Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Wisdom of Innocence (The Right To Remain Nude)

     As I scrolled down through Facebook this morning, one post in particular caught my eye. It was a former co-worker of mine, a young nurse named Sara who is a brand new mother, and she was commenting about how she'd just given her daughter her first bath. The arrival of Sara's child was a much anticipated event. Her first pregnancy ended in the birth of premature twin boys, both of whom died shortly after delivery. Throughout this pregnancy, she kept us updated daily on the changing size of her uterus and how she was feeling, clearly enraptured and overjoyed at her second chance to become a mother. I often thought about how devastating it must have been for Sara to have lost her twins. My own twin pregnancy was complicated by Listeria sepsis, a food-borne illness which caused me to go into preterm labor at 32 weeks, and my sons were quite sick when they were born. That experience literally tore me apart. Both boys were on ventilators for a week, and many days passed before we were permitted to hold them. I didn't feel like a mother until we brought them home, five weeks later. Unless you've suffered through the illness or death of a child, it is nearly impossible to imagine the profound sense of loss parents experience, desperately wishing we could absorb our children's pain and sorrow, and simply make it disappear.
     Sara's daughter developed neonatal jaundice, and had to spent about a week on a "bili blanket." Jaundice (yellowing of the skin) is a common problem in neonates, and results from the breakdown of hemoglobin in red blood cells into bilirubin. Because the infant's excess red blood cells are being destroyed faster than the immature liver can clear the bilirubin, this by-product backs up into the bloodstream. A small percentage of the circulating bilirubin is deposited in the skin, causing a sallow yellowish complexion. Normally, this is a self-resolving phenomenon, requiring no intervention. If the bilirubin levels are unacceptably high, the baby will need to undergo phototherapy (or other more invasive measures) to assist in clearing the bilirubin. In order for the bili blanket to do its job, the baby needs to lie on it continuously, making holding, feeding, bathing, and diapering a bit of a challenge. From what I gather, home phototherapy has been successful in treating the hyperbilirubinemia, and  Sara's daughter is no longer confined to the blanket. Last night, the baby received her first real bath. The episode of neonatal jaundice had clearly stirred up old anxieties and fears, threatening to blemish those first few days of Sara's motherhood with worry, and I can only imagine how exciting it was for Sara to bathe her daughter in a little tub, instead of on a medical device. This bath was a definite cause for celebration. Like most enthusiastic parents, Sara and her husband snapped plenty of bathtime photos; however, she mentioned that she'd need to find a way to censor the photos before posting them on Facebook. Apparently, it's now a no-no to display one's nude baby photos online. This strikes me as odd and sad. Am I that out of touch, or has American society really amped up its proscription on nudity?
     I have so many naked photos of my children, and actually encouraged them to be nude as often as possible when they were small. There are pictures of them, sitting gloriously au natural on the beach when they were about 10 months old, and snapshots of them in the bathtub with their cousins, Alex and Evan. These images were taken long before digital cameras were available. I'd dutifully take each roll of film to the drugstore to be developed, and never once had any issues with censorship. As a child, I remember helping my father in the yard, neither of us ever wearing a shirt. I didn't understand what he meant when he told me that I'd have to start wearing a shirt once I got a little older. Being topless outside, feeling the warm sunshine on my chest and back, felt so luxurious. What was the harm in that? My family didn't have many hang ups about nudity. I think I've seen just about everyone in my family naked at one time or another. When I was breastfeeding my twins, I didn't care where I was or who saw me. If the boys were hungry, I fed them. As a human being, I feel I have a right to remain nude. I try to spend as much time in the buff as possible. I've taken great care of my body, and it has been a never-ending source of visual and sensual pleasure, both for me and my lovers. My uterus housed my children, my breasts nourished them, and my arms have never stopped embracing them. My body is exquisite. I am not ashamed of it at all. If I could, I would most definitely go topless at the beach; I've never quite understood the reasoning behind women having to cover their breasts. In my opinion, we've taken the whole modesty thing a bit too far. This sense of paranoia and exacerbated fear of child predators seems to be an unfortunate side effect of cyber-space and the media...I'm relatively certain that such creeps have always been around.
    Punishing the masses for the sins of a few has never proven to be an effective deterrent to depravity, has it? The problem lies in the fact that we are conditioned to be ashamed of our bodies and our sexuality from a very early age: this is the genesis of much of our societal dysfunction. Consider this. We issue from the Earth, lustrous and innocent in our naked splendor, unclothed and unworried, absolutely perfect. Self-consciousness sets in, and fools us into thinking we're helpless victims of existence, until we no longer recognize or appreciate our own radiance. We learn to punish ourselves for being human. When the light of innocence is extinguished, we lose our blissful, happy nescience, a fateful moment at which we become our own worst enemies. Most of us could use a little more time in the nude. In allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, freed from the armor of defenses we've spent a lifetime accumulating, our perspective widens and we become aware of the ways in which we've detained ourselves with worry and regret. Why not just let go of all that nonsense? Clear-minded as a newborn baby, open-hearted and unapologetically exposed, we can once again return to the wisdom of innocence.


9 comments:

  1. Fantastic post Kris. You have said it all very well.

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    1. Thanks, Steven! This is a subject that has been on my mind lately.

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  2. I agree that much of our socialization stems from a needless shame, handed down generation by generation. However, I choose to cover myself because my sexuality is a gift - to one man, and he alone. The rest of the world has no right to intrude on my person or privacy. It is my choice who I will share it with...the beautiful secrecy of sharing myself completely with only one is absolutely delicious in its power and intensity, its exclusivity.

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    1. Well said, Melody. It is up to each of us to determine how much we'd like to share with others, and being free of shame makes it much more of a voluntary decision.

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  3. Wonderful post Kris, and right on the mark.
    It is our conditioning that is responsible for our hangups about nudity. The underlying cause, in my view, is our belief that we are separate from life and each other. We have created this mind-based little me that always feels insufficient (not enough me) and therefore fears and distrusts "others." It wants to have what others have so that it can complete itself, and is afraid that others will see its insufficiency. That is why we are so afraid to expose ourselves (physically and metaphorically) to others.

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    1. Wim, it seems unconscionable that "mini-me" is capable of creating so much havoc, but it most certainly does, causing us to perceive the world as a hostile place full of ill-intended people. We're basically afraid of our own shadows. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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  4. Kris, have you come across these lines of Chuang-Tzu yet, describing the innocence and spontaneity of a young child: "Free of care, unaware of self, he acts without reflection." Certainly, that is "life" at its purest and freest.

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    1. I have not read any of his writings yet, but aim to do so. This Chinese aphorism (?) succinctly describes in 10 words what I was trying to summarize in my post. Thanks for reminding me about Chuang Tzu, NP!

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  5. This is one of the best post I've ever read, so wonderfully written, with so much passion and commitment to your beliefs!
    I totally agree with you in everything you write. Although I've been lucky enough to have a healthy daughter, I was in big danger to lose her when I gave birth to her as the nurses kept me on the monitors for too long before they called the doctor and her heart alarmingly stopped for few times. When they took her out through a C-section, I thought she's dead, she definitely looked like she was. So I do understand a bit your experience and also Sara's, it's nearly impossible to compare this pain with something else in this world.
    As for nudity, yes, I believe we've gotten too far with our obsession over this issue. We should all praise women's bodies for the exact reasons you've mentioned. I try to teach both my daughter and niece to be proud of their bodies and looks as I hope one day humanity will stop being so prude.

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