A Mandatory Love for Babies
Olivia’s musings on the social unacceptability of not desiring children has inspired me to write about much the same thing.
I used to be a fundamentalist (lite) Christian. I was bad at it. Mostly, I was really bad at feeling the emotions I was supposed to feel. I tried really hard and mostly just felt a continuous terror that by not feeling what I was told to feel I was going to Hell. This was not healthy. Among these things I was supposed to feel was an overwhelming, almost mystical awe and love for and obsession with babies. Also, I was expected to assist in the church nursery. That was just a thing. The girls, referred to as girls, worked in the nursery. The boys, referred to as young men, were expected to assist in the worship service. So I worked in the nursery.
I didn’t like nursery duty. I didn’t like being handed a baby while the mother would chat with my supervising adult about all the annoying habits of their husbands or the terrifyingly nasty details of pregnancy. I, meanwhile, would be awkwardly holding a baby, worried about it spitting up on me and being mildly creeped out when they would paw at my blouse in an attempt to expose my breast. (Hey, that’s kind of weird if you aren’t expecting it and have heard one too many sermons on modesty and have a holy terror of even a bra strap showing.) I felt incredibly guilty about my general revulsion towards children, especially after one preacher at a revival walked about the auditorium holding a fairly new baby and saying, “God help you if you can’t see the Christ child in this face.”
I realize feeling mystical religious feelings about breastfeeding is actually sort of an established thing, even outside evangelical Christianity. At least, Rabiyah said she nurses on a breast in the sky and Francis (of Assisi, St) mentions a vision where he nurses the Christ child at his breasts. Mirabai says that god gave women breasts to help Him comfort, but I’m not sure she’s necessarily talking about breastfeeding. (Between Christianity and atheism, I was really into mystical eroticism.) So apparently more people than just the Christians of this particular sect feel this mystical love for babies, I just don’t happen to be one of them.
Oh, at a different revival there was a preacher who brought in a fetus in a jar so that everyone could be overwhelmed with feelings of mystical awe about babies and fie upon those selfish selfish women who get abortions rather than feeling mystically overwhelmed by babies. Not only was I unable to feel so very horrified at a dead fetus in a jar, I found this very confusing logically, since if fetuses have the right to life of a born human, that sort of means they have the right to have their remains treated with respect. On the face of it, respect would seem to exclude carrying them about in jars as visual aids for a speech to an audience that already fully agrees that abortion is Murder. But maybe I would understand if I could be overwhelmed by feelings toward babies.
As a child and a young teenager, not wanting babies was never even discussed as an emotion that I might possibly ever have. This is not healthy. People are going to feel whatever they are going to feel, and one-size-fits-all approaches can leave outliers with crushing guilt, not to mention a terror of hell, for not being able to experience the proper emotions.
More importantly, foisting one’s babies into the care of young girls can have an impact on the educational opportunities of those girls. In Tanzania (because I always have to talk about Tanzania), probably other places in East Africa as well, it is perfectly fine for female teachers to bring their babies to school, and just hand the baby to any available female students. The students are then expected to miss class in order to take care of the babies until such time as their teachers take the babies back. I realize there isn’t any kind of daycare, so if the teacher doesn’t have any female friends or relatives living with her (and if she does, they can’t necessarily nurse the baby.) I’m also not necessarily advocating the solution of some teachers to have to walk a mile to get home during their lunch breaks, in 90+ F degree heat, in order to breastfeed, and then come back to school later, because that can’t be a good solution, but there has got to be a better way of taking care of babies then just assuming that the nearest girl will be absolutely thrilled to hold a baby until further notice at the expense of her ability to go to class.
Featured image from Wikipedia