Being Human

Colored lithograph, ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds,’ from late 19th century France. (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images.)

You get a lot of advice when you have a baby—more advice than you probably are in the market for, in fact—and it’s usually the same stuff over and over again, the sort of thing people say because they feel that they are supposed to say something but don’t have anything to say, so it is the familiar litany: Diapers! Sleep deprivation! Start saving for college! Etc.

As they say: The worst vice is advice.

What they don’t tell you about is how long that first night is going to be—not because you’re tired, but because you are terrified. Newborn babies are tiny and fragile and entirely helpless, of course, but they also are mysterious. Some babies thrive from the beginning, some have inexplicable troubles—and nobody really knows why. Terrible things happen with babies sometimes. When I was in college, one of my undergraduate friends was diagnosed with lung cancer, and the first thing people wanted to know was whether she smoked, which she didn’t, or if her parents smoked, which they didn’t—people wanted to know what she had done to deserve lung cancer. When children are sick or injured or unhappy, mothers and fathers (but mostly mothers) get the same thing: What did you do wrong? They get it from their friends and families, and they get it from themselves.

“A sword shall pierce thy own soul, also.”

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