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Nanodiapers in a brave new world

Here’s a spot of light in the news this week: Huggies has just announced a new diaper designed for babies who weigh under two pounds.

Under two pounds.  Two pounds is how much a large loaf of bread weighs.

It’s not just that these babies are so tiny, and need tiny diapers, but they need to be curled up like little bean sprouts, and their poor little skin is terribly sensitive. Huggies quotes “an infant development specialist at Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital in Houston, Texas” as saying the new tiny diapers “conformed to the baby’s bottom without gapping or limiting leg movement. The thinner fasteners and less material at the waist provided a good fit for baby while still protecting their fragile skin.”

I mention all this because it’s good to remember that this is still a very excellent century to be alive. It was not so long ago that a baby born young enough to need a “nano preemie diaper” would never have a chance to need a diaper at all. Now such babies often survive, and even thrive.

In the same week, the Vatican has released a new Charter for Health Care Workers (the last one was in 1995; and that’s the Vatican site, so you’ll want to put on your parchment-filtering goggles so you can read it). It’s a directive for those who, among other things, care for premature babies and other that would have died in other centuries — and also for human beings who, in any other century, would have been allowed to live, but now may not.

Catholic Culture.org reports:

The Charter provides encouragement and guidance for health-care workers in coping with three stages of human life: “generating, living, dying.” Regarding “generating,” the document affirms the Church’s teaching on the immorality of abortion and destructive embryo research. It calls for treating infertility problems only by natural methods, and without destroying unborn lives.

The “living” section includes articles on topics as diverse as anencephaly, ectopic pregnancy, embryo reduction, vaccines, regenerative medicine, and the treatment of rare diseases with “orphan drugs.” The section on “dying” stresses the need to respect the dignity of the person, providing care but not extraordinary or burdensome treatment for those who are terminally ill.

A strange and terrible and wonderful time to be alive. Terrible and wonderful at the same time. As fast as medical gains are made, we dream up ways to exploit them. And so the Church rolls up her sleeves and sets to, giving guidance on problems that simply didn’t exist fifty, thirty, or even ten years ago.

I want to be a Catholic like the Church is a Catholic: looking clearly at life as it is right now, and saying, “There is good and bad here. How shall I help?”  It is no good pretending everything is fine, but it is no good pretending everything is dreadful, either.

In the meantime: Two-pound babies and one-pound babies are surviving. Thanks be to God.

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photo credit: Mrs. Jenny Ryan Preemie Diaper via photopin (license)

The Catholic Weekly

Not lost forever: Miscarriage, grief, and hope

felt-baby

We have reason to hope that even those little, innocent ones who never had eyes to see the light of day or the waters of baptism will be welcomed into heaven as well, not smuggled in the pockets of a low-ranking god, but recognised and called by name back home by their Father who made them.

Still, we are human. It is not wrong to look for physical reminders of abstract truths.

Read the rest of my latest for the Catholic Weekly.

The Catholic Weekly

Undeserving, unremarkable, unreliable, and beloved

Odd for the magi to know enough to prostrate themselves, in their jewels and flowing robes, before the seemingly unremarkable but truly extraordinary son of Mary; odder still, odd times a billion, for that Son to prostrate Himself for us, who are truly unremarkable.

Why? Why would He do this?

Because, to Him, every last one of us is that child who is unlike any other child. Each one of us is cherished like the “little man” who is adorable just because he enjoys eating eggs, or sweet beyond compare just because he has learned to blow kisses, like billions of other babies. To Christ, each of us is that special one, that cherished child, that singularly beloved one who makes his parent’s heart swell with affection.

Read the rest of my latest post at The Catholic Weekly.

Image: detail of photo by Andreĭ Osipovich Karelin, Public Domain

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Start with the Baby

Most years, we hear our priests gently (or irritably) reminding us that it’s still Advent! Not Christmas! Not Christmas yet! Stop with the “Merry Christmas,” because the Baby hasn’t been born yet!

So we’ve tried hard to keep Advent as a separate season: joyous anticipation rather than celebratory blow-out. It’s hard to hold off when the rest of the country is already whooping it up, but the restraint feels worthwhile when Christmas finally dawns.

So it landed with a bit of a thud last year when our bishop, Peter Libasci, issued a letter asking the Diocese of Manchester (NH) to make some changes in how we spend our Advent.

He encourages lively decorations that suggest life and hope, and calls for an emphasis on warm, personal hospitality, especially toward the poor; he exhorts us to “avoid whatever may encumber you during this time.”

These things are not too much different from what we already attempt, but this part is new:

Beginning with the FIRST Sunday of Advent, in every rectory, convent, Catholic school, diocesan institution and Catholic home, display the image of the Christ Child in a suitably decorated place of prominence and approachability. Not the crèche, just the infant.

and

Beginning with the FIRST Sunday of Advent and throughout the Advent Season, the music at Mass should include Christmas carols that enjoy the quality of a lullaby and center on the great mystery of the Incarnation and birth that did occur in history. (Away in a Manger, O Come Little Children, The First Noel, Little Town of Bethlehem.)

