I. A FEW PRELIMINARY WORDS
The term “eternal baby” originated from a story* of that title by Marion Cohen. (The story, in the author’s words, is “a Kafkaesque deal about a child who refuses to be toilet trained.) The actual medical phenomenon is most isolated. One out of every some huge number of babies is diagnosed eternal. The condition appears to be due to an extra half-chromosome which cannot be detected via amniocentesis. An eternal baby is one who, once born, ceases to develop, both physically and mentally. It is not what used to be called “retarded”; it just never changes, never grows, never learns, and never dies, except through accident or disease.
In spite of their eternal-ness, there are only some 57 in existence. This is probably because such a trait can’t possibly be hereditary (although there is some current research to the end of fertilizing an egg from an eternal girl with sperm from an eternal boy). Only five eternal babies reside in the U.S. The oldest is 863 years old. She lives in Japan and has so far had seventeen mothers of which, naturally, sixteen have been adoptive. So far as anyone can tell, this baby has truly not changed,is not developing even slowly. It is only for the past 300 years that records have been kept. Over these years portraits have remained exactly the same and so have psychological test results. Even if this baby could speak, she could not tell what happened before the past 300 years, for eternal babies have memory spans of three to four days. After that the memory implants, conscious and unconscious, totally dissolve.
II. WHO WE ARE
We are the Association for, of, and about Mothers of Eternal Babies.
III. WHERE WE ARE
We are all over the world. Check the directory in the back for the A.M.E.B. chapter nearest you.
IV. OUR HISTORY AND OUR MISSION
In 1933 Emily Enterprise, mother of four children, one of them eternal, discovered that, even in a big city like New York, with lots of park benches and organizations, no one was able to identify with her experience of eternal motherhood. No one could understand her ambivalent feelings of pride and frustration of having her baby remain a newborn. So Emily, an intelligent headstrong woman, put an ad in The New York Times, announcing that she wanted to meet other eternal mothers.
Four women answered the ad; two were from abroad, one from California. But Emily was undaunted. This great pioneer kept up an eternal correspondence with each of these women. They wrote of their feelings, many of which turned out to be shared, and exchanged solutions to problems, or at any rate exchanged problems. They even held a convention in London.
Word spread and in ten years there were nine members. Today there are some 37, residing in five different cities all over the world. We offer information and guidance, form support groups, and in general throw our weight around, take from other charities, and give ourselves something to do.
V. SOME EXAMPLES OF GOOD ETERNAL MOTHERS
(A) From the La Leche League files: “When Miranda Amanda Anderson lustily announced her arrival into this world six weeks ago, I could not have been prouder. With daddy and big brother in the delivery room, I could not have felt more complete. However, five minutes later, my husband and I were informed by the stupid and insensitive obstetrician, “I’m sorry but there is something—shall we say different? – about your baby.”
“Can you imagine? He suggested we put her in a special home. I was not to touch, let alone breastfeed her, and Peter and I were to forget her. Of course, we would have none of that nonsense. Peter immediately went out to phone our La Leche League representative, who right then and there stormed into the hospital and set things straight. Miranda is doing marvelously. She is an avid nurser; I don’t know why the staff at the hospital felt eternal babies were incapable of sucking. I am one happy mother, and shall continue to be.
“However, it saddens me to think that, if we had listened to our doctors, Miranda and I would be separated forever and ever. As it is, we shall live happily ever after or at any rate she shall.”
(B) Eternal Mother of the Month: Congratulations to Mrs. James O. Smith and family.
Their chosen baby is for life. Little Jimmy Jonathan Smith – formerly Jimmy Jonathan Jones – has finally found his next home. Jimmy’s fourth mother died of cancer last March at the age of 89 and since then Jimmy has been kept in the Home (or rather, Room) for Unplaced Eternal Babies. Says Ms. Smith, “When there’s a place in your heart, there’s a place in your home.” Emily Jane, Timothy T., Jessica Jay, Mary Beth, Noah Jeremiah, Jason Jesse Jr., and Sara Lea Laura, welcome Jimmy Jonathan into their eternal family.
(C) Eternal Grandmother of the Month: First Lady Lillibyrd has made more headlines than she’d bargained for when her daughter-in-law gave birth to little Louis B. (or rather, will be). Little Louey has his mother’s blue eyes, father’s sparse hair, and looks as much like our First Lady as he ever will. “I’ll only be prouder and prouder,” she told reporters, “and thank goodness he’ll never be president.”
For us it’s an excellent opportunity. The Lillibyrd Louis Jerry Lewis Willoughby Fund has already been set up and enclosed is a form, should you want to make a donation.
(D) Doubly Eternal: The first in history. Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Adenezio have done it. Their third set of identical twins, and this time eternal. Harry and Garry Adenezio weighed, weigh, and will weigh a total of 14 lb. 7 oz. Double trouble, and double joy, await the Adenezio family. Congratulations, and double luck. You’ll need it.
VI. WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT? HOW DO YOU FEEL?
It’s bound to be hard on you. All your friends’ babies are turning over, crawling, walking, and yours remains exactly the same. The saleslady at the corner grocer, or a friend from out of town, or grandparents, see you from time to time with the same baby, same size and shape, doing, or not doing, the same things. Every February old-fashioned-type people stop you and admonish, “Isn’t she too young to be outside?” You’re certainly entitled to feel out of sorts every once in a while.
And though you will pledge and feel eternal love for this baby, the father will very likely tire of the routine of having a “new” baby around the house. Both he, relatives, and neighbors will cease being helpful, let alone enthusiastic. So expect to feel tired.
Things will not improve as months lapse into years, years into decades. Eternal mothers are susceptible to a kind of postpartum blues not once, but every four months or so. It gets exasperating to have to explain to passersby that no, you aren’t a new mother and that’s why you’re not positively glowing or that no, it isn’t too soon for you to be up and about. And since eternal babies do not remember beyond four days ago, you can’t find comfort in any idea that eventually yours will appreciate all you’ve done for her. Indeed, it’s not what you’ve done but what you’ve done lately.
There is, however, a bright side to this; namely, you needn’t worry about mistakes in parenting, since mistakes can’t possibly have any psychological effects beyond four days. Night-feedings, however, changing diapers, and monthly pediatrician appointments will probably prove to be a drain. Especially since many pediatricians, even in this day and age, seem to believe that the “condition” is psychological; don’t be too shocked or hurt if he suggests that it’s all due to your own subconscious desire to hold your children back. Moreover, if you ever decide to return to work or school, day care won’t be very accessible. Plan to be confronted by explanations such as “Oh, we don’t take them under three” and “It would be confusing to the other children.” Even the day care provided at feminist conferences will be guilty of this.
And then there’s the continual realization that you won’t be your baby’s only mother; after your lifetime you will be replaced and forgotten just four days later. We all know, however, that nothing lasts forever (except, of course, eternal babies). Nothing is perfect, after all, and all problems can be minimized if you’re stupid or religious enough. So feel any way you want, admit to these feelings, once, maybe twice, and then get on with the job of taking good care of your eternal baby so that when you die you can pass on your eternal gift to some infertile or just plain generous couple (probably white, straight, and/or yuppie).
VII. NURSING YOUR ETERNAL BABY – WHY NOT?
From the La Leche League pamphlet: “There is absolutely no reason why an eternal baby cannot be breastfed. In fact it is advisable and advantageous. Eternal babies thrive on breast milk, and unlike other babies, can thrive on it forever. The eternal mother need never worry about switching to solids.
“Two important things to remember: (A) Once an eternal baby has stopped breastfeeding, it can never start up again. It takes much more than four days to re-establish a breastfeeding pattern once it has been discontinued. So think twice about weaning. (B) You probably won’t be lactating all your life, assuming you live to a ripe old age. This is something you might have to make some decisions about. Do you want your baby to be bottle-fed forever and ever? If not, you might consider getting a wet-nurse or giving her up upon menopause, perhaps to a mother whose infant has died. If you die before running dry, you might want to make provisions – that is, search for the above-mentioned. We realize these are tough choices, but that’s part of the responsibility of being an eternal mother. Your local La Leche League chapter should be able to help, or at least be supportive, or at least be there.”
VIII. EDUCATION FOR ETERNAL BABIES
Children as young as four days can be at least shown the alphabet. You might even notice a hint of response. And infant-swim classes or gymborees have in many cases been extremely beneficial, improving skin tone, muscle coordination, and sense of self. Many families have enrolled their eternal babies in special full-day programs for eternal babies, although these can be expensive because of low enrollment. Eternal babies tend to cooperate with neither testing nor homework, so the flexible, loving, and patient atmosphere of their own homes is often the best. Don’t hesitate to look into this option. Do, however, form or join a support group, since socialization is important, especially for those who will be members of the human race forever.
IX. NONSEXIST ETERNAL BABY RAISING
It is not difficult to prevent your eternal baby from acquiring gender roles, since they never acquire roles at all. Never, however, dress an eternal girl in pink lace, nor put a baseball cap on an eternal boy.
If you’re the single mother of an eternal baby, be sure to have plenty of male role models around. If you’re a lesbian mother, be sure to have plenty of straight role models around. And if you’re poor, be sure to provide rich role models. In general, if you’re underprivileged in any way, it’s vital to have around the neighborhood someone overprivileged, to show you up in front of your children and in front of yourself.
X. WILL THEY IDENTIFY?
Speaking of role models, you do, don’t you?, want to give your eternal baby the opportunity to meet others of their own kind, and disabled citizens in general. For example, they will find a niche with “the little people”. So, in case you were looking for something else to get involved in, here it looms.
Do take your baby to disability workshops and conferences, and do take part in any Eternal Pride March that might be passing through your town. Remember, “the personal is political,” as will be proven again and again and again.
XI. HAVING OTHER CHILDREN – WHY NOT?
Even lactating eternally, you will eventually begin to ovulate, and will possibly think about adding to your family. There is no reason not to. As more than four days elapse, however,there might be competition between the two babies, and as the new baby grows they will eventually want to know why their “twin” doesn’t also start smiling, crawling, etc. Be honest and matter of fact. Simply explain that God thought their baby was so special that They made it so it would never change.
There is no evidence, by the way, that eternal babies run in the family. In fact, except for identical twins, no two eternal babies have been born into the same family. So go ahead and have that new baby. Relatively speaking, it won’t last forever.
XII. FURTHER PEP TALK
This is your forever baby. Your baby is special. In the future, in fact, it stands to reason that all babies will be eternal since, when everyone else has gone up in smoke, these babies will still be around. Eventually, by the law of survival of the fittest, or at least the law of necessity being the mother of invention, these babies might somehow learn to take care of themselves.
So your baby is the future. You should be proud, being mother of the future. Congratulations. You are the bearer, and first rear-er, of the most precious of God’s gifts. We want to extend our sincere good wishes. You are very lucky. Every mother secretly wishes at times that her baby would never grow up; only rare mothers such as you are granted that miracle. So relax. The pitfalls and disappointments (and appointments) are bound to abound but remember: There’s plenty of time to adjust.
* Hubris #3, Marion Cohen, 1982
Marion Deutsche Cohen is the author of 26 collections of poetry or memoir; her latest poetry collection is “New Heights in Non-Structure” (dancing girl press, about home-schooling and other ideas about engaging with children). She is also the author of two controversial memoirs about spousal chronic illness, a trilogy diary of late-pregnancy loss, and of “Crossing the Equal Sign” (Plain View Press, about the experience of mathematics). She teaches math and writing at Arcadia University in Glenside PA (USA), where she has developed the course, Mathematics in Literature. A poetry chapbook, “Truth and Beauty,” about the interaction in that course among students and teacher, was released in 2016 from WordTech Editions.
Her website is marioncohen.net.
Show Marion some love via PayPal at mathwoman12(at)gmail(dot)com.