The babies weren't thriving. In fact, far too many were dying. So the hospital staff tried a novel approach: Breaking the rules of their obsessively sterile environment, they decided to pick up the babies and hold them.
In The Empathic Civilization, a masterful look at the evolutionary development of empathy from the earliest times to the present, author Jeremy Rifkin tells the story of how personnel in pediatric hospitals and orphanages in the years following World War I discovered that a baby's need to be touched, held and stroked far outweighed her need for a sterile, germ-free environment. An understandable concern for the spread of disease, sparked by the catastrophic 1918 flu pandemic, led hospital personnel to create as sterile an environment as possible in the pediatric units. Central to preventing the spread of germs was a prohibition against touching the babies. Any direct touching or holding, much less stroking or cuddling, was strictly forbidden. As a result, the children experienced a level of emotional deprivation that resulted in death rates in some hospitals as high as 75%. As Rifkin notes, "Denied affection and maternal companionship, the infants lost the will to live."
Thankfully, hospital personnel noted the negative effects of this obsessive attention to the avoidance of human touch, and pediatricians began posting signs throughout the nurseries advocating a more healthy policy: Do not enter this nursery without picking up a baby. Personnel were now instructed to pick up the babies, hold them, stroke them and, in effect, bring them back to life. The death rates declined rapidly and the babies thrived.
Whether our children are infants, toddlers, preteens, adolescents, young adults or any age beyond, they need our healthy, healing touch. As do we all. Touch says, You are special to me. I notice you, I look into your eyes and I extend my hand, my arms, my kiss to you. Touch says, as the Hindu greeting Namaste suggests, The God that dwells in me sees and greets the God that dwells in you. Touch says, We are fellow travelers in this journey of life; let us extend our hands and travel together. Who would not thrive in such a relationship!
Make a difference today. Give the gift of life to another. Reach out and touch someone.
by Mike Brock, LPC-S