Huh! Really? Usually we stick to Advent music as much as possible, and if we put up a crèche, we keep the Baby Jesus packed away in tissue paper until Christmas morning. But I’m delighted to have a bishop who actually asks us to do stuff, so I’m game.

His directive to bring that baby right on in made me think of the Roots of Empathy program, which has teachers in poor, tough neighborhoods welcoming babies (real ones, not plaster statues!0 into their classrooms. They believe these visits, and subsequent discussions, teach the school kids empathy, rather than the lesson of “survival at any cost,” which is what they’re learning everywhere else they go. This story from the Washington Post says:

Roots pairs each classroom with a baby, who visits nine times throughout the year with his or her mom or dad, a volunteer recruited from the community. Each child has a chance to look the baby in the eye, squeeze its toe and say hello before the class settles into a circle around a green blanket.

They watch the baby respond to songs and games, and they talk about what he’s feeling and why he behaves as he does. The kids and the teachers have noticed a great change in the classroom: more peace, more respect, and better learning, too.

 The idea is that recognizing and caring about a baby’s emotions can open a gateway for children to learn bigger lessons about taking care of one another, considering others’ feelings, having patience.

Our bishop is looking for a similar transformation in his flock, putting the Baby right in front of us before the altar, and having us sing lullabies before we head back out to the world on Sunday morning. In his letter, he says:

during the Advent season, we take the INFANT as our centerpiece, remembering that He came as one of us. When an infant is in the house, everyone must be conscious of that presence and speak more softly, be more attentive, welcome family and visitors, exercise patience, accept inconvenience—even in the extreme, for the sake of the fragile life entrusted to our care.

Okay, but . . . the Church demands a bit more than being caring and considerate, yes? It’s all very well to acknowledge that babies can teach us to be kind, but the Incarnation was not some kind of inner city niceness project, and “considering others’ feelings” is not one of the Ten Commandments.

Can we not, as a millennia-old institution, set the bar a little higher?

No. We can’t.

Don’t you roll your eyes at me! The older I get, the more I realize that God usually wants us to do very basic, mundane things — and the more I realize how hard it is to do those mundane things well, with my whole heart.

And here’s the main part: The older I get, the more I realize that the whole point of the Incarnation is that the divine and the mundane are now inextricably linked. There cannot be a meaningless act of service, because of the incomprehensibly great service God has performed for us. There is no longer any such thing as a small act of love, since God, who is love, became small and asked us to care for Him. There is literally nothing greater, more meaningful, or more transcendent we can do than to care for each other for His sake. All acts of love are great. All acts of love make us more like Him.

In his letter, Bishop Libasci says,

To be judged as having achieved a fuller awareness of human fragility and potential, is to be judged as growing more closely to “the full stature of Christ.”

Anyone can blaze with righteous glory for a moment. Anyone can get wrapped up in an exquisitely arcane theological puzzle. But just treating each other well, day after day, in and out of season, whether they deserve it or not? That’s hard, hard, hard. As hard as caring for a baby who won’t stop crying no matter what you do. As hard as being that Baby, when you didn’t have to be.

Step beyond your duty and be actively generous. Be gentle when you could justifiably be harsh. Acknowledge that you are “disadvantaged,” that you think too much of your own survival and not enough about the unreasonable needs of the helpless people around you. Fight down the battle cry and substitute a lullaby.

The Baby’s needs are simple and basic. Start with those before you consider yourself ready to move on to higher things. There are no higher things. Start with the Baby, because that’s what God did.

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(This post originally ran, in a slightly different form, on Aleteia in 2015.)

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No, It’s Not Okay to Flip Off Your Sleeping Baby

In Slate, Education Columnist Rebecca Schuman shares a gallery of photos of herself flipping off her sleeping seven-month-old baby. Schuman explains why, so far, she hasn’t found a compelling reason to stop taking and sharing these photos.

She loves her baby, but the kid is a bad sleeper, and is making her very tired and frustrated.

Schuman says:

The reasons I take and post these pictures are varied. I crave emotional release after hours of increasingly desperate nursing, jiggling, rocking, walking, and, my personal favorite, walk-nursing (all wriggling, self-torpedoing 22 pounds of her). I’m also trying to amuse my husband, to diffuse what could otherwise be even more strain on two adults pushed to the boundaries of civility. And, of course, there’s the defiant gesture of Parenting Realness, an offshoot of the Go the Fuck to Sleep genre—that urge to fly in the face of decades of parenting decorum and admit that while we adore our children to smithereens, we’re not going to pretend to love the bare Sisyphean relentlessness that our days and nights have become.

