Nature has many tricks up its fabulously Bedazzled sleeves to make us fall in love with our replacements -- I mean, children. Most notably, they have big heads with big eyes (the kind that Disney knows we find adorable) so that we don't return them to the hospital for a refund straight after birth. Or eat them.
But there's one thing babies do that seems to defy all logic in the making-you-fall-in-love-with-them stakes: torture. No, I'm not kidding or exaggerating; these innocent, defenseless little creatures are guilty of one of the worst crimes we have, a crime so bad that the U.N. had to get 136 countries to ratify a treaty to agree not to do it. Here are the techniques babies don't want you to know that they use ...
How Interrogators Do It:
Sleep is the one thing standing between a functioning human and a world filled with fight clubs. If we're denied it for even a relatively short period, we quickly descend the evolutionary ladder to somewhere just above Brad Pitt.
20th Century Fox
But we shouldn't talk about that.
A 6,000-page document released by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence states that the CIA used sleep deprivation as part of its "enhanced interrogation techniques," which is just bullshit phrasing for "torturing the living piss out of people." It involved denying detainees sleep for up to 180 hours. In case your math ain't so good, that means they were not allowed to sleep for over a week at a time. For this to happen, the prisoners were often shackled while standing or placed in "stress positions" (remember that phrase -- we'll be coming back to it in a bit).
The thing is, as shown by a recent study, a mere 24 hours of this shit is enough to "lead to conditions in healthy persons similar to symptoms of schizophrenia." This technique was/is used to break down prisoners, making them more pliant and more likely to give you whatever information you want (theoretically). Never mind the fact that it leads to a disordering of thoughts and bursts of irrationality, so anything they say will be more batshit crazy than a ham taunting contest.
"I already told you: The banana book ate the microphone!"
How Babies Do It:
There are a few lucky (oh, so lucky) couples with babies who seem to do nothing but sleep for the first six months. These are the ones who are still able to smile in public and continue to enjoy life through hopeful, optimistic eyes. Well, these babies are dumb, and their "parents" are not real parents at all. They are patronizing assholes, all of them.
If you have never been woken up at night, every hour on the hour for six weeks straight, then you have never undergone the complete ego-stripping necessary to turn you into a rose-tinted-glasses-wearing idiot when it comes to your kids. Your loss, guys.
My daughter did this to my wife and I around the third (and almost last) month of her life. How bad was it? Put it this way: When the mail guy asked me in passing what it was like being a dad, I broke down into tears and said, "I don't want to live. I actually wish I'd never existed." Which is probably the harshest thing you can say about another individual (love you, honey).
I would never actually summon Jareth (love you, honey), but having the option would feel nice (love you, honey).
There are of course laws against this kind of treatment, most notably the U.N.'s Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (written up, coincidentally, in 1984), which states that they wish to "make more effective the struggle against torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment throughout the world." But, evidently, babies have diplomatic immunity.
Here's the weirdest part. This is how babies make sleep-deprivation torture work: If we look at the psychological effects, we find that it causes brain damage, making your brain work much harder to perform routine tasks. You also get lovely side effects like decreased performance and alertness, memory and cognitive impairment, stressed relationships, reduced quality of life, and increased risk of occupational and automobile injury.
But when you do finally manage a night's sleep (i.e., when your child, like mine, has realized that maybe she's pushed you too far for too long and decides to give you a small breather)? That morning is like Dorothy arriving in Oz. I shit you not: Colors are more vivid, smells more fragrant, and tastes tastier after those seven glorious hours of deep REM sleep. And the weirdest sensation? An overwhelming love for all living things, including the little terrorist in the diaper. At that point, you will give your child anything she wants. Goal achieved.
But don't get comfortable, because she's just getting started.
Anthony Marsland/Cultura/Getty Images
How Interrogators Do It:
As Atul Gawande puts it, "Simply to exist as a normal human being requires interaction with people." So, having no access to our peers causes some deep, psychological damage that is hard or flat-out impossible to repair.
Read this quote from Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan who spent four years in isolation at Camp Echo: "That's where I just broke down, because I couldn't see the sky, couldn't see sunlight, couldn't see other prisoners; for many months ... I didn't know what I was doing." He got so desperate for company that, when a colony of ants set up shop in his cell, he almost wept with joy: "These beautiful creatures would visit me in my metal prison, carrying with them hope and life."
Those are ants, mind you. You know, the annoying insects that kids set on fire with magnifying glasses?
None of which possessed the comedic charm of Dave Foley.
It is a cruel and unusual punishment to be forcibly removed from having contact with others, yet that is what is happening all over the country, with prisoners in solitary confinement. What that actually means is, prisoners are kept in cells that range from 6 by 9 feet to 8 by 10 feet for 23 hours a day, with one hour outside, alone, for exercise.
In Guantanamo Bay, some official wordplay changed "solitary confinement" to "single-cell operations," which might be a reference to the fact that prisoners are kept in individual cells or that they quickly begin to feel like the most basic lifeforms on the planet. In prison, it's used as an extra punishment for bad behavior, such as fighting or drug-dealing, but when babies apply this punishment, there's no clear crime that's being punished (just like in Guantanamo).
How Babies Do It:
It's tough being a dad. You've got to juggle work with family, try to support your wife while not getting enough sleep, and try not to grimace when she hands you the small bright-pink potato that shares half your DNA. (Daddy's still joking, future daughter who has since learned to read.)
The American Midwife
Do yourself a favor and never, ever Google "umbilical cord stump."
The thing is, being a mum is exponentially worse.
Oh, I thought I had it bad, I really did. The sleep-deprivation thing was more than I'd ever had to handle at one go, and I spent most of my work days trying hard not to fall asleep on the keyboard while complaining about my shitty home life to anyone who would listen (including the mail guy, who has since quit).
But my wife got no break. At least I could go to work, meet humans, and pretend to be a person for a few hours a day (between breakdowns). She, on the other hand, was screamed at the whole time.
I mean the whole time.
Being deprived of sleep turns you into a bit of an asshole. You're not really able to empathize with others, nor do you particularly want to. But it was clear to me, even through the fugue, that something was being done to my wife that was probably illegal and did not involve me and a pair of handcuffs.
Vahan Aghajanyan/Moment Open/Getty Images
Honestly, the kid liked them more anyway.
It turned out that my wife's only human interaction, for 12 damned weeks, was me (if you could call the sleep-deprived husk I was "human"). Sure, she had a smartphone and she was able to jump on Facebook with such delightful tidbits as "Babies are shit," but the whole of her face-to-face adult conversation for three months boiled down to:
Me: "Hey, what's for dinner?"
Her: "Nothing; she didn't let me cook."
Me: "OK, good night then."
Her: "Good night."
My wife was stuck in the house on her own with our daughter for over three months. Sure, I did my fair share of the babysitting, but in that time she did not get to chat face-to-face with a person who wasn't me. I've asked her what that was like (from a safe distance). She said, "I ended up being so desperate for human contact that I was willing to talk to anyone about anything. But, when I finally got to meet people, they all asked the same thing: 'How is the baby?'"
Feeling alone, powerless, and unimportant seems to be the desired effects that babies want from their parents: They want you to know that you don't matter anymore, that life goes on outside without you, and that they are the only thing that anyone wants to talk about. The shitty thing is, the little buggers might be right.