The story of Baby Patro, or "Bangladesh's Benjamin Button," as he as referred to at the time, first made the rounds in the days immediately following his birth on September 25, 2016. Like many stories that become part of the internet news ecology, it was everywhere for a few days and then it sank to the bottom of most timelines and disappeared.
Baby Patro was considered newsworthy because of his appearance. He was born with what has been described as an unspecified neonatal progeroid syndrome. Unlike children who suffer from the better known progeroid disorder, Hutchinson Gilford Syndrome, and do not show signs of rapid aging until well into their first or second year of life; Baby Patro emerged from the womb looking like a tiny octogenarian.
"Our first child, Aparna, has taken after her mother. But my boy looks like me, and I am happy. I am not unhappy, nor do I feel any sorrow that my son is different,"
I think the dad really said that. It's great to hear of a parent being so loving towards a child who started at third base with a disorder that ages its victims eight times faster than the average human. So why do I find the story and the media silence that followed so troubling?
As Syracuse Post Standard editor, Tess Flanders, wrote in 1911, "A picture is worth a thousand words."
The picture in this case is actually a duo of videos posted online. The first is the video report created by Caters News Service. The heavily edited video is also the source of most of the images used on social media, such as the Twitter (Tweet?) I embedded in the upper left hand corner of this blog entry. Like most of the images and clips used, it attempts to show Baby Patro as an ugly-cute, but otherwise happy baby. Even the last image in the video, which shows him crying, is a close-up of his crumpled face at its most babyish.
My problem with this video and the other video, which I will address, is what looks like rough, uncaring handling of the infant coupled with a lack of concern for his dignity as a human being. No one in either of these videos looks particularly happy to see this little boy. At best he is treated like a clinical exhibit and at worst like an onerous chore to be handled. Shall we Zapruder this thing and see why I am more alarmed than enchanted by what I've seen of Baby Patro?
Here is a link to the first video:
Caters News Service Clips of Baby Patro
Here is my commentary.
:02 to :05 The doctor throws the too-small blanket that was covering the baby in his mother's lap and refuses to cover Baby Patro even though the mother requests he do so. He is also rather rough with a baby he described to the media as having "aching joints." You can hear Baby Patro cry out as the doctor handles him.
Note: Baby Patro makes rooting and latching motions with his mouth when the doctor first picks him up. He's hungry. He's probably cold. The poor little guy has zero subcutaneous fat and has some other possible issues going on.
:14 to :16 The doctor starts to turn him and begins to pull on him to make him straighten out his back so the videographers can get a better shot. Once again, Baby Patro lets him know this hurts.
:28 to :31 The doctor turns him back over, then pushes on Baby Patro's hips to make him spread his legs to let the videographers get a shot of his entire body. The infant is obviously in distress. Whoever edited this (most likely a stringer working for Caters on a freelance basis) tried to cut away very quickly so we don't see much of the baby's response. This frame at :31 speaks volumes:
:36 Baby Patro makes rooting and latching gestures.
:37 Baby Patro makes eye contact with his mother followed by more rooting and latching motions. There are three jump cuts. No indication that the baby was fed at that point.
Note: Babies are hard-wired to connect with their mothers this way. And we're hard-wired to respond to that Kawaii* affect with the instinct to care for and protect whoever is giving us that big-eyed look.
:38 to :51 More rooting and latching and hard swallowing. This baby is hungry! He also looks like he is jaundiced and suffering from a raging case of conjunctivitis.
:52 More rough handling. Another attempt at making Baby Patro straighten his back for the cameras. This little boy is less than twenty-four hours old, not a slumping fifth grader on picture day. At :56 Baby Patro again lets the grownups know they are hurting him. What part of "aching joints" do these people not understand?
1:02 to 1:22 Close-ups of Baby Patro yawning. He's still working his mouth a little. Has he been fed yet? At least he's covered and being held rather than exhibited.
1:23 to 1:33 Shots of the mother asleep on a cot with an IV.
1:34 to 1:59 Baby Patro is held up for the cameras again. His backside is dripping with meconium. He cries throughout this clip. The shot pulls back to reveal the woman holding him is slightly disgusted but otherwise expressionless. Someone says something to her and she lays the weeping baby back in the puddle of his own mess, which has most likely cooled. She arranges the blanket so he is completely uncovered for the cameras.
Note: Baby Patro is sick, cold, hurting, hungry, and naked for the cameras, all while being handled in a manner that appears to be less than gentle. Contrast this with the baby next to him in this segment. That child is covered, most likely diapered and clothed, and being rocked and comforted.
1:59 to 2:16 Closeup of Baby Patro's face. He is crying. Then the screen goes to black.
Video clip of Baby Patro being dangled for a photographer
Friends who knew I was writing about babies sent me links to these clips. Most people were as alarmed as I was by what we saw. As of the publication date of this blog post, Baby Patro is five and half months old. There have been no reports of his condition since the news of his birth. I can understand the family's wish for privacy, but I still find it surprising that there are no follow-up stories about how the child is faring, given the feel-good spin this story was given in September. Everyone has encountered a story that just won't let them go. This is the one that tugs at my conscience and heart, at least for now.
How can I not politicize this? I can't. In some ways Baby Patro's story illustrates how short our attention spans can be. Youtube reports in late September garnered hundreds of responses, mostly from people thanking various iterations of God for him and his parents or squee-ing over his cuteness without looking at what was really going on. Since then, there has been no followup on how the people involved are faring. It never was about the hurting, hungry baby or the overwhelmed mum.
Does anyone else see a pattern here?
We don't want to consider the human cost of anything, whether it's a baby on the other side of the world who is facing some scary medical challenges or people here we don't know who will do without food or health care. It's uncomfortable to look beyond the happy lie we tell ourselves that everything is okay.
I'm really amazed at the number of people who can't be bothered to be bothered.
Baby Patro, wherever you are, I hope you are getting the affection and care we didn't see in the videos reporting your birth. Every baby deserves to cared for, wanted, and loved, and that includes you, little one.
*"Kawaii" is a Japanese pop term describing infantilized, big-eyed cuteness.
No ownership of the images is claimed or implied. Other than the images used and/or linked and attributed copy, this article is Copyright 2017 Jas Faulkner/Zen Dixie.