The chronicle of a lonely do-gooder family doctor who survived.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Born at the Right Time

The other day I had my first dream about the baby, due any day now. I never dream, or at least remember my dreams, but this one was so vivid, the kind of polysensory experience where you hear, touch, and smell what's happening and when you wake up and you aren't sure it wasn't real.

In the dream, I was holding little Babu in my hands just after he'd been born. He was crying and squirming, still glistening with amniotic fluid, his rubbery white umbilical cord still hanging from his tummy with a steel surgical clamp attached to the end. I found myself completely overcome with emotion, sobbing uncontrollably. Looking down, I saw in this one brief moment the limitless potential, a clean empty canvas upon which I would paint the world.

Pretty powerful stuff for someone whose attitude thus far in the pregnancy would best be described as "mixed ambivalence tempered by hesitant anxiety."

Appearing elsewhere in the dream was a more sinister figure, a patient I had seen earlier that day in clinic. This person wasn't your ordinary down-on-his luck drug abusing crazy person that we see all the time. This was a very seriously distrubed man, alcoholic, bipolar, with anti-social personality disorder, one year out from a twenty year sentence for murder one. He had been dragged in to clinic by his girlfriend who had just witnessed yet another 2 week long drug-fueled manic rampage. I was in the exam room contemplating how in the world someone gets so screwed up when she began to tell me about the time she went home to visit his family. What followed was a description of family dynamics that ranged from indifference to outright verbal, and then physical, abuse compounded by a history of sexual abuse.

I've taken care of literally thousands of families, from telling patients that their pregnancy test was positive, to taking care of their newborns in the hospital, to doing their kids' check ups, to dealing with behavior problems that develop in school. In the enduring war between Nature and Nurture, I come down firmly on the side of Nurture. I believe so strongly that any kid has the potential to grow and excel in the right environment and yet there are so many ways that the people on the fringes of society can get it wrong. Thoughtful, well adjusted parents simply don't raise bad kids yet inexperienced, stressed out parents so rarely raise good kids. On occasion, I have seen childbirth transform a few people into curious, careful, and doting parents, and it is inspiring to see, but this is sadly the rare exception.

Tony and I got into a discussion the other day about the things a newborn baby comes pre-programmed with. Lately, a trend has emerged to promote more paternal bonding, presumably to awaken some predetermined neural path that gives the baby a special emotional bond with their father. At these births, the newborn goes directly from mom's bare stomach (where studies show this increases maternal bonding and successful breast feeding) to dad's bare chest. I think this is a little silly, as babies at birth probably don't even conceive of the existence of any other people besides their mothers, but whatever imparts a sense of nurturing and responsibility to the male parent has got to be a good thing.

It's a strange limbo I'm living in right now, anticipating the arrival of my son yet holding an open heart free of expectations. I've always believed that music captures the wonder of emotional truth better than any other form of expression. When I was discussing this on Metafilter, someone suggested to me a song I'd never heard, called Born at the Right Time. Paul Simon wrote it about his son.

Down among the reeds and rushes
A baby boy was found
His eyes as clear as centuries
His silky hair was brown

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering
Born at the right time

Me and my buddies we are travelling people
We like to go down to restaurant row
Spend those euro-dollars
All the way from washington to tokyo
I see them in the airport lounge
Upon their mothers breast
They follow me with open eyes
Their uninvited guest

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering
Born at the right time

Too many people on the bus from the airport
Too many holes in the crust of the earth
The planet groans
Every time it registers another birth

But among the reeds and rushes
A baby girl was found
Her eyes as clear as centuries
Her silky hair was brown

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering
Born at the right time

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