This is a very good book. It is also a very nice book. On reading it, I became convinced that Dr. T. Berry Brazelton is a very good doctor and a very nice man. If, back in the days when we were having our children, my wife and I had been unable to reach my mother or my mother-in-law or my aunt or old Mrs. Tortorella from across the hall, Dr. Brazelton would have been the first person we would have consulted, if only we'd known about him.
As it is, we had to make do with the accumulated wisdom of the ages -- which, as Dr. Brazelton is the first to admit, happens to be as good as anything he and his science have to offer, at least on the subject of babies. On the subject of infants, Dr. Brazelton bids fair to perform the same function for my children's generation that Dr. Spock served for mine, and I can only hope that he does not suffer Dr. Spock's curious fate of being blamed for the aberrations of a generation as though he were the generation's daddy.
Daniel Boone would scarcely know the old place these days. We have become a nation of surrogates, and nobody seems to think it in the least odd. While the term is generally applied to the disciples of Masters and Johnson and their ingenious new friends, its graver implications are felt in those areas where the hired brain has taken the place of the hired gun as the chosen instrument of social improvement. At its most lugubrious, this occurs when the city council pays a consultant $400,000 to look at the sewer map and tell it where the sewers are, a task that was once performed by a salaried employe with a set of blueprints. At times there seems to be no end to the insane contemporary flux of expert opinion, which (according to a recent haphazard sampling of the intellectual environs) has also discovered that crime is caused by criminals acting in illegal ways, the source of inflation is an excess of money, automobiles consume gasoline, and my 10-year-old son needs to wear a warmer coat to school.
The above remarks are not intended for Dr. Brazelton, an earnest, kindly and intelligent physician. I'm sure that his consulting room is a friendly place, and his heart is clearly warm and in the right place. It is only his book with which I take issue, and for no fault of his own; his obvious intention is to satisfy a need, and it is the need that gives me pause.
Consider. He tells us that the first four months are very important to infant and parent alike. He informs us that male parents and female parents react to and play with the baby in very different ways; he has made a close study of the matter, and he tells us what these ways are. He remarks that newborns can be very difficult. They can, in fact, drive inexperienced mothers half out of their minds. All of this is true. Not so very long ago, it was also sufficiently obvious that a book like this would have been laughed out of the stores. To people of a certain age, it will be a little like reading an essay on how to cross the street.
Mind you, some of Dr.Brazelton's advice is terrific and his insights are profound; his chapters on the physiological dangers and psychological strains of premature childbirth can, from a layman's point of view, scarcely be improved on. Premature birth, however, is a complex phenomenon and one concerning which folk wisdom has little to say, mainly because folk wisdom isn't very good at keeping premature babies alive; science is.
But what are we old codgers to think of the balance of his counsel, no less profound though it happens to be? For example, he informs us that firstborns are often jealous of new babies and that holding infants upright at feeding times minimizes spitups. Employing his sophisticated apparatus, he has discovered that fetuses are capable of sight, hearing and appropriate reaction in the womb and that newborn infants soon learn to recognize their parents. Yes, and the distant humming you hear is the sound of my grandmother spinning in her grave. Her costly scientific apparatus consisted of a wooden spoon, a straight razor, a length of twine and a kettle. But somehow she managed to get her children born, and she knew about all the other stuff, too, as did everybody else.
Edward Hoagland once wrote that the most ignorant Indian of 150 years ago knew vastly more about the art of woodcraft than the most skillful forest ranger of today. A depressing thought, but not nearly so depressing as the thought that "On Becoming a Family" will probably (and with justification) prove to be a valued adviser on the bookshelves of America. The reasons for this are will known; we are a nation of television sets rather than families, and the night is very cold. Still, 50 years ago, Dr. Brazelton's role as a writer would be to alert the parents of the Republic to bold new advances like the Skinner box (gak) rather than the gentler and, I suspect, more essential, task of informing them that infants suck on thumbs. There is food for thought in that, and the meal is not a pleasant one.