Babies, children at the heart of memoir

Pat Thwaites reviews Mind That Child: A Medical Memoir, by Dr Simon Rowley, published by Penguin Random House. 

Dr Simon Rowley is a senior consultant neonatologist at Auckland City Hospital and Otago Medical School graduate. He ran a private paediatric practice for 30 years, and has teaching links to Starship Children's Hospital. He is connected to several other organisations which all have a common theme - the welfare of babies and young children.

Although the subject matter for the most part is child care, the author shares some of his childhood and personal experiences as a young doctor and the reasons for him taking the path in medicine that he did.

A major focus in his professional life has been on those tiny babies whose survival depends on the skills of the people in the Nicu unit and the amazing advances in technology to keep them alive. The book begins by showing what this involves; along with the euphoria of saving lives, there are also constant pressures, enormous costs and the ethical dilemmas sometimes faced by staff.

It is not only the chapters dealing with premature babies that readers will find thought-provoking. Dr Rowley does not disguise his views on various matters. Vaccination, the effects of bad parenting and what society could be doing to help, and the kind of false economies "rife in the health system" leading to premature maternal discharge, are just some of the issues he addresses.

Mind That Child sticks to its subject matter and the writer very obviously does mind. He worries that many babies have disadvantages before they enter the world, due to many factors, particularly poverty. Stress brought on by cold and inadequate housing, lack of money for basic needs and medical care can often lead to "harsh, punitive or inconsistent parenting" and in the worst cases serious child abuse.

The positive news is that "if a baby is held, stroked, cuddled, sung to, talked to, rocked, fed and loved" its brain will develop normally whether there is lack of money or not. And in a section labelled "The Good Enough Parent", Dr Rowley shows that he knows occasional lapses of parenting perfection are normal and "as long as you're doing your best most of the time, you're probably fine".

When I had finished this book, it was decorated at regular intervals with sticky pink slips. These were to remind me of the intriguing pieces of information I had found and wanted to quote and share - far too many to fit into a slim review. So I am left having to warmly recommend it, not just to prospective or new parents, but to a much wider readership.

Win a copy

The Weekend Mix has three copies of Mind That Child, by Dr Simon Rowley, courtesy of Penguin Random House, to give away. For you chance to win a copy, email playtime@odt.co.nz with your name and postal address in the body of the email and "Mind That Child" in the subjuct line by Tuesday July 31. 

• Winners of See What Can Be Done, by Lorrie Moore, courtesy of Faber & Faber were: Peter Eknnedy, Cecille Wesley and Chris Lovell-Smith, of Dunedin. 

Pat Thwaites is a retired Dunedin schoolteacher.

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