What About Saying Cootchie Cootchie Coo?

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2005.

While most new parents are eager to show off their new baby, and positively beam when people coo at and marvel over their newest family member, one hospital in Halifax, Scotland is putting a stop to all that.

According to an October 2005 story in The (Edinburgh) Scotsman, the Calderale Royal Hospital has instituted a ban on looking at, asking about, or even cooing to newborn babies in the maternity wards, to prevent visitors from ". . . gawping at newborns or questioning the mother."

Debbie Lawson, a neonatal manager, said that even babies have a right to privacy. "We need to respect the child," she told The Scotsman, presumably looking straight at the reporter interviewing her. "Cooing should be a thing of the past, because these are little people with the same rights as you or me."

Of course, Lawson and her fellow anti-cooing activists don't seem to have a problem being looked at. Or at least they haven't told people not to look at ask about, or gawp at them. So they're already creating a double standard.

Lawson and her cronies have even hammered the point home with a doll carrying the message, "What makes you think I want to be looked at?" (To which critics responded with their own little signs, "Don't flatter yourself.")

This prompted an outcry from Dolls Have A Right to Privacy (DoHARP), who were upset that a doll was used to reinforce the hospital's Draconian new rules.

Needless to say, the new ban has taken everyone by surprise, including the new mothers.

"Who says the babies don't want to be looked at?" asked one critic. "When an infant can tell me he doesn't want to be stared at, I'll respect his or her choice. But I'm beginning to wonder if the wee bairns even care."

"Right!" hollered another critic. "I mean, what if the baby's an aspiring model or actress, and she's trying to get an early start on her career? A ban like this could hurt her future chances for fame."

"But what if the baby wants to be a spy or cat burglar? Aren't we depriving that child of the anonymity required to pursue their chosen profession?" asked a ban supporter.

Linda Riordan, Halifax's Labour MP, said this was "bureaucracy gone mad. . . (I)n a case where a mother did not want to answer questions, it should be up to that individual to say so."

I suppose this is the real question: are new mothers complaining about people cooing at their infants? Do we have a ward full of Dennis Hopper babies shrieking "stop looking at me!" Or John Cusack who asks for the most visible table in a restaurant and then gets upset when people approach him? Or are the neonatal folks hopping on the outraged-and-indignant bandwagon and putting words into their young charges' mouths?

And what sort of message is being sent to these impressionable youngsters? Will they grow up to be sullen teenagers who shout "Hey, I didn't ask to be looked at!" at their parents?

A spokeswoman for Calderdale said she believed it was as much to do with reducing infection risks as it was upholding the rights of these newborns.

"Staff held an advice session to highlight the need for respect and dignity for all patients and the potential risk of infection in vulnerable infants, to new moms and their families," she said in a statement. The statement did not say why they allowed people into the maternity ward who can shoot infection from their eyes.

Potential risk of infection aside, exactly how much dignity does an infant have? They sleep constantly, waking only to eat and poop. How is that dignified?

Let's face it, if you're a child of God, you have a place in the world. And if you occupy that place, people are going to look at you. They'll coo, touch, point and laugh, and yes, even gawp at you.

While I understand the sentiments behind Calderdale's rules of privacy, they should leave it up to the parents to decide whether people can look at their babies, or the child will grow up to be a spoiled brat.

If a child wants to become a hermit and refuse to interact with other human beings, let them make their own choices. It's not up to hospitals and their overzealous staff to police whether people become social misfits.

We have Star Trek conventions for that.

Photo credit: Tim Marchant (Wikimedia Commons/Geograph.org.uk, Creative Commons)

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