CPMC neonatal unit delivers over 6000 babies a year (yeah, I’m still talking about the hospital). They are one of the best for high-risk pregnancy, so one can imaging how full their NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) must be!

Transmission of love
Transmission of love

In Max and Manu’s room there were many other preemies — which is essentially a baby who is developing its last stages outside the womb. It’s certainly unfortunate, but also fascinating to see. “You should still be on the inside of me,” I tell Max and Manu, clutching their tiny finger the size of a thermometer’s head

One day I’m walking around, checkin’ out other babies when a nurse tells me that I shouldn’t be peepin’ in on other parent’s wee ones - ESPECIALLY if parents are present.

It’s a touchy subject. Doesn’t it seem like it would be a supportive interaction? Instead, it has all the potential for the opposite. Parent’s feelings of self-blame and their fear of visitors judging their little preemie is raw.

beautiful in Brazil
beautiful in Brazil

Pierre and I never had these feelings, but the nurses tell us it’s the norm and thus, the hospital protects the parents from more distress. If say one mom overhears another mom being told how beautiful her baby is, she may sit alone wondering why no one tells her that her baby is beautiful. Or, imagine someone walking past a baby’s incubator while commenting how tiny she is — it could send a parent into greater anxiety that their baby must be in the worst shape of all. So everyone is kept in this kind of weird, Brazil, cubicle from one another.

So our friendships grow with the nurses, and who better to have as a story-teller for the curious and strange? Non-fiction - from where all good fiction comes!

24 weeks can last a lifetime.
24-weeks can last a lifetime.

I ask one nurse, “What is the earliest average that doctors can keep a pre- mature baby alive?” “24 weeks”, she says.
24 weeks! That’s not even 6 months! That’s 60% of a baby. I walk through the NICU, trying to sneak-a-peek to see such a baby, and one day I do. The feeding tube coming from her mouth is thin as a hair yet still seems suffocating to her. The diaper which is no more than a tissue, engulfs her. She breathes like a fallen baby bird, and I see each rib rising and falling at a breathtaking rate. She is bright red, from the blood vessels coursing against the surface of her skin. The face is barely formed. Should she live? Of course she should. But what of the parents who who learn their preemie will have life long disabilities. Some severe? Do they love her as much? Do they want to let her go, but are too afraid of guilt and of engaging in that thread of thought?

The age of reason.
The age of reason.

I ask the nurse if certain babies tend to recover and progress better than others. She smiles, “Oh yes, the girl babies always do better. We see it every day. And no doubt, black girl babies do better than the other babies.”
And who has the slowest recovery? “Caucasian white males. They recover the slowest of any race and gender.” The other nurses around agree.

This reminds me of my travels through Africa where the rationalizations ran deep and wide as to why women are weaker, more fragile, less intelligent, blah blah ad nauseum than men. But here in baby world we learn the truth, the strongest of all.

Validation of a star
Validation of a star

Oh the irony. When most cultures regard the two just the opposite. Socially the black woman must juggle the double minority and discrimination (Lord have mercy if she’s the obese, Wiccan, lesbian, handicapped, elderly type). Globally, she is less likely to have an equal education if one at all, widening the inequality, and thus is often left with the fewest crumbs of a stinking pie. The white male remains an ideal of entitlement and intellect. Yet at birth…

It reminds me of Ghandi commenting on the British after their colonization of India. He observed how the Indians were idealizing the whites, even though the British were apathetic laborers who fell ill at the drop of the hat, and who more than a few hours in the sun left them faint. The idealization perplexed him.

Ghandi can take the heat
Ghandi can take the heat


By Pierre | Filed under Us in America | 175 comments

  • english
  • french

Obama got the nomination today, I’m very happy and I’m not alone. I voted for him the way people vote in America: if you like someone, you send him money and if enough people like him as much as you do, he buys himself a good campaign and he gets elected (assuming the voting machines aren’t rigged against him).

I’m very happy for the country too. Something tells me that if a black man got where he is now, it’s because a lot of people were really tired of the stupid white men that have been leading the nation to war, recession and record deficits for the last 8 years. It’s time for a change.

Part of me feels as joyful and inspired as Jesse Jackson Jr, observing through Martin Luther King’s words that “the moral arc of the universe” will “bend toward freedom and justice for all” on August 28th, the day Obama officially accepts the nomination, exactly 45 years after the famous “I Have A Dream” speech.

But part of me sadly notes with Warren Buffet, the richest man on the planet (whom you can hardly accuse of interventionism), that there is only so much that governments can do anymore. Talking about the world economy last week, he declared: “That’s the problem. You can’t steer it, you can’t regulate it anymore. You can’t get the genie back in the bottle.” Basically, we sold it all to the corporations and we did it in such a way that we can’t even take it back.

Another thought that comes to my mind, as a French expat living in the US, is that it’s going to be much easier for me to explain my friends and family that if I enjoy living here, and especially in San Francisco, it’s because for all the abuses and dysfunctions of the American society - most of the time inherited from naive idealizations of an extremely conservative, religious, racist and violent past - there is a fascinating minority of very progressive artists, inventors, thinkers and leaders that acts as a counterbalance and continue to lead the country forward. Which is what Obama will contribute to…

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