If you listen to scientists, particularly biologists, talk about their work, you might be surprised to discover the rich secret life of things you rarely give any mind to. DNA doesn't like to be single-stranded, you see. Some proteins just hate being in solution or else they refuse to form crystals. And do you know how hard it can be to put together a buffer that will make your particular PCR reaction happy?
This is called anthropomorphizing, ascribing human form or attributes to non-humans, and is something scientists are very fond of doing. Of course when experts do it, they understand what the other actually means. These phrases are a shorthand for "the laws of physics and chemistry make it energetically favorable for X to do Y." It also, IMHO, makes for a much more enjoyable conversation. But that could just be me.
When I switched from bench science to research and practice of science education, it quickly became clear to me that anthropomorphizing was a very dangerous thing to do around novices. There is a certain mystery to the systems that can't be directly observed, and there is a certain amount of intellectual inertia at play for students entering a required freshman class. These two things combined can result in a student remembering his TA emphasizing that DNA molecules prefer to be double-stranded, but being entirely unable to explain why that is based on the structure of said molecule.
I have been mindful of that in my teaching ever since. In making my curriculum materials, I emphasize the basic underlying reasoning. If I do slip up in class and use an anthropomorphism, I stop myself immediately and ask the class to say what it is I actually meant there. Clarity. I seek clarity and I seek to impart clarity.
This is what came to mind for me when I realized I was feeling uncomfortable with talking about the baby doing things that result in me freaking out and needing medically-enabled reassurance. You know, not kicking as much as I would like, flipping to a head up, face in position one day (causing me to look smaller in the midsection and lose my mind with worry until the emergency ultrasound that explained it), things like that. Or the contractions, which are not even technically his fault, except they do seem to correlate with the days he spends head down.
Earlier on in my misadventures in worrying, in fact right around that first trip to the labor floor, I asked B how to say "little shit" in Hebrew (harah katan, in case you are wondering). I thought it would be clever to call him that when I freaked out, you know, after it was clear that nothing bad has happened. I even did that a couple-three times.
And then I realized that it didn't feel right. I wanted to make jokes. I wanted to be able to say that I will duck his allowance for this or that infraction (as if! there are no allowances in my house, at least not yet). But I can't. I.just.can't.
As near as I can tell, I am seeking clarity again. For myself and all around me. When A died, a seven-year-old son of a friend of ours asked his mother what happened, and then asked how come the baby was playing with the cord-- didn't he know long rope-like things were dangerous to play with? This past winter it came out (and was dealt with) that Monkey was a little upset at A for pulling his cord.
If this baby doesn't make it, if anything goes wrong, I don't want to have to remember myself or anyone else faulting him, even in jest. Whatever he is doing, he is not doing it on purpose. There is no intent. There is no agency. I am being protective, over-protective even. Not his fault. Wasn't his brother's fault. I still can't visualize the good outcome to this pregnancy. The bad? It's familiar, and terrifying.
I have apparently appointed myself (or have accepted the mantle of) the protector. I will talk about that soon-- there is much to say. But for now, the relevant point is that this is also something I am apparently keen to protect my son from-- any implication of culpability in the eventual outcome, whatever it is, or even in any individual freakout I engage in along the way.
I have been thinking, though, that with this, as with everything else grief-related I have found so far, there is always more. More than one reason, more than one level, just more. I did make one joke, after I stopped shaking following that emergency ultrasound that showed the baby assuming the weird position. I called JD to tell him, and in the nervous energy between us, we spontaneously created a joke the punchline of which is that as the punishment for his in-utero antics, upon his live birth, we would subject him to what amounts to a standard Jewish religious rite.
I thought it was funny because, see, nothing extra would actually be happening to him. We are just, for now, calling it the punishment. Ha-ha, isn't it clever?
My friend Natalie called me when I was on my way to that ultrasound, so she knew what I was worried about, and she called later to check on me. I told her it was all ok, and told her our new joke. She laughed for a minute straight. Another friend I told the next day laughed too, this full, deep, appreciative laugh.
I get how and why the joke works-- I constructed it after all. What I was trying to figure out was why it didn't seem nearly as funny to me. It's the levels thing, those damned levels. The joke, see, it's predicated upon this baby being born alive. His brother did not get that rite. His brother couldn't be subjected to any of the other punishments we could conceivably joke about either.
My boys, right now, are both just babies. Babies who, by definition, lack agency. And here I am, with this enormous love for both of them, teetering on the long brink where everything will be decided-- do they both stay babies? Do we get to raise one of them? They can't do anything about it, either of them.
And maybe that is another level. I felt such overwhelming gratitude that this baby didn't die before or during my sister's wedding. I felt so relieved, but also grateful. And having nowhere in particular to direct that gratitude, I think I felt grateful to him. But he didn't do that either, he had no active part in surviving so far. Maybe what I am doing here in focusing on agency is reminding myself that if he makes it, it won't be because he did anything to cause it either. That he didn't do anything better than his brother did.
Whew. Who needs therapy when you've got a blog?