“Everyone loves babies,” read the tagline for Thomas Balmès’ popular new documentary following four infants around the world as though they were the subjects of a discovery channel film about animals. Aww, replied millions of viewers and critics.
It’s true. We all at least like babies, and most of us love them. Yes, even us abortion-rights advocates, even those people who are planning on not having babies of their own, even the squeamish and child-averse. After all, we all were babies. Unfortunately for us, “everyone loves women” doesn’t have quite that global ring to it in our sexist world. Although you certainly need the long-term physical cooperation of one to produce the other, that’s a fact most people on our opposing side would love to conveniently forget.
Our opponents have been far too successful at taking advantage of these two truisms–everyone loves babies but sadly, not everyone loves women–to help erase the public’s understanding of the intimate connection between women’s health babies’ health, between reproductive freedom for women and lower infant mortality rates, between feminist policy and child-friendly policy.
So it was with interest that I, a supposedly baby-hating pro-choicer, rushed out to see “Babies” (with my pro-choice parents, natch). “Babies” has no real agenda, except to isolates its infant subjects from narration other than their own coos and tears. It does seem to try to show how much we have in common before our gender, nationality, family life and more external factors get in the way and separate us. We all cry, we all stick things in our mouths, we all creep, then crawl, than toddle, then walk, then trot on our adorable short and pudgy legs. We all explore our environments with hands, feet, eyes and mouths, and get frustrated when the learning process throws us a curveball. Mari from Tokyo, Hattie from the Bay Area, Ponijao from rural Namibia and Bayarjargal from Mongolia demonstrate unique personalities early on–stubborn, inquisitive, sensitive, playful and so on–but they also have a certain universality that’s hard to deny.
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And they all come from women’s wombs. The film immediately makes apparent the way these creatures emerge from and are nurtured by their mothers’ bodies, from birth scenes in state-of-the-art hospitals in Tokyo and California to a hut in Namibia where a mother-to-be smears her swollen belly with red paint. Whether they’re emerging from the birth canal be-slimed or hungrily demanding to breastfeed or peacefully nestling in mothers’ arms, the babies are of their mothers’ bodies. The film is very casual with both infant and adult nudity which certainly highlights the primal bond between infant and parent as well as the link between who we were and who we become.
Detailing these moments of connection isn’t to praise biological relationships over non-biological ones, but rather to point out that this film, which purports to be solely about babies, cannot help but reveal how closely a baby’s and mother’s well-being are intertwined. After all, the film was released on Mother’s Day.
And even though some of the parents in the film were more lassez-faire than the American duo, it was immediately clear how much work and sacrifice, vigilance and wherewithal are required to bring another human being into the world and keep him or her there, how much responsibility child-raising requires, and how much a parent’s own situation influences the way a child is brought up.
I’ve been thinking of the film even more given the news about the nun in Arizona, Sister Margaret McBride, who was excommunicated due to her approval of an early-term abortion that would save a woman’s life. In other words, the Catholic authorities would have preferred to see the mother perish. This response to the incident from within the church community, which Robin highlighted, shows how anti-life a supposedly pro-life stance can be. Father Tim points out:
If the mother of an 11-week-old fetus dies, the fetus will also die. It is too soon in life for the child to survive outside the womb no matter what the hospital might try. That means two deaths. Is there really a morally defensible reason for two innocents to die when one can live?
There is something particularly sickening about a decision like this, which treats women as if they are worthless. As a result of this incident, many are now questioning whether any pregnant woman should ever seek care in a Catholic hospital. That’s a pretty heavy result, but it seems more than justified.
If everyone loves babies, then why do we allow so much institutionalized and cultural hatred against the women who create them, carry them, nurture them? I hope people walk out of the “Babies” film remembering that babies don’t spring from the earth fully-formed, and that taking care of women–including giving them choice–leaves those adorable little babies in a healthier, happier world.