I held my two newest grandchildren this week.
It was exhilarating. And soothing. And nourishing. And instructive.
When you hold a newborn, nothing else matters. There is nothing else going on, anywhere. It’s just you and this fellow human, only hours old, new to the world, blessedly oblivious to all of it except the part right around them, the hands they can feel and the voices they can hear and, in the 12 or so inches in front of their noses, the faces they can see.
You understand their utter dependence on their mother and father and the other family members and medical professionals who play a role in their survival and upbringing, and you realize the trust they are giving you without them even knowing that is what they are doing.
You get lost in their eyes and their wisps of hair and their tiny fingers and toes to the point where you are like them, oblivious to that outside world. What a blessing these babes give to us.
We, too, give them blessings with what we teach and show them and how we love and protect them. But it’s hard sometimes to place that world outside — the world as it is now with all of its troubles around the globe and closer to home — in the category of a blessing.
A challenge, yes. A mess, in many ways. A gauntlet which will test them, inevitably. But it also is a world flecked with blessings, if you care to seek and recognize them.
Those will be found in the love of family, the camaraderie of friends, the joy of learning, and the thrill of discovery. Fulfillment is a goal that might not come easily, but it is sublime when it does.
Cradling the twins in turn in the crook of my arm, awash with wonder and awe, provided interesting perspective to reports during the week on the decline in birthrates worldwide. Countries alarmed at the plunge for a variety of reasons, mostly economic, are having great difficulty trying to raise those rates. All sorts of pleas and incentives over the years — paid parental leave and tax breaks in Taiwan; maternity leave of 2.5 years in Austria; a guarantee of a spot in public day care in Germany; cash payments to new parents in Russia, Italy and Greece; xenophobic pleas to reproduce in Hungary; public education campaigns in Denmark and Singapore — have failed to stem the waning tide.
You look at these precious souls and you wonder what people are missing about the experience, but that is profoundly unfair. There are all sorts of reasons, some admittedly more valid than others, for not bringing a child into the world.
For starters, there’s the world itself with its wars and warming climate and warning sirens of eroding democracy and skepticism or even too-frequent hostility between neighbors, co-workers and acquaintances who just can’t agree to disagree and live their side-by-side lives. At the opposite end of the spectrum, young people have more choices than ever about where and how to work and where and how to spend their lives. Women are participating and succeeding in the workplace like never before. In some places, maternal mortality remains a real concern. In every place, the cost of child-rearing is enormous. Rising infertility is also an issue.
You contemplate all this in the quiet of a maternity-wing room, then put it aside. Babies make believing easier. Birthrates have risen before, you know, as after World War II, and easily could again.
But right now, those worries melt away. It’s not that you withdraw, as much as you refocus. Babies don’t keep. And perhaps someday, hopefully someday, they and the others in this and all the maternity wings in all the world will be part of the solution to what ails us now.
I bend my head a little and whisper to them: “What an adventure you’re going to have.”
Columnist Michael Dobie's opinions are his own.