As I was standing at the hospital blood clinic today with one of my kids, the lab technician tut-tutted me for not having signed in properly. “Didn’t you go to registration, Mum?” It occurred to me that since my kids started having more contact with the health care system, I have been called “Mum” by receptionists, clinicians, specialists, nurses, and therapists. I’ve been called “Mum” by people wielding needles, ultrasound wands, lunch trays, pulse-oxometers, and even people strapping my children into restraints for chest x-rays. In short, I am being called “mum” by many people who never spent time in my uterus and have no other legal or moral claim on my maternal affections.
It doesn’t always bother me. Frankly, when I am being called “Mum” by these folks, I often have bigger things to worry about. But I found it particularly irritating today. What does it say to me?
It says “I can’t be bothered to glance at the portion of your child’s chart that contains your name. ”
It say “I’m not going to bother asking your name and then trying to remember it for the duration of this conversation. I will probably forget your child’s name, and all about your child, a minute after you leave.”
It says “I’m going to talk to you the way your child talks to you rather than speak to you as though we’re on the same level and partners in this care.”
In some cases I am having serious conversations about my child’s respiratory rate, or her oxygen levels, or the amount of spasticity in her body, and in those cases I really hate being called “Mum.” Don’t prognosticate on my child’s future and then fail to ask my name.
I’m not always offended by it. Some NICU nurses called me “Mum” as they brought blankets, or helped me find a bath to wash a tiny four-pounder. They may have been someone walking by and helping out, not someone who spent a shift caring one-on-two for my girls. And I think they were using the word to remind me that, despite all the tubes and the fact that I had to ask where diapers or towels were, I was the mother.
But there should be a rule – if you will be having a conversation that’s important, and that includes almost any conversation in the medical realm, ask my name. If you’re having an informal exchange, or scolding me because I didn’t register, or didn’t understand, don’t condescend to me and call me “Mum.” And if you’re not sure, don’t do it.