Sunday, 21 October 2012

"Babies" film review - HBA

The other night we had the pleasure of going out en famille, the four of us, for a wonderful evening with the Home Birth Association. These are my tribal elders, so to speak, and although I don't see half enough of them as I'd like to, every time I do I'm greeted like an old friend. There's nothing like being with people who "get" you, a group where you don't have to think before you whip out a boob to feed a kid etc. It's so refreshing. And I'm delighted to have been meeting more people and putting faces to names I know online so well. So they had a screening of the brilliant documentary "Babies" in the Hilton, Malahide last Friday at 7.30pm. Iced water and comfy seats, only 5e entry fee, children of all ages welcome, a perfect night out.

After the film we had refreshments in a beautiful room next door, comfy sofas, teas and great coffee, shortbread biscuits, fresh fruit and lots of chat and laughs. The kids all had a great time, some were in pyjamas, all in high spirits, playing, bonding and running up and down the private and safe corridor to their heart's content. Charlie was delighted to meet up with some of his friends, and Noah made new ones. Mothers and fathers mixed, some working, some stay-at-home. Some are health professionals, some volunteer for La Leche League / AIMS and of course the Home Birth Association. If you are in any way considering an alternative to a hospital birth, no matter if it's your first or your fourth, no matter what your GP says, I'd urge you to check out, speak to someone there. You don't have to be "brave" to have a home birth, quite the opposite, but please educate yourself on your options to make sure you have the best experience you can. Ok, lobbying for home births over (it's just that so many mothers wait until after a distressing hospital birth before they discover home birth, I'd love to see more women avoid that) now I'll get onto the film.

It's brilliant. Funny, poignant, one you can watch with your children, your granny; everyone will enjoy this. There is no dialogue, so everyone is left to put their own spin on things. It follows four children from birth to walking age. One from Namibia, one from Tokyo, one from San Francisco, and one from Mongolia. What's fascinating is the differences in their cultures, the similarities, and the fact that all the cultural differences have nothing to do with the children's development.

Take language for example. We see the Tokyo and the San Francisco babies being stimulated with classes in nursery rhymes, being read to by parents, lots of adult-child interactions. The Namibian and Mongolian babies seem to be left to their own devices, not coached into the next stage in development, and yet all four babies learn to talk in the same way, cooing, babbling, then words. The Mongolian baby spends a lot of time swaddled, yet learns to crawl and walk along with the rest. The Japanese and American babies are weighed in health centres, their neck control discussed, yet all the babies crawl and thrive despite monitoring their development or not.

Breastfeeding is protrayed well here too, all the babies seem to be breastfed for most of their infancy (except maybe the San Francisco one), the Namibian one is tandem-fed with her elder brother (who's only about a year older). Seeing the Namibian mother breastfeeding both her children so casually, waving her boob around to get her kid to latch on, all the moves we mothers do to get our kid's attention, was so validating. When I started breastfeeding, I read some books on it, and was quite hung up on the position of the child at the breast. I thought there were set positions you had to feed in, or else the boob wouldn't work properly, or something. Hah! Anyone who's fed a growing child quickly realises they will feed anyhow and everyhow, according to their mood, their energy level, and all you have to do is get that nipple out. Tandem feeding can be a bit of a mental hurdle for some mothers, I remember being worried was the newborn getting enough fore- and hindmilk, until my wise midwife told me "Let them feed", and that took all the thinking out of it. We really think too much in our culture, we are so cerebral and analytical with everything, we no longer trust our bodies and our instincts. Of course you can still breastfeed while pregnant, of course your body can make enough milk for two babies. We are led to believe we need information or permission to do these simple, natural, important things.

Back to the film again. It showed the huge differences in material possessions. The Namibian babies grew up in a mud-hut, with stones and the odd plastic bottle as playthings, yet were happy as Larry playing together, fighting over the bottle, and helping to grind spices even as toddlers, involved in the family life. They were played with, sung to, danced, laughed, had their hairs cut and their faces washed with a lick and a spit. In contrast we saw the Japanese baby in a room surrounded by plastic toys, getting frustrated and throwing a tantrum because she couldn't master a toy. We also saw her being wheeled through a supermarket, all colours and artificial lighting, talk about opposite ends of the stimulation spectrum.

Anthropologically speaking ('cause I've read Desmond Morris and consider myself an armchair anthropologist!) we in the West are as evolved as the Namibian in the mud hut. But we have built this society and "civilisation" of so many extras and distractions. Our lives are spent working so we can live in our society and enjoy all it's trappings. We earn to spend, it's "all about the money" as Jessie J so eloquently put it. Whereas in Namibia, it's all about eating, growing food, farming, preparing the meals. And living, getting older in the company of family and friends. Simpler, less distractions, more focus on the here and now.

Is it any wonder we all have "stress", depressions, eating disorders, ADD,  IBS and all the other diseases of the mind and body that only people in a culture of plenty have?! Makes you think. Sure made me think. And as I walked to the toilet today, my baby's poo held in a tea-towel, I felt a little closer to that mother in Namibia. I'm not saying I hate our culture, far from it, I love it... I just worry that our babies are getting lost in a sea of "stuff" that we bought with our hard-earned money, which we think proves we love them. But ask a baby, and it'll tell you all it needs are boobs and loving arms. Lecture over, go watch the film. Hug your baby xxx

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