When I heard that Dr. Berry Brazelton-America's most revered pediatrician-passed away on March 13th, my instant reaction was NO.
Yes, I knew that he was a few weeks shy of turning 100.
And yes, I knew that his health was slipping, but NO. He had made a visit to his Touchpoint offices on Monday the 5th., eight days before his death. He had called our mutual friend, Franci O'Karma less than two weeks ago to console her on the death of her husband Hank who had produced his What Every Baby Knows TV shows for 12 years. Berry was planning his 100th birthday celebration. And he had called me to wish me a Merry Christmas on December 23rd and I had spoken with him on New Year's Eve to wish him a Happy 2018.
So I was left with his voicemail from December 23rd, which I listened to <g class="gr_ gr_96 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Punctuation only-ins replaceWithoutSep" id="96" data-gr-id="96">again</g> and again, just to hear his voice. That voice.
Dr. Joshua Sparrow, the Director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the co-author of many books with Berry-after acknowledging his own deep sorrow-told me that Berry had left blueprint for how to cope-a blueprint for turning this loss into fuel for action.
So I want to share a little about the blueprint Berry gave me for the 40 years we worked together.
Pay attention to that unknown person who hands you a book she has written when you have finished a speech. I recently heard about a well-known author who was handed an unsolicited manuscript after a speech, which she shoved back at the author saying, "You've got to be kidding!!" This story was told as if this course of action made the best sense-but I was that unknown person to Berry; I was the person who handed him a book (granted published by a respected publisher). He took it, read it, and it called me, to my surprise.
At the time-in the late 1970s-Berry was struggling with the question of the impact of mother's work on young children and my book focused on exemplary child care. He met with me several times; he listened to the research on this issue; he talked with many others. Berry eventually included me on his program, What Every Baby Knows, as a reoccurring child care and work-family expert.
Berry was a mentor to so many people that it could fill a book (and it did). To each, he gave his full attention; to each, he shared ideas; to each, he pushed, argued and helped them find and express their own purpose.
Re-examine your views. Like most men of his generation, Berry had grown up with the notion that women should be at home with their young children. This was a deeply held notion for him-it was the way he and his wife Chrissy had lived. But in the 1980s, his <g class="gr_ gr_100 gr-alert gr_spell gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim ContextualSpelling ins-del multiReplace" id="100" data-gr-id="100">now grown</g> daughters pushed back, saying, "get with the modern world." And Berry wanted to listen, to learn, to re-examine his assumptions. It was not an easy process, which our joint appearance on a Barbara Walter's show confirmed, but ultimately, he responded to the research and his conversations with many people and became an advocate for good child care. He also joined the Board of the Families and Work Institute, the organization I co-founded and headed. And at his wife's Chrissy funeral, he spoke from the podium about how proud he was of working with companies to help them become more family friendly.
Listen to children, families <g class="gr_ gr_147 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Punctuation only-ins replaceWithoutSep" id="147" data-gr-id="147">and</g> science. Berry often talked about how the prevailing wisdom when he went into pediatric practice in the 1950s was that babies were "lumps of clay," adding with emphasis, "Where did we get such a STUPID idea?" Early on. he noticed that infants have the rudiments of <g class="gr_ gr_145 gr-alert gr_spell gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim ContextualSpelling multiReplace" id="145" data-gr-id="145">self control</g> at birth. When noise <g class="gr_ gr_148 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Grammar multiReplace" id="148" data-gr-id="148">are</g> loud or lights are bright, they can find ways to calm down. These and other meticulous observation became the basis of his Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale, published in 1973, which has used to assess newborns and to share these observations with parents. He helped parents learn to "read" the language of their children with this assessment and his many <g class="gr_ gr_150 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Punctuation only-del replaceWithoutSep" id="150" data-gr-id="150">books,</g> and to respond in ways that helped their children become competent and confident.
Berry also observed that there were "touchpoints" in development. These are the time just before the child has a spurt in development-the child falls apart and regresses and the parents think, "Oh, what did I do wrong?" And parents regress too. Berry has said that it is important to let parents know that "regression is a precursor to progression." These are powerful moments for both for the parents and the <g class="gr_ gr_129 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Punctuation only-del replaceWithoutSep" id="129" data-gr-id="129">child,</g> because all are uniquely open to learning new ways of interacting.
Berry went on to listen to families and professionals about how to turn this knowledge into supports as they navigate these new and potentially tumultuous periods of development. I know because I was what he called his "<g class="gr_ gr_95 gr-alert gr_spell gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim ContextualSpelling ins-del multiReplace" id="95" data-gr-id="95">warm up</g> act" as he gave speeches around the counties, talking and listening to parents and professionals. With this knowledge and with research, he founded the Brazelton Touchpoints Center in 1996, where he, the amazing Josh Sparrow, and their team have worked in hundreds of communities around the country.
But it wasn't just in speeches where Berry listened and learned. I was once with him in Virginia Beach and we went out to dinner following one of these events. He asked for a table and <g class="gr_ gr_107 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Punctuation only-ins replaceWithoutSep" id="107" data-gr-id="107">literally</g> every parent in the restaurant turned around. They recognized "that voice" from the What Every Baby Knows TV show and we spent a delightful dinner surrounded by and talking with parents.
Communicate what you know with passion. Berry was a consummate communicator. My favorite example is when he testified in Congress on behalf of the Families and Medical Leave Act of 2003. He held a "pretend baby" in his arms and responded back and forth to this phantom newborn, at the same time as he talked about the importance of mothers and fathers having time to bond with their babies. A note: the FMLA become law as a result of this testimony and the very hard work of committed advocates over many years. A post-note: We heard that there was a baby boom in Congress nine months after his testimony among those who had been there. His love for babies was, simply put, that contagious!
Have fun. Berry knew how to have fun. I have wonderful memories of dinner parties at his yellow house on Brattle Street in Cambridge with people gathering by the piano. Berry had considered a career in the theater, which his father apparently nixed and urged him to go to Medical school.
At his 80th birthday celebration, there was a rousing party in a hotel in Virginia. Just as the singing around the piano got started, Chrissy and Berry left. Soon <g class="gr_ gr_127 gr-alert gr_spell gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim ContextualSpelling multiReplace" id="127" data-gr-id="127">afterwards</g>, Berry reappeared in a beautiful bathrobe and pajamas, saying he had snuck out. The singing went on for hours, with everyone celebrating Berry as a force of nature and. celebrating the life-changing work that Touchpoints was accomplishing.
Invest in and cherish relationships. Berry's theories are built on the premise-long confirmed by research-that children and adults grow and change <g class="gr_ gr_136 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Grammar replaceWithoutSep" id="136" data-gr-id="136">through</g> the important relationships in their lives. Berry walked this talk in the programs he and his colleagues created and in his own life. I have had scores of people who were once his patients tell me that they stayed in touch. Just yesterday, a former patient who grew up to be a policy director to a governor emailed me, saying, "I sent him a holiday card this year as always and as always he wrote back quickly."
Berry was there for people in good times and bad. One time, the Touchpoints team was staying in a hotel-and a family whose adult child was killed in the plane crash that killed Ron Brown, a member in President Clinton's cabinet, was also there. Berry sat right down to comfort and talk with this family.
So sadly, "yes." I will have to learn to accept the fact that this force of nature is no longer with us, that I will no longer see him, talk to him, and learn with him. But I can also see that his force is so powerful that all of us whom he deeply touched will continue to go forth and share his wisdom of listening to and respecting the wisdom of children and parents, that we will lead with the science of child development, and we will try to see that the good he brought to world continues to double, triple and quadruple every day.