Recently I had the pleasure of meeting my baby cousin’s wife and 4 week old son for the first time. My cousin, who is 20, and I have always been very close, in fact, he is Elijah’s godfather, but when he joined the Army he moved to Indiana to marry a girl he met in his Advance Individual Training (AIT). I was sad not to be able to be there with him for his wedding or through their pregnancy, but was super excited to meet them and see their adorable little boy.
I mentioned over the course of the evening the fact that many experts believe that babies do indeed smile from birth, as opposed to the belief that their smiley faces are just gas faces. My cousin was amazed “Really? You mean he’s really happy?”
Well, yeah, I thought. Of course. But it got me thinking about why this belief exists in the first place, and why it persists today. There is no reason to believe that infants do not experience emotion, but that seems to be the common belief. It got me thinking about why. Why are we so eager to believe that babies don’t experience emotion?
I think, when it comes down to it, that if we acknowledged that babies have emotions then a lot of things that we do to babies would seem pretty foolish. If babies can feel happiness, could it also be they feel unhappiness? Does that mean it might be crying because it is unhappy, and not just because “that’s what babies do”? If a baby experiences emotions, could it be that it feels loneliness or fear when I put it in a room far away from me? Don’t even get me started on what circumcision means in a world of baby emotions.
I think acknowledging that babies have emotion is hard in a world that still, on a societal level, views babies and children more as property than individuals. But when we hear something like baby smiles really are smiles, they really are happy and expressing that to you, we are still thrilled. I don’t think, instinctually, on individual levels, we really believe that babies are things, rather than people. And I think for the individual it is heartwarming to know that this little creature you love so much really is capable of loving you back.