Adapting the bible of childcare for India

C. Maya
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A special edition of ‘Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare’ is being brought out for the country

A grand legacy:Mary Morgan, widow of the late Benjamin Spock who authored ‘ Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare ,’ at a book-reading session in Thiruvananthapuram. —Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar
A grand legacy:Mary Morgan, widow of the late Benjamin Spock who authored ‘ Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare ,’ at a book-reading session in Thiruvananthapuram. —Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

Sixty-six years after Pocket Books published his handbook on parenting, ‘Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare’, the legacy of the world’s favourite paediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock, lives on.

Dr. Spock died in New York in 1998, at the age of 95, having seen generations raised on the quiet wisdom he had offered through his book, which has till date sold over 50 million copies in 49 languages across the world.

Yet, even today, Dr. Spock’s gentle and commonsensical approach to childcare continues to be the most abiding guidance for many young parents who are living away from their own families, with fragile support systems.

“‘Trust yourself, you know more than you think you do…’ these opening lines of the book encompass the spirit of his work. Ben advised young mothers to connect with oneself and their babies from the heart and to trust their own instincts,” says Mary Morgan, Dr. Spock’s wife, who was in town as part of the promotion of the latest edition of Dr. Spock’s well-loved work, tailor-made for the Indian market.

A first

Though there has been a translated version of the original work in Hindi, this is the first time that a special Indian adaptation of the book is being brought out, for the English-reading population in the country.

This special edition has been put together by Robert Needlman and Dr. Abdulla Ghori, paediatricians based in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Dr. Spock is there all through the book, but we also adapted and revised it completely, keeping in mind the Indian cultural traditions and practices of childcare. Dr. Ghori brought in the Indian elements while we also had Sheila Balakrishnan, one of the senior obstetricians at the SAT Hospital here, add a chapter on pregnancy and ante-natal care so that women need buy only one book,” says Ms. Morgan, who has been handling the publishing work for the book since the fifth edition.

Role of grandparents

The Indian version reflects the spirit and compassion of Dr. Spock, but in a different cultural context. It acknowledges the greater roles that grandparents play in rearing the child and the changing realities of the current Indian society. It offers a lot of clarity to new mothers on many tiny but vexatious doubts they may have about baby care.

“One of Ben’s greatest gifts was that he was a good listener and he listened when young mothers came to him with their problems. He would tell them that they were not bad mothers because they did not know to do something. He made them feel empowered,” says Ms. Morgan.

Very unusual life

She says that she fell in love with his politics before she fell in love with the man himself. He was a prominent activist in the anti-Vietnam war movement and one of the main concerns he raised was that it was children who ultimately paid the price of a war.

He was the Presidential candidate for the Left-wing People's Party in 1972, advocating free healthcare for all and right to education for all children, ideas which seem to have gained currency now more than ever, says Ms. Morgan.

She was 30 years old when she married Dr. Spock, who was 40 years her senior. She was from Alabama while he was a proper Yankee – prompting the question from her grandparents when she took him to meet them for the first time: “Couldn't you have done better than find a Yankee?”

“We led a very unusual life. The man had saltwater in his veins – he was so much in love with the sea that we spent some 20 years of our life together aboard two sail boats, ‘Carapace’ and ‘Turtle’, either sailing or moored in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean or in Maine. The first time I went on board, I was terribly seasick but I promised him, never again. In time I even learnt to take apart the boat engines and put it together – so much so that he once gave me a toolbox as Christmas gift,” Ms. Morgan smiles.

The life on the boat was quiet – it was an experience for Ms. Morgan how one could learn to live with so little.

“There was never a television, just the beauty of the sun and the ocean around us. We would row out every morning into the sea…I still go back to Maine to that 25-ft boat (Turtle) every year,” she says.

In letter and spirit

Dr. Spock was actively involved in revising up till the seventh edition of his work. He wrote every single day; replied to every single letter that he received from young parents and doctors from world over. The world may have changed but there are certain things about mothers and babies which will never change. Which is essentially what Dr. Spock conveys through his endearing wisdom, what makes his book the well-thumbed bible of every new parent.

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