Baby Madness: A Conversation

Sometimes I think, when the baby comes, I’m going to go outside and move my butt in a sweeping motion and clear a concave indentation in the dirt like some kind of nesting sunfish. And then I’m going to stick my wife, my newborn son, and myself into this shallow hole and it will be there that we raise the child until he is… well, somewhere between 4 years and 42 years old.

Reliable information on baby-rearing — or, more specifically, baby-not-accidentally-killing — is as hard to come by as an honest politician or a unicorn wearing the flesh of his enemies.

It begins, of course, with crib bumpers.

Crib bumpers, to those who don’t know, are padded “bumpers” that line the inside base of the crib along the bars so… well, reportedly so the infant doesn’t whack his head or get his soft little multi-plated lizard skull stuck between the bars, but really it’s so Mom and Dad can ooh-and-ahh over the pretty little rocket ships or bears or fiery demon skulls that represent the nursery’s triumphant decor.

We bought a sheet set for the crib, and it came with crib bumpers which we, as completely unaware parents, thought: “Well, that’s fine.”

Except, it’s totally not fine. Apparently.

Here’s how the conversation begins.

“Oh, crib bumpers?” the experts say. “Those, yeah. Ooooh. Those will kill your baby.”

“These pillowy things? Soft? Downy? The pillows will kill the child, but the wooden bars of the crib will not? Are you sure? Is this opposite day?”

“Totally sure. They can fall on the baby and the baby will suffocate. Plus, the cords might get undone and the baby will strangle himself. Also, the crib bumpers may prevent oxygen from properly recycling, and the baby may intake too much carbon dioxide. And that may be one of the causes of SIDS.”

Blink, blink. “Wait, oxygen may not… recycle? Because of crib bumpers? Is oxygen heavier than I think? I mean, it’s not mercury. Are crib bumpers, like, the opposite of plants? Do they have some sinister mechanism by which oxygen is eaten and carbon dioxide is exhaled onto my baby’s head? Or maybe crib bumpers are full of cats. Cats who leap out and steal the baby’s breath.”

“Could be, expectant father. Could be.”

“Okay.” Throw crib bumpers into a burn barrel, then. “Fuck those dirty crib bumpers. Whew. Those menacing baby-killers are long gone. Hey, why are they still allowed to sell them, anyway? I mean, the baby industry is ten kinds of obsessed with safety, understandably so. Shit, a baby’s car seat has an expiration date. Like milk. Or love. My seat-belts don’t even have an expiration date. So, why are they allowed to sell crib bumpers to an unsuspecting populace?”

“Hell if I know.”

“Oh. Well. So, speaking of car seats, we’re going to go to this thing the hospital is having where they check the car seat to make sure it’s locked in, and I was wondering, will they also check the placement of the mirror on the headrest of the backseat –”

“Mirror? Oh, no. You can’t put a mirror there.”

“No, no, it’s okay, it’s some… baby product bullshit, a, a… kind of soft-flexible mirror thing so we can see the baby from the front seat since they have to be rear-facing until they’re a year old –”

“Now it’s two years old.”

“Two?”

“Two. And we’re considering making it 20.”

“20?!”

“Can never be too safe. But back to the mirror: you have to destroy that mirror. It, like the crib bumpers, may destroy your child. Think of it like a witch. Kill it with fire. See, if you’re in an accident, the car seat is designed so it flips upward, and your baby’s face will hit the headrest.”

“That seems dangerous.”

“The headrest is soft.”

“Mine’s kind of hard.”

“Well, soften it up. Also: the mirror could also become a dangerous projectile. In fact, anything in your car can become a bullet. Get rid of everything that isn’t nailed down.”

“Wow. Got it. Anything else I should know?”

“You’re wife’s not eating any lunchmeat, right?”

“Lunchmeat? What the hell is wrong with lunchmeat?”

“Listeria. Causes listeriosis. Will pass through to the baby. Plus, Mom is very susceptible at this point. Her immune system is that of a very sad panda. Just think of that.”

“That sounds awful. It must be kind of common, this listeriosis.”

“Nope. Not so much. About 2500 cases, 500 of which die. Annually.”

“And all those are pregnant ladies?”

“Oh, no. About 27% of ’em. Round up to 700 affected.”

Blink, blink. “The population of America is 307 million people. That’s…” Does some quick math on fingers and toesies. “Less than 0.001%.”

“Well, sure. But you don’t want your wife and baby getting sick.”

“No. No! No. It’s just… doesn’t she have roughly the same chance of getting struck by lightning?”

“Oh yeah. And even then, only 10% chance of dying. But don’t you dare send her out in a storm. There’s a billion things you need to worry about. Key word: worry. She’s not eating sushi, right?”

“No. She’s not. But she’d kill a dude right now for a slice of hamachi, some brie cheese and a dirty martini.”

“Sushi is home to parasites. Well. Not really. It’s very rare. And we don’t even know if a parasitic infection will easily cross the placental wall. Oh! And fish has lots of powerful nutrients. And wine is loaded with antioxidants which a baby may need. But if your wife eats sushi or drinks wine, she will be shunned by the tribe for reckless child endangerment.”

“I think my Mom probably drank when I was in the womb.”

“And doesn’t that explain a lot?”

Pause. “Yeah.”

“Here, let’s see what else you’ve got in your baby registry. Mm. Hmm. Okay. I see you’ve got these baby bottles, they’re supposed to help with colic?”

“Yeah. Something about reflux.”

“Oooh, sorry. We still don’t really know what colic is. It may be genetic. It’s definitely a developmental phase. Not much you can do except weather the storm. These bottles? Pbbt. Won’t fix crap.”

“But they say –”

“I SAID WON’T FIX CRAP.”

