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 …
#5. Sleep Deprivation
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.
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.
#4. Solitary Confinement
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.)
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.
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.
#3. Sound Torture
How Interrogators Do It:
Remember the horrific story from Abu Ghraib about how they were breaking detainees by playing Barney The Dinosaur’s I Love You song on a loop until men who’d never even been to the Middle East confessed to sucking Bin Laden’s dick?
Many news outlets seemed to laugh it off, saying that they had been through the same with their kids, and were summarily criticized for their lack of empathy by Paul Arendt and Jon Ronson. Well, I’m here to set the record straight: Those parents were not merely dismissing the horror that took place inside those shipping containers; they shuddered at the physical memory of going through it themselves.
“Lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes …”
Sound torture, as used in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, involved playing an eclectic mix of music (including Metallica’s Enter Sandman, Deicide’s Fuck Your God, and, of course, Barney) at extremely loud volumes (upwards of 79 decibels) on repeat for days, weeks, hell, even months at a time.
At these volumes and over this timeframe, the music becomes a physical presence. The body’s only reaction is to make it stop.
Says Sergeant Mark Hadsell from the U.S. Psychological Operations Company: “These people haven’t heard heavy metal. They can’t take it. If you play it for 24 hours, your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down, and your will is broken. That’s when we come in and talk to them.”
That’s the theory, at least. I can only imagine the types of confessions that are given after Barney’s I Love You has finally been shut off after three days. Probably confessions of love and how you both feel it for each other.
“WON’T YOU SAY YOU LOVE ME TOO!?”
How Babies Do It:
Babies, contrary to what you think, love noise. Here’s Dr. Harvey Karp explaining it in more detail:
When your friend or family member has a baby, everyone keeps quiet so as not to disturb the human larva, but the thing is, they just came from the womb, which is about as quiet as a Pink Floyd concert. Know why we naturally shush babies to sleep? Because that’s what it sounds like in utero. They spend nine months within kicking distance of their mother’s heart, lungs, and stomach, none of which are exactly silent.
During that third godforsaken month, the only sound that would give us any respite from our daughter’s unearthly screaming (which she managed to keep at the same pitch and volume for hours at a time) was to play some white noise at full volume. Her favorites, in case you’re wondering, were the vacuum cleaner, airplane, and hair dryer.
If you’re thinking, “That doesn’t sound so bad,” and we could just switch it off when she fell asleep, think again: We had to keep that shit on all night to have even the tiniest hope of shuteye. Seriously, my wife’s phone battery died two hours in one time, and the baby woke right up and started crying again.
The real vacuum had already caved under pressure long ago.
So, perhaps white noise is the lesser of two evils? Well, yes and no. Yes, it’s better to listen to a vacuum cleaner for six hours in a row than your only scion screaming. No, it doesn’t let you sleep anymore than if she were wide awake and shrieking her displeasure at the universe.
Sound torture, as defined by Dr. Hernan Reyes, “may not amount to ill-treatment when considered in isolation,” but is when “applied in conjunction with other techniques, cumulatively and/or over a long time.” Which is how our daughter played the game. So, why didn’t we take her to the Hague for reparation? Well, let’s look at what being exposed to persistent, dissonant noise for extended periods of time does to a person.
Again, we’re not talking about whale calls or some such shit.
First off, you’re a ball of raw, exposed nerves. Coupled with lack of sleep, having white noise played at you all night leaves you pissy, impatient, and ready to kick everyone in the nuts. Worst of all, though, it stops you from thinking.
Go, try it yourself. Put on this YouTube video, which our baby was addicted to at one point, turn the volume way up (79 decibels should do), then see if you can write down all the groceries you need to pick up from the store, or write that email to your boss about the meeting next week, or, hell, just try to remember your own goddamn name.
#2. Stress Positions
How Interrogators Do It:
Did you remember to remember it? Stress positions are positions in which you put extra stress on small groups of muscles. So at first, it’s kind of uncomfortable, but after a while, it turns into searing pain. In Guantanamo, stress positions were used as part of the prolonged process of “breaking” a detainee.
They are primarily used as a means of sleep deprivation (try falling asleep when whole muscle groups are screaming at you to be relaxed) and also as a way of keeping pressure on their bodies and minds between more conventional “heavy” techniques (such as between waterboarding sessions).
“Oh, finally, some variety.”
The goal is simple: Do not relent any pressure, so that the prisoner will eventually crack and sobbingly reveal all their contacts and targets. Coupled with sleep deprivation, this has an unexpected effect: Many detainees suffer debilitating hallucinations. So, any contacts they might inform you of may be a complete figment of their imagination.
Babies are far more effective at this.
How Babies Do It:
Now, you may think it crass of me to compare what follows to what CIA torturers did to their captives, but, if it’s not in the same ballpark, it is at least the same sport.
After the worst six weeks of our lives (see above), my wife got a promotion at work that upgraded her to sugamama and downgraded me to house husband/stay-at-home dad. She jumped at it like a dying woman in the desert would a Gatorade.
