the picnic in the park (where she picked up a cigarette from the grass), and the library, where I let her crawl on the grimy floor.

What was I thinking?

As she threw up for the 10th time in the space of two hours, we hit the hospital’s emergency room in the bitingly cold early hours.

They told me that she was most likely inflicted by norovirus.

Norovirus was the most traumatic thing that has happened to my daughter.

It was over quickly but so contagious, and you can pick it up from anywhere – bedsheets, clothes, your baby and even the air that you breathe.

I logged on to eBay with a hazmat suit in mind but it was too late.

Soon, my husband and I were both infected and laid up in various parts of the house, while my baby crawled weakly towards us seeking cuddles.

She lost around 1.5 kg from that ordeal and became what my mum thought was a beautiful and slender Asian baby.

And I lost the post-birth baby weight that I was struggling to lose for months, but I would n’t recommend this slimming method.

After that incident, the sanitising became more urgent.

As soon as any stranger as much as brushed against my daughter’s hands, I whipped the sanitiser out of its hiding place.

I lived in constant fear of bugs taking us down.

Two months passed without any illness and my baby regained some of the weight that she lost.

So, we came out of our quarantine and went to a baby dance class – at the library!

It should have been completely fine, had I not set her free on all fours on the studio floor, and beyond into the hinterlands of the vast carpeted library floor.

She crawled at lightning speed, back and forth from the studio to the library, laughing as she did so, thinking that I was playing catch with her.

Seeing how happy she was, I allowed her to do so.

She would be fine, right?

I washed her hands afterwards, applied the hand sanitiser, which kills 99% bacteria, and promptly gave her a blueberry.

That night, she threw up 15 times before we went to say hi to the hospital emergency staff again.

When we were discharged at 6am, all bleary eyed and head pounding from the adrenaline, I swore to fight this bug.

I would not let norovirus as much as even dare to whisper to us again – we washed every single bed sheet, outfit and floor and made sure we held our breath as much as we could in the house until we had finished sterilising everything.

I rechecked the label of the hand sanitiser that we were using and I realised it does not kill viruses, or fungi (while we’re at it).

So, I bought another brand which kills nearly all microorganism.

My husband and I now act like two big, bad bug guards to our little one, who had turned one and showing interest in walking.

Perhaps now that she is walking, she would not pick up norovirus so easily.

When I took her out to the park, she was allowed to play with the leaves while I watched like a hawk.

As soon as she tried to put her hand to her mouth, the sanitiser was thrust in her direction.

Needless to say, my daughter’s hands now get washed more than 20 times a day.

I know this may not be healthy as she needs to retain some natural flora on her hands but if the alternative is to end up in the emergency room again, I choose the former.

A couple of months have passed now without any incidence caused by norovirus, so I took my daughter to baby classes and allowed her free rein in the playground, never once leaving her sight.

Every time she tumbles onto the floor and lands on her two hands, I burst onto the scene with my hand sanitiser.

I still wash her hands regularly and live in constant fear of the vomiting bug.

As she grows, I find myself wondering if I would ever relax about her state of hygiene and if she would ever grow out of getting frequent colds and stomach bugs.

I certainly hope she has the chance to experience the childhood that I had – rolling in mud (to my mum’s dismay), climbing trees and swinging myself high on the swing.

While I was writing this article, my husband promptly told me about an app that works as a radar system to detect outbreaks of illnesses such as flu, stomach virus and norovirus, so you can avoid the area.

I instinctively think of downloading it and then wonder, “When will I be free?”


As published in Malaysia’s The Star Metro, November 7, 2015.


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