“Doh my doodness, wittle Lily! You so squirmy! So squirmy!” the paediatric nurse cooed in an obnoxiously high voice as she took my baby’s vitals.
I lay in the hospital bed, still unable to move my legs after the epidural and slightly strung out on pain killers. When I’m all uncomfortable like that, it’s difficult for me to be charitable. I just wished this nurse would finish up what she was doing and go away instead of baby talking. Don’t get me wrong, I was not upset that she was talking to my baby. I just hate baby talk.
“My what a wittle girl you is!”
My bleary eyelids open wider as the grammar nerd in me is vaguely insulted. Half of me realises that I’m just annoyed because I’m so exhausted and on painkillers, but it doesn’t do a whole lot of good.
“Baby looks normal,” the nurse finally says in a voice almost three octaves lower than the voice she was using on Lily.
“Oh good,” I mumble, stretching out my arms to hold her again.
The nurse places Lily in my arms. “She’s so tiny. Excellent for cuddling. At this stage, they’re not even people yet. They’re more like cats. Give it three or four months and then her personality will start coming in.”
A litany of half formed disagreements filled my head, but I wasn’t about to fight with one of the people helping me drag my dead legs to the bathroom; so I just cuddled Lily close to my chest, mumbled, “You’re a person,” and off to sleep we went.
Perhaps I’m more sensitive to it now after hearing the nurse say it, but I’m starting to notice that many do not see babies as people. Or at least that’s not how it appears in our verbiage. Several of my old school acquaintances have had babies over the last couple months. I was looking at a picture of one friend’s baby (who is adorable and was smiling in his sleep… My heart!) and saw this comment, “He’s becoming an actual person!”
Becoming an actual person? But he’s already a person. They’re already people!
Perhaps it’s because my main reading during pregnancy consisted of Preparation for Parenting by Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo and Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman where I learned some of the philosophy of Françoise Dolto, all of which talk about the personhood of children, but I am convinced now more than ever that life and being a “person” starts at conception.
While my baby girl was in the womb, I used to marvel at just how much personality she had. At each ultrasound, she was found sucking her fingers, telling me that she was going to be a thumb sucker or at least love the binkie. She also always squirmed away from sight, making it difficult to even see her all the time on the ultrasound. Some babies push back when prodded, mine tried to hide like a tiny introvert. Whenever her daddy came home from work and entered the door with a big “Hello,” she would start to move inside me no matter how still she had been previously, recognising her dad’s voice.
It’s only been a week since her birth, and already her personality is noticeable. She definitely hasn’t waited three to four months to start being a person. She has preferences. She likes one kind of binkie over another. She likes to have these odd little muslin squares against her face over the softer receiving blankets. She likes to listen to Debussy, but fusses whenever parts of the Lord of the Rings soundtrack shows up on our classical music Pandora station (You’ll learn, Lily… Someday you’ll change your mind and realise that Howard Shore wrote pretty much the perfect score for that story, which you’re going to love).
We must change the way we talk about babies. Maybe we big people can’t see the extent of their personalities yet. Like Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins, we cannot see past the edges of our noses. It seems that as we grow taller and see more of the world’s enormous expanse, we miss some of the smaller things, such as the minutia of our children’s personalities.
Why is this so important? Because we live in a society intent on erasing the humanness of infants. We live in an age where it’s perfectly okay to stop their lives at nearly any time in utero. They’re not considered people. They’re “potential people.” Life is not, as Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards claims, a matter of personal decision. Her children all started living upon delivery, but that was her personal preference. Other women may prefer to not see the infants in their wombs as living. What a messed up view…
And it’s permeating our vocabularies. When we say that our babies are “becoming” people, we’re denying the fact that they’ve been living human beings for nine whole months before we laid our eyes on them. How can we stand against abortion and call it what it is (murder) if we are denying babies their personhood? Sure, they’re tiny people, but in the words of Horton the Elephant, “A person’s a person no matter how small.”
As I watch my little Lily taking her nap, hands folded ever so daintily on her chest, I am in awe of how human she is. No, she doesn’t have a full understanding of the world and she’s not grown enough to even have full control over all her muscles. But she’s a person. I can’t help but think of the line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare: “Though she be but little, she is fierce,” and not just because she has the voice of a shrill alarm clock that insists on going off every three hours, but because I see so much potential in her. Not potential to be a human being. She already is one. But potential to be a great human being.
A person’s a person no matter how small and oh how I love this particular small person.
“And little people know
When little people fight
We may look easy pickings
But we’ve got some bite
So never kick a dog
Because he’s just a pup
We’ll fight like twenty armies
And we won’t give up
So you’d better run for cover
When the pup grows up!”
–Gavroche, Les Misérables