Monday, December 08, 2003

Hush, Little Baby

Which is putting it politely. Anyway, there's more than one way to kill a baby, as I found out while watching an MSNBC documentary last night. Some of you might have seen it. Surveillance cameras had been set up in hospital rooms assigned to mothers who brought their infants in for treatment of some poorly defined disorder. What I saw was a mother left alone in the room with her kid (no more than six months old, I'd say). The kid was lying in a crib. The mother suddenly got up and moved around so that she was facing the doorway to the room. Then she leaned over and covered the kid's face - eyes, nose, mouth - with her hands, and leaned on him. Within seconds the little thing's arms and legs began frantically flailing. We were informed by the narrator that if she did this for more than thirty seconds, the child was at serious risk of permanent injury or death. We were also informed that none of the children shown on the program suffered such consequences. The mother had a pretty good instinct for the time limit (practice makes perfect). After about 30 seconds she removed her hands, whereupon the child made a horrible gasping sound and then bellowed its agony. The mother summoned the nurses, who came running in, and the mother gave them some story about how the baby had suddenly stopped breathing.

Then they showed another mother doing it. And another. And at some point I realized I was squirming in my seat on the sofa and gripping the armrest as though attempting to tear it from its foundation. It was the flailing legs that did it. I couldn't always see the arms (one lady actually lay her torso across the child's face and upper body as she casually pretended to check the monitors hooked up to the kid), but I could always see the legs going ninety to nothing like he (or she) was trying to find the pedals on a bicycle hurtling downhill at breakneck speed. Why didn't someone get in there and save the kid? I wondered.

Now, I'm a man. Never given birth to a child and hope never to have to. It's hard work and women sometimes like to hold it over us. That's fine with me. I bow to them. But never in my most thoughtlessly irreligious, child-disdaining days did I ever look at someone's baby and think it might be a suitable subject for suffocation. And I remember my own kids well at that age, the way they sat on my lap and looked around at everything, taking the world in - passing no judgement, bearing no malice, just in love with everything because it was all new and beautiful. All I could do was pepper their noggins with kisses, then turn them around and go after their faces, and they were so full of smiles. It's about the age when they really begin to embrace the world as a thing worth loving.

As I writhed on the sofa, I was struck by the utterly emotionless indifference displayed by these women. They seemed insensate to the child's suffering. And all of these women, all of them except one, after being confronted with the videotaped evidence...denied what they had done. Denied, denied. Oh no, I was just tickling him around the neck and cheeks. Even in court, even after the jury convicted, they still denied. And they had carried these children in their wombs. We do not refer to certain forms of human behavior as giving evidence of "the mystery of evil" for nothing, because this is incomprehensible.

What "afflicts" these women has a name, of course, because we give a name to everything these days, even when it tells us nothing: Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. Yes, a syndrome, a word we often attach to things that we think might be diseases but can't be sure about. Or you could take the behavior at its face value and call it what it looks like: the slow way to kill a baby employed by a sociopathic narcissist. Women are usually the perpetrators, but they did catch one father having a go at it. He leaned on the kid for a full minute, which could easily have killed it, but it survived even after its face had gone royal purple.

Research must go on, I suppose, and there are people who specialize in "treating" the malefactors. Somebody out there wants to understand them. But my own immediate reaction was a judgement untempered by mercy: shoot the bitches. And for that father with the baseball cap, glasses, a mustache, and a pickup truck in the parking lot, for that egg-sucking sorry excuse for a human being, well, drawing and quartering sounds about right.

We have to know about these things, I guess, but I wish I hadn't seen it. I'm glad my daughter didn't see it. I know her; she'd have wept. I almost did.


You have heard of the rapper Eminem? That's how he spent his childhood: being shoved in front of doctors. His mom eventually was diagnosed with Munchausen's Syndrome.
Posted by KTC

Unfortunately, many people growing up learn that the only way to get the attention that all children need so desperately is to 'get sick'. And they then subject their children to the same pathology - they make the child 'sick' with various means so that they and their child will become the center of attention. Terribly tragic, terrible sick, and entirely symptomatic of our culture.
I could tell you stories, too, but I prefer to not induce nightmares in myself or others.
It is bad enough when an adult creates illness in themselves to the point of having multiple surgeries, hospitalizations, etc through presenting doctors with compelling stories of symptoms that have to be checked out (even paranoids have enemies, even hypochondriacs get physical illnesses). It is absolutely criminal when they subject their babies to the same.
One may ask why those monitoring the video camera did not step in and stop the episodes - alas, it takes that degree of proof to intervene on behalf of these children. These sociopathic women (and the occasional man) are charming and major BS artists - they present the facade of the caring and puzzled mother who just does not know what is wrong with their baby and who has been failed by the Health care system.
Munchausen's and Munchausen's by proxy are both terrifying.
posted by Alicia

Oh, and syndrome has a pretty exact medical meaning. It is a collection of symptoms that appear together and may possibly be related to a single cause, but of which we are unsure. One does not need to have all the symptoms to get diagnosed with the syndrome, and there is recognition that the syndrome label means that we are lacking in some basic knowledge.
Down's syndrome, for example, is the name given to a collection of physical signs and symptoms that were identified a long time ago. The medical cause for the majority of cases of Down's is a chromosomal abnormality, a trisomy. So the disease is the trisomy, but the syndrome is actually the more important part, as the fact of the trisomy doesn't tell you how significant this issues will be in the life of the patient.
posted by Alicia

I felt the same raw reaction you describe just reading it, equally uncharitable. I also started thinking that while I don't endorse police brutality, in certain circumstances I *understand* it.

I know, an awful thought. The only mitigation is that it's less awful than what the cameras captured.
posted by Dale Price

Well it is a syndrome, or more exact - original sin-drome. The mystery of evil and how anyones free will could see such an act as a good is hard to understand.
posted by Jeff Miller

I could not have watched the videos without rushing into the room. I understand that they have to have the tapes to prosecute, but who in the hell can watch the video being made????? And what if they wait just 10 seconds too long? Could the videographer live with himself that he just sat and taped? It's a hard question.

And what, just what, is going through that baby's brain when that is happening?????

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
posted by Terry

Good questions, Terry. Dale, I hear you.
posted by William Luse

I have heard of this syndrome. Never in my wildest nightmares I would do anything to hurt my kids. It is hard to believe that there are parents that would hurt their children like that. Reading this brought tears to my eyes and all I could do was hug my boys. How can things like this happen? What type of monsters are we? As a mother I cann't help but worry when my kids get sick, even if it is just a cold. I cannot comprehend how a parent would make his/her own child sick just to get attention. It is horrible that kids would have to suffer this things.
posted by Maria

Thanks for commenting, Maria. You sound like a good woman, and a good mother.
posted by William Luse

I simply have no words for this... How on earth can mothers do that to their own children?? New life they carried with them for nine months, and they treat it like this?? I actually cried reading this, and I felt like there were a thousand needles stinging my face... Unbelievable... I just hope that these babies will be able to live lifes without trauma's, and that they find loving foster-homes... I'm actually crying again now that I'm writing this...
posted by Mariƫt (from Holland)

Thanks for writing, Mariet
posted by W.L.

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