The words we choose to express ourselves matter. Language evokes images and carries messages that leave an imprint on society. There are words most of us would never dream of using because they offend or demean others. Why doesn’t this sensitivity extend to babies?
I suppose it’s okay to diss babies because they can’t complain, picket or sue. They have no power. They’re not a major consumer group.
‘Babywearing’ has become an acceptable, widely used term. There are babywearing conventions, babywearing instructions, and we are marketed “the latest in babywearing fashions.”
Why don’t we think to question this term? We know that children are not socks or handbags (or even fur), they are human beings. And yet we use an expression that perpetuates the objectification of babies. Carrying babies is one thing. Wearing them is quite another. It’s time to find another word, and to wear the sling, not the baby.
Infant expert Magda Gerber inspired us to treat infants as unique human beings (human being the operative word). She believed that infants deserve our respect from day one. She taught us to communicate with an infant as we would another person, and to take this small person’s point of view into account.
Dr. William Sears coined the term “babywearing.” I was absolutely shocked when I read Sears proudly explain on his website that babywearing “humanizes” infants. As if babies need humanizing? What does he believe an infant is, if not human? And he’s a doctor! Suddenly his invention of the word ‘babywearing’ makes perfect sense.
Sears: “Sling babies get “humanized” earlier.”
Sorry, but I have both scientific and anecdotal evidence that babies are born human. References available upon request.
Sears: “Another reason that babywearing enhances learning is that baby is intimately involved in the caregiver’s world.”
Carrying a baby as a passenger while we go about our day is not “intimately involving” the baby, in my opinion. To intimately involve a baby is to give her our full attention. It is to hold her, not only with our bodies, but with our minds and our hearts. It is to hold her close often, but to also give her freedom to move, and respect her individuality, her “otherness.” It is to create a peaceful life geared towards a baby, and to then be responsive to her communication. Not the other way around.
Sears: “Proximity increases interaction, and baby can constantly be learning how to be human.”
Dr Sears, for the last time, we do not “teach” infants to be human. Please, take a moment to truly behold an infant — to really look, listen, and be totally present. You will realize that an infant teaches you how to be human.
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.” -Dr. Seuss