Dearest reader: I have been to a birthing class. A birthing class is a thing you go to when you, your partner, or someone close to you (in the case of one disturbed attendee, a daughter) are about to give birth. Heavy on ideology, low on information, we went because that’s what people do in movies. The teacher asked what had brought us there, and in the spirit of openness, I answered honestly. I have never seen pupils tighten in contempt before.
A birth class is what happens when an administrator decides to systematically distribute bad advice to terrified people. If you come within 100 kilometers of a birth, people give advice. Like athletes who let their underwear rot to preserve a winning streak, child birth is replete with superstition, hysteria, and pep talks. People are not afraid to contradict themselves in the space of a single sentence, and garbled coincidentia oppositorum is the norm. Even the most drug addled mystic has nothing on the shit spewed by people when they discover you are about to have a child.
A birth class is a terrible thing: there are several competing ideologies, and all of them are stupid. You are made aware that all births are wonderful, but natural ones are more wonderful. Science is trotted out: did you know that a baby born under the influence of painkillers will not immediately clasp the mother’s tit? No, you did not. Now that you know, do you care? I propose that you shouldn’t. The goal is to keep the little fucker alive long enough that the first few moments of its life will, on balance, fade into meaninglessness. Worst case scenario, the first hour of life will be trotted out during some Robert Bly or Carl Jung inspired weekend, an attempt to avoid midlife crisis, re-enchanting the world with a shoddy and embarrassing ritual (one hopefully soon forgotten in shame). Did you know that you can give birth in your own bathtub? I’ve been told that the blood and shit drenched water looks like a shark attack, and is a pleasure to clean. Did you know that the birth class lasts four days, when the ‘keep the creature alive’ class only one? This seems deliciously American. I know that it’s easy for me to say, but I am far more worried about the period after we leave the hospital then the time spent surrounded by medical professionals and wondrous machines. The only machine at home is the oven, and I am not about to go full Baba Yaga. Not yet.
But, dear reader, worse than the ideology, worse than the forced exposure to other people’s fears when you are doing your very best to suppress your own, and worse than sitting in a hospital basement, is the way people talk about babies. I know almost nothing about babies, but I now know this: never use the definite or indefinite article when referring to ** baby.
You might be inclined to speak about baby the way you speak about other things, and say “don’t let the baby drink bourbon”—no. This is wrong. The proper way is “don’t let baby drink whisky”. You might be inclined to say “never let a baby play with a table saw”—again, no. The proper way to say it, is: “never let baby play with a table saw”.
This is the one thing I learned: “the” and “a” have no place next to “baby”.
This is not to accommodate those who’ve made the odd decision to keep their child’s gender secret. And, yes, this still happens: despite the fact that few North American children enter the world without first being scanned, pictured, and analyzed by a series of devices and professionals, despite the fact that doctors know more about this unborn creature’s body than I know about my own, many parents don’t know the gender. Intentionally.
They like to keep it a surprise, like a fortune cookie, or one of those Christmas ‘crackers’. But instead of wisdom and lottery numbers, or a plastic toy, it’s full of genitals. Imagine the bizarre thinking that wants to scan a child for every possible disease, but passes over the pudenda. Who wants to be surprised by a child’s genitalia? The answer, dear reader, is ‘more people than you would think’.
But this is not the reason the word ‘baby’ cannot take an article. I think the real desire is to develop an object so magical that it’s neither a proper noun, nor part of a group.
Yahweh is not ‘a god,’ or ‘the god,’ but ‘God’; this unnamed and over-scanned creature is not ‘a baby,’ or ‘the baby,’ but ‘Baby’.
Await it in fear and trembling, and do not ask about its genitals.