22 January 2009

Things I've Learned - Fingernails

The Boy's fingernails at 8 days old

My boy was born with an impressive set of fingernails. After all, they'd been developing and growing for about 28 weeks. Within an hour of his birth, he looked like he'd gone ten rounds with a feral cat; babies will scratch the hell out of themselves without even being aware of it. We dug around in the go-to-hospital bag for the tiny mittens that had come as a set with a hat and booties. It never would have occurred to me to buy them on their own... We put them on him. This immediately stopped him from ripping his face to shreds, but looked kind of goofy. Actually, really goofy.

The nurse who came into our room to give him a bath the morning after he was born seemed like a friendly sort, so I asked her if the hospital had a set of infant nail clippers I could borrow to cut his nails. She matter-of-factly said, "Oh, those clippers are more trouble than they're worth. The easiest and safest thing to do is to just bite his nails off yourself."

I stalled. I honestly didn't know what to say. Bite them? Seriously? I'm supposed to chew on the ends of my baby's fingers? In the modern world, in a fully equipped hospital, this was the best science and technology had to offer? Really?

"Yes," she said. "Just bite them off while he's sleeping."


I couldn't do it.

Each time that I looked at my baby boy and saw how silly those little cream coloured mittens looked on him, every time I thought about biting his nails - which was often as he would really gouge at his face given half a chance - I just couldn't do it. It was too... weird.

At one point I managed to remove one of his mittens, gently take his little perfect hand in mine, and... quickly put his mitten back on and tuck his hand back under his blanket. I just couldn't do it. I don't know why. I wasn't afraid of hurting him - I knew I wouldn't bite the end of his finger off or anything like that. There was just something so... feral about the whole thing. So animal. I felt like next I'd be picking bugs out of his hair and eating them.

I'm not saying I was rational.

On the second day, I started a campaign to get my husband to do it. I wheedled. I pleaded. I even tried to order him to do it. (Yeah, that went over really well...) He didn't want to do it either, and all the while, The Boy's nails kept growing. His face would just recover from one set of scratches and we'd forget to put mittens back on and he'd claw at himself again.

In almost all our photos from the first few days of his life, he's got those ridiculous mitts on. We left the hospital three days after he was born, still needing a manicure. I just couldn't chew his nails. I was getting almost frantic about it. I couldn't bite his nails, yet I couldn't just let them grow and keep him in mittens for the rest of his life. Those mittens were starting to take on a significance all out of proportion; they were becoming a symbol of my epic fail. I was clearly the worst mother in the world.

Two days after we came home from the hospital, I just couldn't take the accusation of those mittens any more. My husband and I were sitting on the couch, exhausted. The day's visitors had all gone home, so it was just the three of us, The Boy sweetly sleeping in Daddy's arms.

So I did it. I took those damned mitts off his hands, and started to chew off his tiny nails.

And it was truly weird - a very Animal Planet moment. There's nothing like sitting in your fabulous apartment in the sky crouched over your sleeping infant grooming him with your teeth to really remind you that it doesn't matter if you read The Economist every week, you are really just a monkey deep down. His nails were so small that I couldn't even feel the bits I'd chewed off in my mouth. The Boy, of course, slept blissfully through the whole event.

A few days later, a friend gave us a care package that included some infant nail clippers. I have yet to use them... It really is easier to just bite them off.

  1. Baby fingernails grow ridiculously fast. I have to trim The Boy's nails every two to three days. Toenails, not so much. Maybe every two to three weeks. (I don't bite his toenails. That would really be too weird.)
  2. Take baby nail clippers with you to the hospital if you think you might prefer to use them instead of embracing your inner monkey.
  3. Be prepared to do things that never ever occurred to you.


  1. The content you have provided is pretty interesting and useful and I will surely take note of the point you have made in the blog.

  2. Thanks so much! Welcome! Let me know if you have any questions or concerns you'd like to see addressed.