Its importance. Danger of repressing
a tendency to cry. Anecdote from Dr. Rush.
Physiology of crying. Folly of attempting wholly
to suppress it.
“Crying,” says Dr. Dewees,
“should be looked upon as an exercise of much
importance;” and he is sustained in this view
by many eminent medical writers.
But people generally think otherwise.
Nothing is more common than the idea that to cry is
unbecoming; and children are everywhere taught, when
they suffer pain, to brave it out, and not cry.
Such a direction
to say nothing of its
tendency to encourage hypocrisy
unphilosophical. The following anecdote may serve
in part to illustrate my meaning. It is said
to have been related by Dr. Rush.
A gentleman in South Carolina was
about to undergo a very painful surgical operation.
He had imbibed the idea that it was beneath the dignity
of a man ever to say or do anything expressive of pain.
He therefore refused to submit to the usual precaution
of securing the hands and feet by bandages, declaring
to his surgeon that he had nothing to fear from his
being untied, for he would not move a muscle of his
body. He kept his word, it is true; but he died
instantly after the operation, from apoplexy.
There is very little doubt, in the
mind of any physiologist, in regard to the cause of
apoplexy in this case; and that it might have been
prevented by the relief which is always afforded by
groans and tears.
It is, I believe, very generally known,
that in the profoundest grief, people do not, and
cannot shed tears; and that when the latter
begin to flow, it affords immediate relief.
I do not undertake to argue from this,
that crying is so important, either to the young or
the old, that it is ever worth while to excite or
continue it by artificial means; or that a habit of
crying, so easily and readily acquired by the young,
is not to be guarded against as a serious, evil.
My object was first to show the folly of those who
denounce all crying, and secondly, to point out some
of its advantages
in the hope of preventing
parents from going to that extreme which borders upon
One of the most intelligent men I
ever knew, frequently made it his boast that he neither
laughed nor cried on any occasion; and on being told
that both laughing and crying were physiologically
useful, he only ridiculed the sentiment.
Crying is useful to very young infants,
because it favors the passage of blood in their lungs,
where it had not before been accustomed to travel,
and where its motion is now indispensable. And
it not only promotes the circulation of the blood,
but expands the air-cells of the lungs, and thus helps
forward that great change, by which the dark-colored
impure blood of the veins is changed at once into
pure blood, and thus rendered fit to nourish the system,
and sustain life.
But this is not all. Crying strengthens
the lungs themselves. It does this by expanding
the little air-cells of which I have just spoken, and
not only accustoms them to being stretched, at a period,
of all others, the most favorable for this purpose,
but frees them at the same time from mucus, and other
They, therefore, who oppose an infant’s
crying, know not what they do. So far is it from
being hurtful to the child, that its occasional recurrence
is, as we have already seen, positively useful.
Some practitioners of medicine, in some of the more
trying situations in which human nature can be placed,
even encourage their patients to suffer tears to flow,
as a means of relief.
Infants, it should also be recollected,
have no other language by which to express their wants
and feelings, than sighs and tears. Crying is
not always an expression of positive pain; it sometimes
indicates hunger and thirst, and sometimes the want
of a change of posture. This last consideration
deserves great attention, and all the inconveniences
of crying ought to be borne cheerfully, for the sake
of having the little sufferer remind us when nature
demands a change of position. No child ought
to be permitted to remain in one position longer than
two hours, even while sleeping; nor half that time,
while awake; and if nurses and mothers will overlook
this matter, as they often do, it is a favorable circumstance
that the child should remind them of it.
Crying has been called the “waste
gate” of the human system; the door of escape
to that excess of excitability which sometimes prevails,
especially among children and nervous adults.
To all such persons it is healthy
undoubtedly so; nor do I know that its occasional
recurrence is injurious to any adult
public sentiment to the contrary notwithstanding.
Some have supposed, that what is here
said will be construed by the young mother into a
license to suffer her child to cry unnecessarily.
Perhaps, say they, she is a laboring woman, and wishes
to be at work. Well, she lays down her child
in the cradle, or on the bed, and goes to her work.
Presently the child, becoming wet perhaps, begins to
cry, as well he might. But, instead of going
to him and taking care of him, she continues at her
employment; and when one remonstrates against her
conduct as cruelty, she pleads the authority of the
author of the “Young Mother.”
All this may happen; but if it should,
I am not answerable for it. I have insisted strongly
on guarding the child against wet clothing, and on
watching him with the utmost care to prevent all real
suffering. Mothers, like the specimen here given,
if they happen to have a little sensibility to suffering,
and not much love of their offspring, generally know
of a shorter way to quiet their infants and procure
time to work, than that which is here mentioned.
They have nothing to do but to give them some cordial
or elixir, whose basis is opium. Startle not,
reader, at the statement;
practice is followed by many a female who claims the
sacred name of mother. And many a wretch has
thus, in her ignorance, indolence or avarice, slowly
destroyed her children!
I repeat, therefore, that I do not
think my remarks on crying are necessarily liable
to abuse; though I am not sure that there are not a
few individuals to be found who may apply them in the
manner above mentioned
however, which is as far removed from the original
intention of the author, as can possibly be conceived.