Please Do Not Pet the Baby Bump—or, Motherhood in the Surveillance Society

“Hi. I’m just going to duck in your office for a second and hide. I saw Barbara* come in and she’s probably going to try to pet my belly again.”

The colleague who whispered these words to me had slipped through my half-opened door with remarkable speed and stealth for someone in her third trimester of pregnancy. I gestured to a chair and offered a quiet, sympathetic laugh, and though she joined me, her laugh was a tired one, mingling wry amusement with embarrassment and consternation. The offending belly-petter was an older woman, kind and well-meaning, but abounding in far more maternal advice than actual expertise, and cheerfully unconstrained by any sense of personal boundaries. Continue reading →

Ben dreams of deadly sushi.

Ben Utter, one of the founders of Vital, reflects on how we–doctors, scholars, parents, everyone–can improve each other’s health by listening.


The lark sings loud and glad,
Yet I am not loth
That silence should take the song and the bird
And lose them both.
               —D.H. Lawrence, “Listening”

The doorbell rang in my dream the other night, and I opened our front door to find a food deliveryman. Without a word, he handed me a cooler and walked back toward his car. Inside the Styrofoam container were several slices of fugu, the infamous, highly toxic pufferfish, the kind prepared only by highly-skilled Japanese chefs, lest a residual trace of poison kill a diner. In the dream, I handed these morsels to my young daughter and son and watched—passively, but, as is often the case in dreams, with a suffocating sense of imminent danger—as they slurped them down. I awoke with a gasp, disoriented, still wondering whether or not this dangerous dinner was going to send my children into renal failure (turns out that on this count, at least, I needn’t have worried, since tetrodotoxin kills by paralyzing the lungs—an unsurprising error on the part of my mind’s dream production company, which had no more data to draw on than what I knew about fugu from watching that episode of The Simpsons). Continue reading →