Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The foetal position

Take any big human concern. How large is the universe? Is coffee good or bad for you? How do people born without a brain or a heart live on to fight elections? The fact is that after years of hard work and rigorous positivist enquiry into this sort of thing, scientists often wind up scratching their heads in the dark, right beside all the woolly English majors whom they loathed in college. The English majors got there much faster, and in a much better mood, by sloth, lust and greed, and usefully spent the extra time plagiarising sonnets to impress their dates. That alone justifies keeping university English departments functional despite widespread opposition to their existence.

No, wait, that wasn’t my main point. My main point was, I was right about babies. It turns out that scientists—the same ones who conclusively say that fat people live longer, and then that thin people live longer, and then that actually it’s not clear but funding has moved elsewhere—it turns out that these same unreliable people who have thus far idealised the mother-child relationship, are finally coming round to my much bleaker point of view.

But don’t take it from me, I’m biased and also an English major. Consider the evidence. First we had experiments that indicated that a baby does not cry because it particularly needs anything; it cries because it’s a coldly selfish creature that is bent on making its parents give all available food, love and college money to it rather than to its siblings. Those tiny flailing limbs are merely trying to knock out its brother.

Now we have pioneering research by an Indian doctor in Boston on preeclampsia, a mysterious disease in pregnant women which raises their blood pressure dangerously, can cause kidney and brain damage and occasionally snuffs them out altogether. The results strongly suggest that under their dimpled fat, babies are deadly predators who will not baulk at draining the life from their mothers if it gets them more nutrients. I’m paraphrasing, but the article ‘The Preeclampsia Puzzle’ in the July 24 issue of The New Yorker says essentially the same thing with some footnotes thrown in.

Imagine this: a foetus remodels its mother’s arteries to better filch her blood supply. If that isn’t sinister I don’t know what is, and that’s just in the normal course of events. The new research indicates that in cases where this process is unsuccessful, the baby releases toxins that constrict the mother’s blood vessels and starve her organs, to death if necessary, to feed its own placenta. And this is only one in a whole bagful of unpleasant foetal tricks (see also ‘gestational diabetes’, in which mummy’s little bundle of joy blocks her insulin).

Enough said: read the article. It’s full of phrases like “maternal-foetal conflict” and “alien parasite” and it uses the words “foetuses” and “malignant tumours” in the same sentence.

All of which scientifically explains why it is that little children give so many people the creeps; and why they always act so well in horror movies. Remember the girls in The Shining, and Regan in The Exorcist? Remember the Japanese flick Dark Water?

The truth about children is that when you look into their smooth, solemn faces and unblinking eyes, you dimly sense the ruthless savagery that got them to where they are. Can you really be sure that if you take your eyes off them for just one second, they won’t fly at your ankle and sink their little milk teeth into it? That’s what I’m going to ask my mother when she next tells me that the clock is ticking.

5 comments:

Aparna said...

That’s what I’m going to ask my mother when she next tells me that the clock is ticking.
Hear hear...am with you there!

Sujatha said...

And there is the calcium - babies take whatever calcium they need from the mother's bones, often putting the mother's bones at risk. So even if the mother suffers from calcium deficiency while pregnant or breast feeding, the baby will not.

Notwithstanding all this, I do hold bright, positive and nice thoughts about the birth process and children in general :)

Anonymous said...

There are good scientists and bad scientists.

The ones you club with English majors happen of course to be the lot who never figured science out - they just learned to abuse it as a profession.

Then there are the real, authentic, genuine articles - and they actually analyze and synthesize irrefutable thoughts. They produce those blinding flashes - you know, like the one you saw when you did your first bit of calculus.

cattusfelix@hotmail.com said...

Dear anonymous, 'irrefutable thoughts'? You ever get around to reading thomas kuhn and paul feyerabend, or are you stuck with karl popper? All this is assuming you know who any of these people are. your panegyrics about scientific irrefutability are forgivable only because they are made by a starry eyed sophomore. Enough flaming for you. Dear mitali saran, as a thirtyish woman who has heard the whole story about the disasters of non-conception by my age, from an assortment from half-witted men and the women who play cheerleaders to them, i have only this to say to you - thank you!

Hill Goat said...

Lovely post, and so well connected; even the commentators were too willing to add their calcium woes...
I have to add that we should demand that all babies must be branded with one of those 'injurious to (mother's) health' warnings. lol
But tell me, dont we all know already the pangs and pleasures of all things branded unhealthy; whether it is coke for boys or rum for men, recreational things have been least bothered with health issues. And babies, if you seek my opinion, have a recreational effect on a normal adult (read doting parent) -- a natural (sic) corollary of an orgasm (deny that).
Btw, I respect and adore your pieces not only for their creativity but also the style. Nonetheless, i must add, this one sounds much like CSE's ranting about Coke-Pepsi being bad for babies health et al. I wonder if your plugs (sorry Jai, but cant resist that) ever thot of this take...