Tag Archives: children

Turkey Basters and Infanticide Part III

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We Catholics are an odd lot of people.

For one, we sing songs in a language we can’t understand. A renegade priest could declare that Pater noster qui es in coelis actually means “Nancy Pelosi fisted a donkey” and the only reason some of us would know that it doesn’t is because Nancy and Pater, for the most part, have different letters.

Every Sunday loads of us get together for an hour-long celebration of magic cannibalism. Of course, it’s only proper to participate if you’ve confessed to a mysterious figure behind a screen that you masturbated to your daughter’s One Direction calendar while she was at school, and no Father, you won’t do it again, can you go to the magic cannibalism festival now? Finally, we think that the only way to get a baby into Heaven is to hand it over to an old man so that he can dip its head into a pool of water and fecal matter. Presumably this is okay because infants spend much of their time covered in fecal matter anyway, though usually not on their heads.

In fact, it was only recently that Catholic babies were allowed into Heaven at all. If they died in infancy, many of them were sentenced to Purgatory, because they were tainted with both Original Sin, and the sin of their very conception. After all, you need to have sex to make a baby, and sex is dirty. That’s why all those Catholic husbands are in the confessionals on Saturdays explaining what really happened to that One Direction calendar. Why do you think they have to sell so many of them?

For much of Irish history, Irish children who died in infancy were not able to be buried in the same cemeteries as those who had lived to be baptized. That’s not to say they weren’t cared for though, because they clearly were. Many of these children were buried in cemeteries, or on the outskirts of cemeteries, that had gone into official disuse. Technically it wasn’t a church cemetery, but the ground had still been consecrated, possibly providing the infants at least with an easier time in Purgatory. There are loads of examples of these sites all over Ireland, and the Blackfriary is one such example. Buried at various locations around the cemetery, but largely above the pre-existing monastic context, are dozens of infants. It seems that these children were too young to be baptized when they died, and by burying them on sacred ground, their parents or caregivers were doing their best to ensure them a fulfilling afterlife. Interestingly, even while caregivers were burying their children in sacred spaces, infanticide was not uncommon, and the two were not mutually exclusive. That is, you could kill your child and still bury it in consecrated ground.

During the 2013 field season at the Blackfriary, a group of students excavated the skeletal remains of a newborn baby. It’s always a time-consuming processing to excavate a burial, and it’s particularly difficult when it’s an infant. The bones are tiny and difficult to identify, and they can only be excavated properly under ideal weather conditions. But eventually, the form of the baby began to appear from the soil as they exposed its tiny arms and legs, and finally, its little head. The skeleton was almost completely intact, but the side of the cranium was completely shattered. Nested inside its little head was a small lead sphere about two centimeters in diameter, perfectly situated in the center of the mass of shattered bone. The baby who had been buried with monks had been shot in the head.

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Turkey Basters and Infanticide (Part II)

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(Sorry this is going to be in several small parts because time management isn’t a thing anymore.)

Like the six-month-old whose head had been glued back together, the sub-adult I have been assigned for the semester’s skeletal report has a habit of messing with my mothering instincts.

The remains are from a Medieval English cemetery and are largely intact, save for the cranium, which, quite frankly, looks like it was shattered in some sort of Acme-style explosion. Disarticulated and sorted neatly into their labeled plastic bags, the remains look like any other skeleton. But when I lay out all the tiny unfused bones, the skeleton became a child, estimated to be about five-years-old at time of death. It still had all of its baby teeth. As I completed the skeletal inventory, my lonely uterus and its instincts started talking over the logic of my aspiring-scientist brain. The lab is dark at night; were medieval children afraid of the dark? Where are its mother and father? Were they excavated too? Shouldn’t the child at least be in a box with its mother?

Suddenly I was gripped by an overwhelming desire to scoop the child up in my arms and take it away from its plastic bags and cardboard box and bubble wrap. I wanted to hold the child and let it know I cared for it, but I could only hold it one bone at a time.

How brave you must have been, to face death at only five-years-old. People more than ten times your age are terrified to die, but here you are.

When I finished the skeletal inventory, I gently placed the bones back into the plastic bags, the bags into the cardboard box, and the box back onto the shelf.

The benefit of working alone in the lab is that you can apologize to the skeletons when you leave, and nobody will judge you for it, unless of course you confess to this bizarre habit on a blog, which fortunately is only read by about twenty people. When I placed the box back on its shelf, I whispered an apology to the child because, after all, I had just spent the last hour poking and prodding at its remains, and now I was going to leave it in an unlit lab in a box without its mother without even knowing if medieval children were afraid of the dark.

Turkey Basters and Infanticide (Part I)

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One of the defining characteristics of my generation is that on average, the age of reproduction is increasing. Many of us are waiting to have children, if we intend on having them at all. Now there are a number of reasons for this, other than questioning if it’s really safe to push something the size of a spaghetti squash out of your vagina. For one, millennials make up the most educated generation in American history. We’re spending more time earning college and graduate degrees than any generation before us. That shit takes time. The average age of a college graduate in the U.S. is twenty-four. If you go for a doctorate, you can expect to finish when you’re about thirty-years-old.

Second, children are expensive. They need to eat, wear clothes, and go to school. How can I think of saving for another person’s college fund when I’m still can’t fathom how I’m going to pay back my student loans?

Finally, who is supposed to help you make the child? It’s hard enough for you to finish school and achieve something resembling financial stability, but then to find a second person that’s done the same? That’s like scratching off two winning lottery cards while bumping into Miley Cyrus in a 7/11 during a tornado in January.

For some women, this isn’t a problem. They don’t want children, and that’s fine. What you do or don’t do with your body is nobody’s business, and the ability to procreate shouldn’t define you if you aren’t into that.

But I am not one of those women.

My uterus is a lonely place. It is not now, nor has it ever been, a member of the Pregnancy Party.

Logically, this is fine. I’m only twenty-four.

BUT IT’S SO LONELY.

There are a lot of things about being a woman that suck. People cat call you, throw things at your head, and touch you in airport terminals. But the one part about being a woman that I like is that I am biologically equipped with everything I need to produce, carry, and feed a child. I let this, in part, define my womanhood because the ability to lactate is pretty fucking cool.

The problem with allowing my gender identity to be partly defined by procreation is that it’s unachievable, at least for the foreseeable future. Like many millennials, I haven’t finished school, I don’t have any money, I don’t know where I’m going to live, and the only people who have offered to help me make babies are creepy toothless men in airports. To cope, I’ve started coming up with alternative plans. How hard can it be to stuff some junk in a turkey baster and shove it up there?

As a student in an osteology program of millennials, I rarely get to interact with children. In fact, to be brutally honest, all of my interaction is with dead children.

There are certain rules for holding skulls in our lab. You must hold them with two hands, away from your body, over a bubble-wrapped table.

I am a terrible anthropologist. Last week when examining infant crania, I found this skull-holding procedure to be torture for my empty uterus.

The offending cranium was from a six-month-old child. Most of its cranial vault was unfused and had been glued together. The orbits, or the space for the eyes, were disproportionately large, like in a living baby. The parietals, or the bones at the top-sides of the head were rounded, again like in a living baby. None of the teeth had erupted.

I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but I gently brought the cranium to my chest and cradled the head in my elbow, my left hand securing it in place. I looked around to make sure my advisor wasn’t around, and once I had made sure she was across the room, I stroked the baby’s face.

Because that’s how a baby should be held, even a dead one.