“You don’t have to be so loud about it. Jeez. So, okay, why do they say it may help with colic if colic is just some weird thing that happens like a curse cast upon our child by a surly warlock? I mean, really, shouldn’t that be illegal? It’s like buying a box of Captain Crunch that promises you’ll get laid or something.”

“Life’s tough, dipshit. You can’t go around believing everything you read.”

“That’s not very nice calling me dipshit like that. And it’s really starting to feel like I can’t believe anything I read. I mean, damn. Breastfeeding? Natural labor? Pitocin? Autism? Circumcision?”

“Rocky road. Total minefield. You’re gonna breastfeed, right?”

“Well. Yeah. I mean, not me personally. My wife will do the actual boob… process. But if not, if it doesn’t work out, I know there’s formula you can buy…”

“Formula. Sure. Might as well just punch your baby in the face.”

“I don’t want to do that! But I hear some women can’t breastfeed.”

“Mommy over there is pre-built to feed your little monkeyface right from her mammy-glands. It’s free, for one. And by the time the kid’s four years old, you’ll have spent enough money on formula where you could’ve just bought a small boat or a komodo dragon. The boob makes powerful antibodies that kid needs. Trust me, unless she’s some kind of troglodytic cave mutant, she can breast-feed like a champ. Those teats are for milkin’. Besides, you don’t want your wife to feel like an incomplete mother, do you? If one drop of formula crosses that kid’s lips, she will be stoned to death in the town square.”

“But I was formula-fed.”

“And again, just look at you. You’re basically a chimp. With designer glasses.”

“Shut up.”

“Let’s talk labor. You’re going natural, right?”

“If we can. But we realize that no plan survives contact with the enemy, so…”

“So you must want your wife to again be an incomplete woman? If you let her have a medically-managed birth, goblins will come. And they will steal her fallopian tubes. And from them they shall craft their terrible goblin weapons. Go natural. Women have been having children naturally for, ohh, let’s just call it 10,000 years. Only relatively recently has the medical establishment decided to treat birth like a medical crisis rather than a natural event. You know what’s in an epidural? Kool-Aid and heroin. When they give the mother an epidural, they must also give her Pitocin to ameliorate the contractions, and they create more painful contractions, so. When they back off of the epidural in time for the birth, the contractions feel ten times worse than if mommy never had an epidural. Not only does the epidural possibly damage the infant’s nursing reflex upon birth but Pitocin might also have a connection with autism.”

“Autism? Oh, shit. Really?”

“Ehhh. Ennnh. We don’t really know. But it sounds good. And people like to raise the question, and any time there’s a question, it’s just easier to default to the answer being yes. For instance, Could there be sharks in your toilet? Ehhh. We don’t know. Could be. So why take the chance? Poop in a potted plant, like I do.”

“Potted plant. Got it. Okay, but — all this stuff is bad, but aren’t doctors supposed to, y’know, tend to the health of people? This sounds like it’s the opposite of that. Doctors can only do good.”

“Sure, sure. They’re like Superman and Santa Claus. Oh, you’re cute, little naive round-headed ape-man with your scary beard and your fantasies of being a cherished writer. Doctors are people. And people are basically scum. Listen, doctors really like two things: one, expensive pharmaceuticals and two, expensive medical treatments. You know who is a highly-paid person at your hospital? The anesthesiologist. Fuck the brain surgeons, that guy is the rock star. You don’t go to him for a fix, you’re maybe losing the hospital some sweet, sweet cash. Money makes the world go ’round.”

“That is awfully cynical. Doctors aren’t evil.”

“No! But they’re selfish and stupid just like everyone else. Remember Thalidomide?”

“What, the flipper baby thing? Well. That wasn’t actually prescribed, it was on clinical trial in this country. That’s not fair to blame on doctors.”

“I’m just saying. Doctors aren’t perfect. They got to get paid, son.”

“Who are you, Omar from the Wire?”

“You trust your doctors so much, why do they perform circumcisions?”

“What? Because it’s a medical procedure that… you know. Does stuff. Good… stuff. I mean, hey, I’m totally circumcised. Wait, you’re going to use that to insult me again, aren’t you?”

“The medical establishment will not recommend a circumcision. Go on. Call your pediatrician. He’ll tell you there’s no medically valid reason to go chopping up your kid’s winky like it’s an octopus salad.”

“So! Hah. That means doctors do have ethics.”

“Well, until you tell them you’ll still pay them to go Ginsu on your boy’s pee-pee-meat. Flash some cash, he’ll whip out the meat cleaver good and quick. Where’s your ethics now, pink boy?”

“Pink boy?”

“It sounded good at the time.”

“I hate you so much.”

“I’m just trying to help.”

“You’re not helping. You’re hurting. This is too confusing. Everything is just worry and agita and fear and uncertainty and komodo dragons. Dude, I just watched this sorta documentary, Babies? And in it, they showed a baby in Africa, and that kid was rolling around in the dirt and letting dogs French kiss him and he was splashing around in a little stream and he seemed healthy and happy. In fact, there’s 307 million people in this country alone. And they’re all alive. Happy, well, I dunno, but they’re all here, and they were born with epidurals and without epidurals, and some of them breast-fed and some of them didn’t, and Moms drank wine and Dads learned a thousand different breathing techniques and whether it’s a big dangerous industry or a giant baby-hating conspiracy, we’re all here and alive and it seems like as long as you try to do the right thing however you see it you’re probably going to be fine, because haters gonna hate and life is a bitch and dear gods, I need a nap or I’m going to poop in a potted plant somewhere.”

“Good luck, Dad.”

“I seriously hate you with the heat of an exploding sun.”

And, scene.

Goddamn crib bumpers.