The electrolytes helped replenish the sodium she lost crying tears of joy.
Well, that put me behind the 8-ball. At least my daughter was no longer screaming at me as much. Still, putting her to sleep was a science, art, and craft all rolled into one, because anything that worked once had no guarantees of working ever again. One thing that was constant while trying to please Her Majesty, however, was the use of stress positions. On me.
Now, the position might change from day to day, but I’m here to tell you that every single one of them was designed to cause me the most pain for the longest time that her wicked little brain could come up with. I either had to stand holding her in my outstretched arms like the fucking Lion King or sit up straight with her held up (as she wouldn’t stay asleep if she touched my lap). Or, I could sit forward with her head in the crook of one arm and her legs lying across my lap, but that meant I had to lean far to one side the whole time she slept and had only one arm free.
The most difficult month for me was the first after my wife went back to work. My girl had to be held all the time. Going to the toilet? Hold me. Need to answer emails or want to surf the net? Hold me. Feeling hungry and want to eat something? Hold me.
Already holding me? Hold me.
Even when I finally got her to sleep, there was no way for me to put her down without her waking up, so anything I wanted to do had to be done one-handed (make your own jokes). This is how I wrote my first Cracked article.
“What are you complaining about?” you may ask. “Surely having so much physical contact with your daughter is a great bonding exercise.”
Indeed it is, but for the same reason that being screamed at or denied sleep are: Having to hold a 10-pound baby, one-armed, for 10 hours a day ruins your muscles, your nerves, and your posture, giving you migraines most days and simply removing any sense of self you may have. Being denied three minutes to take a dump on my own scraped away what little ego I had left.
Luckily, diapers come in a wide range of sizes.
I didn’t hallucinate anything because of this, but constant headaches, lack of concentration, muscular and mental exhaustion, and loss of patience were all symptoms I experienced as a result of this month of undergoing these stress positions.
But, whenever I got to put the little bundle of joy down, my body and mind were flooded with such overwhelming relief that I actually felt grateful to my torturer for allowing it to stop. That’s messed up.
#1. Food And Drink Deprivation
How Interrogators Do It:
Food deprivation was allegedly used last September in Barbour County, Alabama, when prisoners refused to accept a plea deal. Because what better way to get people to agree with you than by starving them?
Of course, the U.S. military has used it, most notably in 2004, when it was revealed that four U.K. nationals had undergone food deprivation during their stay. This is something confirmed by the last U.K. national to be freed from Guantanamo, Shaker Aamer, who underwent the same thing at a CIA “black site” at Bagram Airfield.
Denying detainees food obviously lowers their resistance and energy levels (Aamer lost 40 percent of his body weight), but it has psychological aspects as well, such as dysphoria and, well, pretty much all of the worst parts of a psychology handbook. It makes you more emotional, distracted, depressed, and obsessed with food. Which is why babies use it too.
Because at this point I think we can reasonably conclude that babies are able
to channel the power of Hades.
How Babies Do It:
As I had to hold onto my daughter every waking second of the day, I was unable to prepare or eat food or drink. The number of times that my throat was sore from singing her to sleep but the water bottle was either on the table across the living room or I simply could not unscrew the cap one-handed cannot be counted.
But the worst part was the food. Try holding 10 pounds of sleeping baby in one arm while spreading some peanut butter on bread or pouring milk into a bowl of cereal. Hell, even if you manage that, try getting the food you’ve just prepared to your face without rousing the beast. It’s an ergonomic nightmare.
Put aside the fact that holding a baby is like trying to hold mashed potatoes.
And that’s just snack food to meet the most basic caloric requirements. The idea that I might be able to cook actual food or even heat up something frozen to then shovel into my face was laughable. I lost 10 pounds: The same amount of weight as my daughter at the time — coincidence? Bearing in mind that I’m a skinny son of a bitch to begin with, this got dangerous.
But there was no obvious solution. Even preparing food at night after I dragged my ass home from work late still left me with the problem of how to get the food to my mouth the next day. It’s one I didn’t solve, and it led to some health problems that took several months to recover from.
As the pros say: “Blood sugar imbalances can cause a host of bothersome effects, including mood swings, headaches, trembling, sweating, and fatigue.” Uh-huh? No shit. We’ve all been there, sister.
After a month, my kid seemed to sense that I wasn’t able to hold her as well as before (I wonder why), so she started sleeping on her own … most of the time. When that happened, I stuffed my goddamn face. Which was also dangerous. It doesn’t take a dietitian to know that going from not eating at all to shoveling half of your refrigerator into your gaping suckhole isn’t healthy.
“You could at least unwrap the burrito.”
But, again, at the time when the prohibition was lifted, before the binge-eating came back to kick me in the guts, I was so grateful I could have wept. Eating until I felt like I could puke was my reward.
I’m telling you that babies know exactly what they’re doing. Every torture technique they use on you strips away another layer of self-involved narcissism until you’re left a better, more selfless, far more loving person.
Either that or I have a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.