I just watched the most amazing documentary today while my daughter took a nap. It’s called Babies and without narration, it follows four babies from four different countries - Nambia, Mongolia, Japan, and the USA—for the first year of their lives. I found it adorable, eye-opening, and inspiring to see how four babies who are raised in four very different cultures with very different traditions, still develop so similarly. What was most wonderful to me, though, was watching the way their mothers interacted with them and to see how the un-bridled love a mother has for her child can be expressed in such varied and diverse ways!
Of course, the first thing I looked for was diapers. I only saw cloth diapers on only one of them—the American baby. The babies from Nambia and Mongolia didn’t wear diapers at all, they just had naked little bottoms most of the time. Honestly, I couldn’t tell for sure what the Japanese baby had on her butt, but it seemed awfully trim to be cloth. What I found most interesting was watching the Nambian mother take care of her daughter’s bodily functions. I didn’t notice her reacting to urine at all (but a friend who was a missionary in Mozambique says that Africans just let the babies pee, and if it gets on them, no one cares), but when the baby pooped she rubbed the little newborn bottom along her calf, moving the poop from her baby’s bum to her leg. Then, she used a corn husk to rub it off herself. Then, I noticed that and her friends had baby poop on their legs much of the time. Though I probably wouldn’t imitate that practice, I must say I am a bit jealous of how in tune with their baby’s bodies these Nambian women are.
The Mongolian baby spent a lot of time alone and swaddled. It looked to me - though I have no evidence for this - hat he might have been bundled with an outer layer of wool, but I can’t be sure. What I do know is that he had lots and lots of layers. When he wasn’t swaddled, he was naked from the waist down. Before he could maneuver himself, he would just lay on open layers of cloth, but once he could get around and it was warm enough, he’d go outside and play amongst the cows half naked.
Most of the mothers practiced baby wearing, though both the Japanese and American mothers occasionally placed their infants in a carseat while in the grocery store or on a walk, and even the Mongolian mom had a stroller, though it was used more to contain the baby as she worked, and eventually functioned as a baby jungle gym. The Nambian mother usually placed her baby on her back if she needed to work or go somewhere, but honestly, most of her time was spent either actively engaged with what her daughter was doing or sitting right next to her as she prepared a meal or talked with her friends.
Only one of the babies got a bottle. The Japanese, Nambian, and Mongolian moms all breastfed. But breastfeeding was most evident in Nambia where the mother’s breasts were exposed all the time. I loved watching as she nursed her baby on demand and sometimes nursed more than one child at a time. Her baby seemed so secure knowing that Mommy was close by and she could have her milk any time she needed it. I also found it fascinating that in addition to offering the breast for food, the Mongolian mother sprayed breastmilk all over her sons face to clean him.
Of course I’m interested in breastfeeding, baby wearing, and cloth diapering, but what struck me the most was the different way some of the mothers allowed their babies to have freedom. I never thought of myself as over protective, but looking at this movie I see that I have been because I’m culturally inclined to be so. The Japanese baby would wander very far in a public park before her parents ran after her - though Japan, I’ve heard is one of the safest places in the world. The Nambian baby and her friends played freely in the dirt, often picking up stones and other foreign objects and placing them in their mouths. She also seemed to like opening her mouth and licking in return when a dog came by to lick her. The Mongolian baby spent lots of time unsupervised either alone, or with his older brother who would often do the things older brothers often do to torture younger siblings. But they were all just fine, and developed at relatively the same pace and into happy, well-rounded little human beings.
I have always been fascinated by other cultures and interested in the different ways that people experience life around the world. As Spanish was my major in college, that is to be expected :-D. But until now, I never really thought about how a baby experiences life in cultures that are so vastly different from our own. Babies, directed by Thomas Balmès, allowed me to stop and take a moment to quietly observe that for the first time. I’d have to say, it was a naptime well spent!