Killer Gender Reveals, Other Cultures, Childcare, Contaminated Baby Food, Fetal Mummies | Rabbit Holes 6

Rabbit Holes is a semi-regular reaction-style series about the baby-related stories I’ve found interesting and think you’ll find interesting too.

Killer Gender Reveal

A gender reveal IED killed a second father-to-be in February. Keep in mind that Darwin Awards are only for people who cause their own accidental deaths before they’ve reproduced. I know that’s crass and insensitive, but frankly, I’m pissed off at the senseless deaths and destruction of this ridiculous trend.

Gender reveals featuring homemade explosives are on the same tackiness level as extreme weddings because the people involved have little or no consideration for the life that comes after the Event Planning (the marriage, or in the case of gender reveals, parenthood). They need to think about their life choices before dragging another person into that dumpster fire (or house fire or forest fire).

And they aren’t revealing gender, it’s revealing biological sex. While the vast majority of humans are what the cool kids call “cisgender” meaning that male = boy and female = girl, it’s really a genital reveal party. Does your baby have pink or blue genitals? What if they turn out to be purple? Because it happens.

How about we consign these asinine stunts to history and prevent avoidable forest and grass fires, property damage, and the senseless deaths of expectant parents, friends, and family members?

By all means, if you want to celebrate the impending birth of a new member of your family, maybe celebrate their whole person, not just what their genitals resemble on an ultrasound or what you imagine their gender will be. Just do it without the pyrotechnics.

23 Feb 2021. “Gender-reveal device explosion kills father-to-be.” BBC World News.

Other Parenting Cultures

Next is an article by Kelly Oaks for the BBC, with a typical rundown of the ways western parents do parenting versus how other cultures do parenting, particularly sleep and transport. If you’re a fan of bedsharing and babywearing you’ll probably dig it, plenty of appeals to tradition and nature. If you’re not a fan, you’ll probably roll your eyes and argue that those countries have the lowest SIDS rates because their reporting is shite, and demand to know their overall infant mortality rate. It’s the perfect clickbait: bias confirmation for shares or rage engagement for the comment section.

Personally, I love babywearing because strollers and lugging car seats are a pain. And I would prefer some form of co-sleeping arrangement as I can’t imagine I would be willing to fully wake up and get out of bed to deal with a lonely or hungry baby but I am not so cruel as to let a baby cry it out alone.

However, when people want to promote these practices to other westerners by claiming that it’s done in other cultures (usually poorer nations), it’s all too common for proponents to make presumptions about who is doing the caring (and/or carrying!). Often it’s not the mothers. Plus, cultures are changing so quickly today that it’s really hard to make generalizations about parenting practices in western cultures, let alone areas with developing economies. 

Oakes, Kelly. 22 Feb 2021. “Is the Western way of raising kids weird?” BBC Future.

Hunt Gather Parent- Book

Michaleen Doucleff’s new book, Hunt Gather Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, came out on March 2 2021. There’s a bit of a wait for a copy through my local library.

I am curious about what she has to say in the book, based on the article in The Atlantic her child was a terror so she took her to different “indigenous” communities (who she paid to host her and her child) around the world, and they seemed to fix her kid. (The look on my face here feels similar to the look I had when a chiropractor told me to turn off wifi at night because it makes mold grow.)

This certainly isn’t the first book with this angle, and these kinds of books are often long appeals to tradition (a fallacy). The authors see indigenous cultures as being ancient and because of their poverty, more natural, therefore they must be better. As to ancient cultures, western cultures also have ancient roots.

Again, it’s difficult for observers without training in anthropology or knowledgeable about the culture they are observing to understand what they are observing, especially if the observer has a heavy case of confirmation bias. Add to this that people’s behaviours may be altered with an outsider present.

Different cultures raise children differently in order for children to become part of that culture. “Efe raises Efe” is an OG saying for this. Parenting can be complicated in a society as pluralistic and diverse as the US and it is very easy, even rational, to say that Americans and American culture are dysfunctional, and instead of raising more dysfunctional Americans let’s look elsewhere for ideas. But does that work? If you think hunter-gatherers’ parenting raises better kids, do you anticipate your child growing up to be a hunter-gatherer? 

