Dehumanizing Babies

There are times when it seems to me that we dehumanize our babies. My evidence?

Exhibit A: babies can’t smile. When said baby does smile, most say it’s just because he’s passing wind, even if it seems to be in response to, say, his mother’s voice or being happily full after a feed or having a pleasant dream. Heaven forbid we should acknowledge that a baby can have and express emotions.

Exhibit B: CIO/CC. We don’t expect that all adults will have an exact sleeping or eating schedule (unless maybe you’re Sheldon Cooper, but maybe he just has bathroom schedules). We expect that adults might sometimes have trouble sleeping and need reassurance from another person. But we treat babies more like animals that have to be trained in that way, and some rigidly schedule feeds even if their own meals are not so scheduled.

Exhibit C: babies can’t feel pain. Little or no anesthesia is sometimes used for painful procedures such as circumcision. When Leo had to have blood drawn, the lab technician insisted that it didn’t hurt him, despite his screaming and trying to move away from her. Had I not been putting all my effort into comforting him, I would’ve shouted at her that she must be blind if she couldn’t interpret his reaction as an obvious response to pain. Not only that, but their reference for pain is smaller, so I’d imagine it is perceived to be more painful than I might register the same procedure.  Sometimes procedures like that have to be done, but they should be done as gently as possible, recognizing the baby as a person deserving respect. I’ve had plenty of technicians showing respect and concern for me when I’ve had blood drawn, but the same was not shown to my son (yes, I know it could’ve just been that particular technician, since I’ve also encountered at least one disrespectful technician for my own lab work).

Exhibit D: insisting something is ok because the baby won’t remember it. There are some who acknowledge that babies can feel pain, but rationalize that not being gentle or providing enough anesthesia or doing an unnecessary procedure is ok because the baby won’t remember it. Ability to remember it or not doesn’t make it ok to treat the baby as less than deserving of respect.

Exhibit E: how many people talk to the baby and not just to his parents? I’m thinking primarily about doctors and nurses addressing the babe before doing some procedure. Some certainly do this, but some do not. Whether the baby understands it all or not, it is surely common courtesy to let him know what is happening and speak to him as well as to the parents, in my opinion.

These things may seem minor, but I think they are worthy of consideration. I’d imagine most don’t even think about how these things might somehow dehumanize the baby – I didn’t at first. Then I started paying more attention and thinking about it in relation to my children. It’s caused me to rethink my interactions with them, certainly.

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