All Realities are Local
My guess is my first thought after being born was room service is efficient, but the personal touch is lacking. I was born six to eight weeks preterm and spent my first two weeks in a neonatal incubator. Incubators in 1948 were not the marvels they are today. They weren’t downtown upscale hotels, they were cheap motels by freeway off-ramps. But they kept me alive while I gained enough weight to get an honorable discharge from a Chicago hospital. As this was before Uber, I caught a ride with my new parents to my new home.
Today, sufficiently developed preterm babies can be nursed while still spending most of their time in the high-tech womb, but not in the era of my birth. In my initial days, I was not held by my mother in the hospital or at home. Because my mother feared I was fragile, I was bottle-fed by my father.
Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett and neurobiologist Humberto Maturana believe early maternal interaction is the most influential in your life, that it’s the foundation for bonding in relationships. As I think today about how my personal reality developed, I wonder if my early experience influenced that I regard “motherhood” as an abstraction rather than felt. I observe doting mothers with their babies as interesting but as foreign.
This is not a plea for sympathy. I was well taken care of, and even the least woke will regard my life as fortunate. And no one gets out of childhood unscathed. Whether you were coddled, neglected, or anything in between, you have emotional consequences throughout your life for how you were raised. And sometimes, you’ll change your mind how you regard those consequences.
As I’m sure, like nearly everyone else, I’ve fantasized on how I could have had an even better life. For example, if only I realized early in adulthood I was not temperamentally suited for my chosen profession of psychotherapist. I was suited for work that took place in a room, alone. But you don’t get to just change one piece of your history and keep the ones you like. There were many experiences in my childhood and adulthood I could have done without at the time, but I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant I’d give up who and what I love.
Those who go into a career in social science, whether academic or as a profession, often are pursuing their personal issues, but I did not translate my maternal bonding, or lack of, to my career. Instead, that would be my brother, who had a normal gestation and was nursed. Go figure. I can speculate on his interest, but it’s his decision to go there. Rather than maternal, infant bonding, my lifelong interest turned to how people communicate, or think they do, and the trouble that brings.
As I’ll contend over time, we don’t really communicate; we live within our local realities and communication, as we typically characterize it, is impossible. I used to say, you have to learn to create a bridge to communicate with another. I amend that to you have to negotiate a membrane between you and another to “communicate” with another. A bridge is a door. A membrane is a filter.