Based on the interview in The Atlantic, the parenting style Doucleff reveres is a parenting style for low-resource, high-labor environments, which require high levels of cooperation in order to survive. It’s a parenting style you can find across working-class America and the rest of the “western” world, in addition to those she calls hunter-gatherers.

We all have a cultural lens that can obscure our view of reality, Doucleff’s lens is the shape of a nuclear family, headed by dual-income upper-middle-class professionals. If she could drop her cultural lens long enough to notice the outgroup, she would have realized she didn’t need to go so far afield to learn the lessons of lower-income parenting. She could have just visited an American farm family, or talked to her own parents or grandparents about how they parented: not complimenting every little thing, not entertaining/supervising children 24/7, and expecting children to participate in household responsibilities. These ancient concepts were pretty common in 1970s suburbia, with local children hunting and gathering candy cigarettes and wax lips.

Yes, I am being sassy but I plan to read her book because I love the genre. These kinds of books say so much about the author’s parenting culture in time as well as what/how they think about other parenting cultures. If you enjoy the genre too, I’m leaving a list of titles below.

Pinsker, Joe. 2 March 2021. “There’s a Better Way to Parent: Less Yelling, Less Praise.” The Atlantic.

Garlick, Hattie. 27 Feb 2021. “What the Planet’s Traditional Cultures can Teach You About Being A Better Parent.” The Telegraph.

Other Recommended Reading

  • Pamela Druckerman’s
    • Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting and 
    • French Children Don’t Throw Food 
  • Sara Zaske’s Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children
  • Mei-Ling Hopgood’s How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm: And Other Adventures in Parenting (from Argentina to Tanzania and Everywhere in Between)
  • Robert and Sarah LeVine’s Do Parents Matter?: Why Japanese Babies Sleep Soundly, Mexican Siblings Don’t Fight, and American Families Should Just Relax
  • And Meredith Small’s
    • Our Babies Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent
    • Kids: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Raise Young Children
  • Tom Hodgkinson’s The Idle Parent: Why Laid-Back Parents Raise Happier and Healthier Kids 
  • David F. Lancy
    • Raising Children: Surprising Insights from Other Cultures
    • The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings
  • Alma Gottlieb and Judy Deloache
    • A World of Babies: Imagined Childcare Guides for Eight Societies
    • Alma also wrote an baby-centred ethnography of the Beng people of West Africa called, The Afterlife is Where We Come From

The Problem of American Childcare

The podcast In The Weeds did an episode on the problem of childcare in America. It was disappointing, twisted into an ouroboros of intersectional rhetoric and revisionist history by guest Melissa Boteach of the National Women’s Law Center. The only reason I’ve put it in Rabbit Holes is the teaching opportunity to explain the U.S.’s uniquely horrible childcare problem.

The two main problems with American childcare are: first, it’s too expensive for families when they can find it at all, and a lot of families can’t. Second, the people providing childcare aren’t earning a living wage, often not even minimum wage and usually with no benefits (like healthcare). One of the questions the host, Matt Yglesias, asked (twice) and never did get answered, was why or how it could be too expensive for families AND not paying childcare providers enough to live on. I would like to know this myself, comments below if you have an idea. 

The real reason for the United State’s neglect of early childcare (and maternity and paternity leave) is not as Boteach claimed: that all white people enslaved all the “black and brown women” as mammies and we’ve never moved on from then, but rather, the Cold War.

Childcare policies in the United States were developed to contrast with what was being developed in socialist and communist nations. This required dismantling programs and institutions that had been created during WWII to provide childcare for US families with both parents employed or deployed. The postwar (Cold War) image the US wanted to put out there was that our country allowed women to be housewives and that our children were healthier and better adjusted because they stayed home with their mothers in early childhood. Whereas in communist nations, men and women were required to work while babies were cared for by super-efficient, though often impersonal, state-run institutions, raising children as citizens of the state rather than members of a family. 

We need to focus on what is fixable about the childcare system, namely, looking at how (and why) other nations subsidize childcare today and see how we can do it (and maybe do it even better) so that everyone who wants or needs childcare can access it while providing better pay and benefits for those who provide childcare. These are policy changes that will help everyone regardless of their physical characteristics, and are far more readily corrected for (and correcting of in the long term) than trying to fix racism and sexism. 

Pro-tip: Whenever you seek to make a change to society, ask yourself if you want to actually do GOOD or just appear self-righteously woke. I’ve never seen the two combine.  

The Weeds. 19 Feb 2021. “The Problem of Childcare.” Vox.

Further reading:

Contaminated Baby Food

On the iHeartRadio podcast, Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know, they discuss a congressional study that found that baby food manufacturers are (present tense) knowingly selling baby food contaminated with toxic heavy metals including lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. 

The hosts, two of which are parents, claim that every single person on the planet is involved with baby food in some way, as a baby and maybe as a parent. One of the hosts Ben even says of all parents: “You have to buy some kind of baby food.”  

This isn’t accurate.

Excluding formula, baby food is not a necessity for any baby and a lot of “baby food” is “junk food” (highly refined simple carbs, albeit fortified) even when not contaminated by toxic heavy metals (though “contamination” may be a misnomer). Packaged baby food was developed just a little over a century ago by patent medicine peddlers and even then it was notorious for being adulterated (but most packaged/ premade foods were). 

Baby-Led Weaning

But it is true that in many places around the world, baby food has become ubiquitous. That’s why, in English-speaking countries, the phrase “baby-led weaning” had to be invented to describe not using baby food. Very simply, baby-led weaning is serving babies a portion of whatever the family is eating, during family mealtimes, with as little manipulation of the food as necessary (i.e. not pureeing. mashing, and not spoon-feeding). 

There are benefits of baby-led weaning, for example, by sharing mealtimes the baby sees the rest of the family modelling mealtime behaviours (eating, talking, using utensils, etc). In addition, the baby is able to pick up the food and investigate it with all of their senses, practice bringing it to their own mouths and practice moving it around in their mouths (which can reduce the risk of choking compared to spoonfeeding). They learn about different textures and temperatures– of course while spitting out most of it and making an ungodly mess– but with babies under a year of age, solid foods and family mealtimes are experiential, not nutritive. They should still get the majority of their calories from breastmilk or formula. Babies learning about food in this style, are also developing their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, as well as their family’s food culture (not just the food itself but how it’s handled and how people interact during mealtimes, etc).

If this approach sounds interesting to you, check out Gill Rapely’s Book, Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater published in 2010. Fair warning: it gets a bit redundant but it’s because baby-led weaning is just so simple and straightforward, it hard to make a whole book of it, it’s more about instilling the confidence in parents to try it.

But let’s come back to the contamination issue: plants themselves can become contaminated with toxic heavy metals due to the soil they are grown in, the water they take in, and even the air– and that includes organically grown plants. When they are processed into baby food (or fed to animals to be processed into food) the contaminates remain. It’s the same with plant-based protein shake powders. The contaminants aren’t added during processing.

The FDA’s response to this issue explains that food producers and processors have been working to reduce these “naturally occurring” contaminants, especially in baby food. For example, since 2011, producers of infant rice cereals have been reducing the arsinic levels which are naturally found in rice. So whether you’re feeding your baby commercially produced baby food, preparing your own purees, using baby-led weaning, or some combination thereof, heavy metal contamination is, unfortunately, part of eating food and drinking water on Earth.

There are some heavy metals our bodies need to function properly (copper, zinc, iron), while others that aren’t needed are filtered out when the body is exposed at a low enough level. When heavy metals are consumed in quantities that exceed our capacity to use or filter them out, it can cause acute or chronic poisoning. When this occurs, foods are supposed to be recalled, for example, there was an apple juice recall in January of 2021 due to excessive arsenic.

In general, for your sanity, if a baby food product is still for sale, it is probably safe for your baby to consume. What probably isn’t safe and definitely isn’t effective, are products that claim to detox the body.

Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know. 24 Feb 2021. “Contaminants in Baby Food.” iHeartRadio.

Further Reading:

Congressional Report (PDF) Baby Food Report.

FDA. 16 Feb 2021. “FDA Response to Questions About Levels of Toxic Elements in Baby Food, Following Congressional Report.”

Rapely, Gill And Tracy Murkett. 2010. Baby Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater. The Experiment.

Brown, Amy and Michelle Lee. Jan 2011. “A descriptive study investigating the use and nature of baby-led weaning in a UK sample of mothers.” Maternal Child Nutrition, 7(1):34-47.

Cameron, Sonya, et al. Nov 2012. “How Feasible Is Baby-Led Weaning as an Approach to Infant Feeding? A Review of the Evidence.” Nutrients, 4(11): 1575–1609.

D’Auria, Enza, et al. May 2018. “Baby-led weaning: what a systematic review of the literature adds on.” Italian Journal Pediatrics, 3;44(1):49.

[misleading title] A Brown. Aug 2018. “No difference in self-reported frequency of choking between infants introduced to solid foods using a baby-led weaning or traditional spoon-feeding approach.” Journal Human Nutrition Diet, 31(4):496-504.

  • “For infants who had ever choked, infants following a traditional weaning [spoon fed baby food] approach experience significantly more choking episodes for finger foods (F2,147 = 4.417, P = 0.014) and lumpy purees (F2,131 = 6.46, P = 0.002) than infants following a strict or loose baby-led approach.”

Rowan, H, M Lee, and A Brown. Feb 2019. “Differences in dietary composition between infants introduced to complementary foods using Baby-led weaning and traditional spoon feeding.” Journal Human Nutrition Diet, 32(1):11-20.

Fetal Mummies

In a BBC5 show called (prepare to cringe), Top Ten Treasure Countdown: Egyptian Mummies, hosted by Bettany Hughes. Despite the terrible Americanized name of the program, Bettany Hughes is a gem, I love her enthusiasm. She’s a historian and classicist, author and presenter. If you’re interested in the Ancient Mediterranean world or classical myths, check out her Ancient Worlds series.

In the Treasure Countdown /groan/, she is given special permission to enter the tunnels of Saqqara, where millions of tiny hawk or bird mummies were deposited as prayers. At some point in history, one of these tiny mummies (listed in the archives as EA 493 Mummified Hawk, Ptolemaic Period) ended up at the Maidstone Museum in Kent (UK) where it was scanned, revealing not a bird but a human fetus of 27 weeks gestation. It was determined to be male and didn’t survive due to a neural tube defect, anencephaly (no upper skull or brain) likely owing to a lack of folic acid in the mother’s diet.

There are clues on the outside of the mummy case: human-like feet with toes and sandals, but the head is bird-shaped and there are wings painted on it. Bettany makes a touching point that though he didn’t (and couldn’t) survive birth, he meant so much to this family that they took the care to have him lovingly mummified, “with wings” to help him fly to his family in the afterlife. It makes me wonder about how many of the “bird” mummies were those of miscarried or stillborn babies.

But they aren’t the only examples of mummified fetuses: later in the episode, she is given access to the conservation lab that is working on the loot from King Tut’s burial chamber, which contained his worldly loves: for example, chariots and two tiny mummies, both female, one miscarried at 25 weeks and the other at 37 weeks. One theory is that they might have been his daughters. King Tut, though married, was previously known not to have had any children, dying in his teens. Could King Tut have been a young father, hoping to be reunited with his baby girls in the afterlife? 

Despite the cringe-worthy title of the program, it is a very respectful look at some remarkable ancient Egyptians of all ages and statuses. 

Hughes, Bettany. 2020. “Top Ten Treasures: Egyptian Mummies.” BBC5. (linked to Youtube)

Starr, Michelle. 1 June 2018. “Scientists Thought This Egyptian Mummy Was a Bird. The True Contents Were a Sad Surprise.” Science Alert.

Scott and Laci Peterson

YouTuber Bailey Sarian covered the Scott and Lacy Peterson story during a recent episode of her Make-up and Murder Mystery Monday series. If you haven’t heard about this case, at the time it was a BFD, primarily because Lacy was heavily pregnant when she disappeared. It seemed like the whole country was counting down the days to her due date. The story kept unfolding and —- I will leave it to Bailey. Go watch.

Sarian, Bailey. 15 Feb 2021. “But Did He Do It? The Mysterious Story Of Laci & Scott Peterson | Mystery & Makeup – Bailey Sarian.” Youtube.

Forgotten Baby Syndrome

And finally, Dr Grande did a video on Forgotten Baby Syndrome and how it is unevenly dealt with by the judicial system across the US, featuring the 2014 case of Ross Harris and the death of his son Cooper. 

Grande, Scott. 2 March 2021. “Cooper Harris Case Analysis | What is Forgotten Baby Syndrome?” Youtube.


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