Technologies of the Babies

All these children except babies shuck oysters and tend babies at the Pass Packing Co. I saw them all at work there long before daybreak. Photos taken at noon in the absence of the supt. who refused me permission because of child labor agitation. Pass Christian, Miss., 02/24/1911. via NARA, identifier #523405

My baby son was with me in the early morning hours over Christmas when I started writing this blog, so it’s only fitting that if I have to talk about him I do it here.

The last few weeks of pregnancy were insanely hard, delivery was insanely hard, my wife has postpartum depression and my son until about 17 weeks was colicky. All of which is just by way of saying that my son has not been a terrific sleeper. He has always gotten his share, just in fits and starts. And sleep never trumps eating. Eating trumps everything. All this is okay. He’s happy and healthy, and still on a growth curve that has him playing outside linebacker in a Division I program. Nevertheless, when I make the mistake of talking about his sleeping habits — which, again, helped spawn this blog, because when you have a bunch of detritus rolling around in your head at 3:30 AM, you have to dump it somewhere — I receive tons of unasked-for advice.

Babies should sleep 12 hours in a row. Put him down at 6. Put him down at 5. Start solid foods as soon as you can, just so it’s easier to tank him up and he won’t need to wake and feed. Have a separate room and keep him in it so that when he wakes up a little bit hungry and peeps, you won’t hear it; you’ll hear when he works himself into an insane lather and only then will you feed him.

All of this is false. No professional has given me the helpful hints above. And importantly, I get this advice whenever I take a sick-hour and come in late to work. Which for me makes the relationship between these erroneous, mid-century recommendations and late-model capitalism absolutely clear. Some of us are in the business of modifying capitalism to fit babies, and some of us are disciplining babies to make clear a path for capitalism.

Force-feeding a baby in order to push out a stream of continuous sleep, if it were a technique that worked, would constitute a pretty clear application of power-dominance onto the bodies of mother, child and father. Since it and the other techniques described above don’t work, they operate less as technologies of the self than as cheap exhortations to discipline. They rely on an jejune understanding of modernity — the place where biological imperatives go to die — justifying all sorts of incursions into the course of my baby’s life and mind by their convenience to me or their benefit to my workplace.

Finally, what’s most nefarious about the parenting advice of the biopolitical era is how the dagger that alienates me from my baby is cloaked in the language of healing. This is all to reduce stress on you. Your workload is so crazy right now. As if the purpose of my baby’s life were to make my work easier, instead of being totally the reverse. The point of my work is to make my baby’s life easier.

There’ll be plenty of time for schools and factories — one hopes not hospitals and prisons — to try to yoke my baby to some kind of disciplinary order. I’m not doing it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: