The other day, I received a red-hot email alert with an exclamation point next to the name of the sender. Had there been another catastrophe in Haiti? Was there more bad news on the oil-spill front? No. “MATT DAMON’S WIFE IS PREGNANT AGAIN” was what the subject line said.
Just when, exactly, did the world go baby-crazy? Or has it always been that way, and it’s just dawning on me because I’m at that age, 35, when people start giving you the fish eye for not popping folic acid pills, and sucking up to administrators at Crossroads, the “it” private school in Santa Monica.
As one wise woman, who has lived through many a cultural and social vicissitude, said of the good old days, circa 1995. “Times were good then. You had a Chanel bag. Now you have a baby.”
Whatever. The point is, I’m doing none of the above. And I’m being made to feel worse about it every day. Just last week I was invited to a screening of a film called Babies—not Babies: The Musical or anything inventive, just Babies—which comes out this Friday. “Really?” I thought, when I saw the invite. A full 90-minute film with no discernable plot or storyline, no historical relevance or statement to be made—other, it seemed, than to make people like me feel incompetent and unnecessary.
• Pamela Redmond Satran: The Top 20 Baby NamesBecause the ‘90s are over, honey. Sarah Jessica Parker and the Sex and the City gang may have made the single, childless life—nightly rounds of cosmos! weekly installments of Jimmy Choos! a fling with Mikhail Baryshnikov!—seem like the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy, but today if you’re not enrolled in Mommy and Me Yoga, I suggest you go find some new friends who are either 25 or gay. Actually, not even the gays provide any solace anymore. They’re all having babies, too. When did things become so damn dull for thirtysomethings?
As one wise woman, who has lived through many a cultural and social vicissitude, put it, speaking of the good old days circa 1995: “Times were good then. You had a Chanel bag. Now you have a baby.”
But I still couldn’t believe anyone would actually pay money to watch a movie about creatures that, however cute, are incapable of gripping dialogue, a good zinger or two, or doing anything, really, other than drooling and looking slightly drunk. I expected to be the only one in the theater.
I was wrong.
When I arrived, the place was packed. In fact, the only free seat was next to two older women, whom I learned were post-partum doulas who’d learned about the screening by something called “Happiest Baby on the Block,” which I guessed was either an underground cult or a website. Probably both. Everyone else in the room, explained the doula next to me—who said she was excited to see how the film, which follows the evolutionary “drama” of four babies from different parts of the world, dealt with “sanitation” issues—was a mommy blogger. Though I did spot one man looking rather miserable, slouched in his seat, already checking his watch. I made a mental promise to slip out whenever he did. There was no way he’d make it to the end.
The film opened with two African cherub babies playing in the dirt. One was hitting a rock with another rock and humming an incomprehensible baby hum. I was unmoved. And apparently, I was alone. The room erupted into peals of laughter. When one of the babies knocked the other one over (gently), the laughter turned into something more raucous, even out of control. When the knocked-over baby began to cry, the room utterly lost it. A literal roar of HA, HA, HAs.
I was dumbfounded. The last time I’d been in a crowd this giddy and loud, I was watching The Hangover. Even worse, the two doulas next to me were in the midst of a loud-whispered play-by-play of what was going on on the screen. When a baby was shown having his diaper changed, one of them elbowed the other one and shook her head in a disappointed, tsk-tsk motion: “ Uncircumcised.” The other responded with a similar cluck.
At another point, when a goat comes up from behind and starts nicking at a baby who’s inexplicably plopped in a pail, one of them shivered with excitement: “I love this part!” she hissed to her partner. (Apparently, the scene is featured in the trailer.)
What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I think it was sickeningly adorable when the American baby peeled a banana so slowly she must have surely grown two inches by the time the exercise was finished, and smashed a piece into her tiny mouth? (Howling from the audience.) Why did the image of a beautiful Mongolian baby wrapped up so tightly in a papoose that he looked like a little Christmas package inspire the kind of chuckles that brought everyone else close to tears? Heartless as it is to admit, the most love I felt was when a cat (who was far cuter than the baby, in my opinion) at one point snuggled up to the little Japanese baby and began purring madly. I nearly wept.
I do not hate babies. I even want babies. I come from a family of five babies, and all of my four siblings have many babies, ages 2 to 20. Perhaps it’s because of the distinctly non-exotic way that babies have always been presented to me (I practically raised my sister’s kids, or at least baby-sat away years’ worth of my life) that I’m so unexcited by the prospect of newborns, onesies, a first wobbly step. My mother is even unabashedly politically incorrect on the topic and dissuades childbirth. Having had so many kids at so young an age, for years she’s been saying, “What’s the rush? Take your time.” Granted, I’m forever branded in her mind as somewhere between 18 and 25, but still, she’s always been incredibly laissez-faire on the subject. If anything it’s me who’s beginning to feel the peer pressure of doing what everyone else around me is doing; becoming an upright, responsible, contributing member of society, a need that is not all that different from when I was 8 years old and felt the need to possess a Cabbage Patch Kid even though I thought they were ugly and boring. Of course, I got one.
When the lights finally went up, my doula friends were surprisingly unimpressed, despite the fact that they had been chattering away with what I had interpreted as great enthusiasm. When I asked them what they thought of the film, one of them shrugged and said coolly: “Not much emotion.”
“The one you really want to see is Ricki Lake’s movie, The Business of Being Born,” she continued. “When you leave that—tears.”
This got the other doula riled up, and a discussion of Lake commenced. I stood and left them chattering about the virtues of breastfeeding as I headed out to my car. For once I felt no guilt about being neither a non-mother nor a non-mother-to-be. I called up a friend and met her at a nearby restaurant. And, because it felt for a minute like 1996, I ordered a cosmo.
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former film reporter for Variety, she has also written for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Observer, and W.