“Is there any decorum in a world where content is king?” Interestingly enough, I ask myself this question while toggling between social media apps and intermittently scrolling through my image gallery, smiling at photos of my precious tiny new human. These days my iPhone time is spent gathering information about the fundamentals of child development, and as a first-time mom, I couldn’t be more excited to access abundant resources. I glean various perspectives from around the globe to help me make informed decisions for my baby. But for as much uplifting and enlightening content as I’ve encountered, I’ve also stumbled upon content that’s inspired me to furrow my brows and kiss my teeth. In rare cases, I’ve even wept.
One story comes to mind. I read about a young couple here in the US who made the fatal mistake of taking their one-week-old baby to a family reunion. As expected, the young baby was adored by many and unfortunately adorned with kisses from his relatives. Just hours into the event, the baby was taken to the hospital when his mother noticed the baby’s extreme lethargy and irregular breathing patterns. After a few days in the NICU, caregivers noted that the baby’s central nervous system was shocked, and his organs began shutting down. Tests showed that he contracted herpes simplex-1 from what many may consider an innocent kiss from a “well-meaning” relative. Unfortunately, the baby’s immune system was too weak and couldn’t adequately fight the infection so he died shortly after that. He was only two weeks old!
Combing through the details of this story, my emotional pendulum swung from anger and resentment to shame, immense grief, and fear, and back to indignation. The obvious reaction is to feel sad for the baby, the second is to judge the parents’ decision in not prioritizing their child’s health above gallivanting at a family function. It’d be too easy to join the hundreds of people in the comment section echoing the sentiment that “if they had stayed home, their baby would still be alive.” Before I could pass judgment on a stranger’s situation, I reflected on my own travels through society with a tiny human. Let me say, it’s fairly simple, but it is no easy feat. In my short 180-day initiation into motherhood, I’ve learned quickly that it doesn’t matter where you take your baby—family reunion, supermarket, doctor's office—people lack boundaries, and they do not regard the health of infants.
I wish people knew that 70 percent of adults in the U.S. who are infected with HSV-1 can actually shed the virus in their saliva at any time during their lifetime, and they don’t even have to exhibit the symptoms of cold sores. Even if you “feel fine” you are still liable to contaminate someone’s pure newborn. According to the Department of Health, babies who contract HSV require hospitalization for intravenous antiviral medication for 21 days. But even still, some babies can suffer death or brain damage from HSV infections.
Society, particularly seniors, has never hidden its obsession with babies. People love to absorb the youthful and refreshing energies that babies radiate. The innocent gaze, chunky cheeks—oh, and if your baby has dimples, you can forget about it! The cute miniature outfits render people powerless to maintain any semblance of tact. Even the most decorated and prestigious individuals with extensive education and credentials activate this reservoir of emotions that makes them just about lose their sense of reason when they see an adorable tiny human.
But along with their admiration comes great dissonance. They seem to think that the closer they get to a baby, the greater the chance the baby will have a facial reaction that lends to a favorable encounter. When in reality, the closer a person gets to a baby, the more susceptible the baby is to contracting a potentially fatal viral infection. But, they simply do not care, nor do they consider reality beyond their amusement. I am most disgruntled with other mothers who fail to empathize and respect the boundary because if no one else gets it, they should. I can’t fathom where folk gain the courage to assert their entitlement to other people’s children.
It only took two isolated occurrences of strangers infringing on my seven-month-old’s personal space for me to attribute the disrespect to an actual chemical reaction within people’s brains. Leaving it at “they don’t care” didn’t sit well with me. I came across a study published back in 2013 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology that proved my once-jaded theory. The study compares how mothers and non-mothers experience a flood of dopamine when encountering the natural and seemingly intoxicating scent of babies. When stimulated with an infant’s scent, there was an increase in brain activity within mothers vs non-mothers. If you didn’t know, dopamine is the feel-good hormone that’s associated with pleasure. When a person receives an influx of likes and engagement on social media, dopamine hit. When a drug user gets their fix, dopamine hit. When you’re commuting home from a stressful day at work completely ravenous and get that cheesesteak and fries combo from the Papi store, dopamine hit. Dopamine is linked to the intense satisfaction of getting something that is deeply desired.
Pairing this newly acquired information with my awareness of metaphysics, energetic anatomy, and holistic health, I simply cannot dismiss my intuitive and maternal instinct to protect my offspring from being objectified. As an auntie to eight young people, I’ve grown with the passion of instilling boundaries. Now that I am a mother, it’s become woven into my purpose. I never thought I’d be writing on the hazards of strangers touching babies that don’t belong to them in the year of our Lord 2023, but here I am.
It’s nearly impossible to protect your child from ignorant people in a society where entitlement is rampant, privacy is an expensive luxury, and attention is currency.
People have approached me with the expectation of interaction, regardless if I appeared sociable or if my daughter was sleeping. They’ve attempted to lift blankets on her car seat, to which I’ve declined to state "My child is not a doll for your amusement". It’s clear that lines on what's deemed sacred are blurred. Even in a post-COVID-19 world, you still have to tell strangers "No touching my baby!”
I just want other first-time mothers to be encouraged to remain vigilant in prioritizing the well-being of their babies.
I can’t fathom where people gain the courage to assert their entitlement. While perusing the shoe section of a consignment shop, an associate passing by squealed at the sight of my carseat in the shopping cart. She exclaims “awww a baby! I want to see, can I see?!” As she approaches, her hands are gesturing like she wants to lift the blanket. “Do you mind?” she asks with this sheepish grin. “Yes, I do” if I could lift the blanket. I declined because she was asleep, and I did not want to disturb her. My daughter while sweet, loving, and amicable, is quite a demanding bub; disrupting her sleep for the people’s amusement is unwise for me, as I’d be stuck entertaining her while everyone else resumed their menial tasks. The last thing I want to ingratiate into my child is the concept of freely giving people access to you for their entertainment at their convenience regardless of your circumstances.
I was sitting on the chair with my car seat next to me when a lady came into the lobby, and sauntered with her hand extended ready to violate my baby’s personal space. “Please don’t touch” I uttered very firmly, somewhere between friendly and condescending. She said she was sorry, but I didn’t believe her. It broke my heart to know what I read is still true, even in a post-COVID-19 world, you still have to reiterate to people not to touch my baby.
There’s an abnormal amount of baby content casually In between my doctor's appointments I asked myself this question sat in the car during my I find myself posing this question about every two to three weeks after a shifty encounter with yet a different stranger during my travels. I never thought I’d be writing on the hazards of strangers touching babies that don’t belong to them in the year of our lord 2023, but here I am.