Baby Contests

Fit. Unfit. Unfit . . .
Fit. Unfit. Unfit . . .

Okay, so this will probably be my last venture into the weird world of baby fitness for a while, but I had to share this fantastic bit of PR with you.

Better Baby Contests. All across America at agricultural summer fairs and elsewhere families waited in line to have their babies assessed for mental and physical fitness in hopes of being awarded  medals for their offspring and a proud sense of doing right by humanity.

You have to wonder how the empty-handed parents must have felt. Imagine you’re the doctor or judge. You see the happy, hopeful family from a few people down the line and note their crooked teeth maybe or their slightly asymmetric features (or maybe their dark hair and eyes). Unfit, you say to yourself, sadly. If only we could have gotten that young girl sterilized.

Baby parade in New Jersey
Baby parade in New Jersey

I suspect that if I had any inkling that my baby would be deemed unfit, I’d avoid the carnival tent all together (like I avoid the constant barrage of flu shot propaganda). On the way out of the tent was often a flashing sign showing how quickly unfit children were being born! Scary!

I like people–even love them– but I would never put all my faith in them. Humans have a habit of getting things wrong even when trying to do right.

Outdoor Nap for Baby.
Outdoor Nap for Baby.

There was a cheerleader in high school who I couldn’t stand. Bold, beautiful and–well, you know– a cheerleader. Occasionally I flirted with doing what it took to be popular and so once I went to her house for the afternoon. Another friend was there and while trying to find the bathroom she opened the wrong door and to our horror found a person. This girl had been hidden (not abused). I don’t know if the parents were shielding her malformed limbs and low IQ from the world in shame or in protectiveness, but it was sad and shocking.

We didn’t stay. How could we? This cheerleader girl and her handsome older brothers lived as if they had no secret. I don’t know their pain or that of the “unfit” child. Maybe she had a high IQ. We never asked. We never mentioned the incident even to each other.

Cats throw their screwed up kittens away. I understand the impulse, but it’s a low impulse. The higher one, the one that we see with really good nurses and many parents quietly raising children with autism or birth defects is the choice of loving. When we save a one-eyed kitten (when there’s too many kittens already) we defy the scientific consensus.

We fall in love with the weak despite their drag on our resources and time. It makes no sense, but then it is written that God makes fools of the wise.

Mrs. Nellie Grant and baby
Mrs. Nellie Grant and baby

Photographs  Library of Congress


5 responses to “Baby Contests”

  1. Your post reminds me of two very different baby stories.

    Until the day he died, my father grieved for the older brother he never knew. My grandparents were told their baby, born in the early 1920s with Downs Syndrome, would never survive and would need to be placed where he could have professional care. They came home without him and that baby simply ceased to exist. I’m sure they did what doctors told them was best for my unknown uncle, but once my father found out he felt a sense of loss that he never got over.

    On a lighter note, Great-Uncle Herbie told us of his premature birth to immigrant parents at the start of the twentieth century in New York . His parents were told that he would not survive. But the inventor of the baby incubator wanted to prove that his technology worked, so he set up a “Baby Exhibit” on Coney Island. Great-uncle Herbie was billed as “the World’s Ugliest Baby” (according to family legend anyway) and put on display. To the surprise of doctors and parents, he thrived, living through most of that century without ever moving very far from Coney Island.


    • The Herbie story is great. Did he feel ugly for the rest of his life or did he grow into his looks? The first story is so sad. What a tragic event. No wonder your father never got over it. I wonder if his parents ever got over it.

      I remember when everyone was so annoyed with Sarah Palin for having a Downs Syndrome baby. I thought that was a weird reaction from the public.

      Thanks so much for sharing.


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