Pregnancy Is Not Scientific

I like to think that when I have a question about babies I can look it up in a book, ferret it out online, or turn to some expert for a definitive answer. As the pregnancy goes on, it seems like our questions are growing geometrically. What’s the best crib to buy for our baby? How long should our baby breastfeed? Should we circumcise our son or not?

But having a child is not scientific. All the books can give is an average, which may or may not fit our reality, and all the websites can give are arguments, which may or may not feel right.

Honestly, a lot of stuff I read about parenting bothers me. I understand that the personal is political, but too often big social mountains are made out of small personal molehills. The debate about circumcision is a prime example. On the one hand there are hygienic concerns, and on the other the trauma and questions about whether it’s cruel or even necessary these days to put your boy under the knife. Ultimately though, plenty of men, both with and without their foreskin, lead happy lives, have great sex, and love their penises. So really, what’s the big deal?

Our scientific selves lead us to search for clear, universal answers, our fragile egos want to always be in the right, and our animal instincts tell us to go with the herd. But on today of all days it is appropriate to recognize that we have the right to be an individual in America, and so can choose to engage or not with the politics of parenting. We can breastfeed or use formula, lay our baby to sleep in a crib or in a family bed, clothe him in organic materials or just go for the cheap deals at Target, and, even though we like the sound of all the arguments against it, we can decide to circumcise him just because it feels right – which is what we’re going to do. Because we can choose what issues matter to us, taking principled stands on some even though it means making sacrifices or doing extra work (such as going for cloth over disposable diapers), while remaining apathetic or just going the easiest route on others.

And we can interact with and have friends who make radically different choices on how they raise their children, and that’s not only ok, it’s wonderful. It is our challenge as people and parents to accept others, as we all try to do what we think is best for our kids and ourselves in a world where there are no easy answers. But today I’m hopeful, and think we’ll be ok. Diversity’s a joy, and so is having the freedom to choose.

* The title of this post comes from a marginal note on a Marlene Dumas sketch at MoMA

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2 Responses to “Pregnancy Is Not Scientific”


  1. 1 paul January 21, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    “we can decide to circumcise him just because it feels right”

    Because it feels “right” to who? You or your son? How do you know it will “feel right” to him? Especially when he can google pages of info when he is older on what he will be missing. Are you doing it for his enjoyment or your own selfishness in not wanting to feel different from HIM. Think about it. Why does no other advanced country do it? Can they all be wrong?

    • 2 briangresko January 21, 2009 at 2:46 pm

      I think you’re missing the point. Uncircumcised or circumcised – I don’t think it’s a big deal either way. And I don’t really care what other countries are doing, whether they are “advanced” or not (whatever that exactly means), nor do I really care what other parents decide in this matter. Like most issues, I don’t see a right or wrong on this. There are just different options and parents can choose what feels right for them. Who am I to judge? Or dictate what someone else should do? That’s what I’m trying to say here.

      And of course parents make this decision because it feels right to them. There’s a host of decisions that parents will make for their child that the child has no say in. A family isn’t a democracy.


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