She argues, I guess with tongue in cheek, that Kant and Artistotle would frown on her behavior. Kant, she says, would say that “what I’m doing isn’t necessarily bad for the baby per se, but it might be hardening my heart toward humanity in general”; and Aristotle would condemn her for “habituating” herself to “the wrong kind of actions.”

But, she argues, her actions don’t actually harm the baby in any way:

[I]s my current use of the one-digit salute warping my offspring’s fragile little mind? She’s a baby, so she doesn’t understand what the bird means yet. Also, she’s asleep, so she doesn’t know I’m doing it. And also, she’s a baby.

Let me be clear. I, like the author, despise the “lovin’ every minute of it” culture that is strangling American parenthood like so much sentimental kudzu. We’re expected to cherish every second we spend with our children, and we’re expected to be awash in joy and wonder at all times.

This is bullshit, and I’ve said so more times than I can count. It makes us into worse parents when we expect to be joyful and grateful all the time. Raising babies is hard, and there are lots of times when it just plain sucks. I recall telling my pediatrician, in a moment of sleep-deprived candor, that I wasn’t actually going to throw my always-screaming baby out the window, but I sure felt like I wanted to.

Speaking the truth about how we feel can be a great release. I have mountains of sympathy — oceans of sympathy, galaxies within galaxies of sympathy — for strung out parents who are exhausted beyond belief by the insane demands of babyhood. My own baby is six months old and is currently all angry all the time, because she thinks she can run, and her ridiculous doughy legs won’t cooperate. I’m hardly getting any sleep, and things are kind of awful right now. I’m having a hard time writing this post, because the baby won’t stop shouting at me.

But listen to what I said: the demands of babyhood are awful. That does not make your baby awful. One of the first things you need to learn, if you want to be a good parent, is to make sure you know the difference between “fuck this situation” and “fuck this baby.” The former is a universal experience. The latter is grotesque.

But why? The baby doesn’t know the difference, and I believe this mom who says she loves her baby. Isn’t this just some harmless, if tasteless, venting? Does it really matter what goes on around the head of someone who doesn’t and can’t understand what’s happening, which is really just a joke anyway?

Well, how would you feel if this were a gallery of photos of a fed up policeman flipping off people he’s put in handcuffs? Or a gallery of photo of an overworked heart surgeon flipping off a series of unconscious patients? Or a gallery of frustrated judges flipping off prisoners headed to jail? Or a gallery of exhausted nurses flipping off dementia patients? Or a gallery of under-appreciated ESL teachers flipping off a roomful of baffled foreign students who didn’t know what the middle finger signifies?

Not cool, right? Even if they are only venting, even if the people being flipped off had no idea it was happening. We expect more of people who do know what it means, because of their position of authority. Along with the authority and strength of their position comes the responsibility not to abuse the weaker person, even if the weaker person has made a lot of trouble for the stronger person, even if the weaker person doesn’t know it’s happening, even if the stronger person is very tired. If these policemen and judges and surgeons and teachers felt free to behave grotesquely and offensively toward the people under their authority — if they wrote jocularly about it in Slate magazine, and proudly provided a link to more photos — we’d freak the hell out, and rightly so.

We would demand that they treat the weaker person with the dignity they deserve because they are human beings. This is what we expect from people who are simply doing the jobs they are paid to do. Why should we expect less of a mother?

Just because someone can’t fight back, that doesn’t mean we can use them. Just because someone can’t fight back, that means we can’t use them.

Recall the infamous Army Private Lynndie England photos from Abu Ghraib. There were many photos showing prisoners being tortured and humiliated, but Americans were especially repulsed by the jaunty, thumbs-up “lookit me!” ones. The ones where the prisoners had bags on their heads, the ones that showed that the torturers thought the whole thing was kind of funny.

Recall: Schuman’s frivolous joke here; England’s hilarious prank here. 

 

No, the Slate writer’s baby isn’t be tortured. But there is something chillingly familiar about “HA, you can’t fight back!” attitude. You don’t need to look up your Aristotle to know that some things just aren’t funny. Even if it makes you feel better.

The very worst thing that you can do to another human being is to use him. I used to think this was just some abstract theological formulation meant to neaten up the codification of sins. But now I see that objectification of human beings lies at the heart of every sin. That’s what it always comes down to.

We don’t use people, even if they don’t know they’re being used. Especially if they don’t know they’re being used. And for God’s sake, especially not when it’s our own child.

 

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Watch Planned Parenthood Arranging to Sell Fetal Livers, Brains, and Hearts Over Lunch

nucatola video

It helps to know which organs you are hoping to retrieve, Nucatola explains:

So then you’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact. And with the calvarium [head], in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex, because when it’s vertex presentation, you never have enough dilation at the beginning of the case, unless you have real, huge amount of dilation to deliver an intact calvarium.

Read the rest at the Register, including video highlights, full video, and full transcript