The state of being pregnant seems to encourage a wide variety of unsolicited commentary from others. Expectant mothers are frequently met with seemingly innocuous remarks, such as, “You look like you’re carrying twins” and “What sex are you hoping for?” throughout their pregnancy. It’s been eight years since my last pregnancy, but I remember feeling like many of these comments, though never ill-intended, were out of place and even downright nosey. I struggled through my pregnancies and just wanted to keep my head down and get through it. For me, the less discussion with others, particularly strangers and acquaintances, the better. Still, I entertained many conversations about my changing body, the baby inside it, and expectations for our growing family. But, there was always one comment that struck a nerve with me more than the others, and as several of my friends are expanding their families, I am reminded of it now. I became most bothered when the following conversation ensued:
Well-meaning individual: Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?
Me: It truly does not matter. (That was it. Full stop. I really had no preferred sex.)
Well-meaning individual: That’s right. As long as it’s healthy, that’s all that matters.
This conversation played out dozens of times for both of my pregnancies, yet every time, the As long as it’s healthy just got to me. Back then, I’d just nod and let the conversation fizzle. If I was pregnant now though, I think I’d speak up. I may be in the minority here, but to me, that quick reply of “as long as it’s healthy” seems to carry with it the assumption that a healthy baby is the only type of baby to wish for, that somehow, anything less than perfectly healthy is undesired. I’m not easily offended. I know absolutely no one intends for this remark to be hurtful, but I think in many cases, it really can be. What if the mother is expecting a baby with a condition or illness and hasn’t disclosed that diagnosis yet? Or, what if she expects a healthy baby but receives an unanticipated diagnosis at birth? As long as it’s healthy. Well, what if it’s not? What message has been sent repeatedly along the way?
I get it. No one wants to see their child in pain or requiring medical interventions or supportive services or whatever else may come with “unhealthy.” Loving parents want their kids to be happy and free from any suffering. I think we can all understand that. I’m not saying I expect anyone to wish for an unhealthy baby. But what if? Well, parents handle it. They commit. They advocate. They learn, adapt, and struggle. Kids – and their families – are impressively resilient.
And look, I am in no way saying it is easy or minimizing any parent’s trials and experiences nor am I trying to speak for any parents. Parenting a child with complex needs – physically, mentally, emotionally, whatever – is challenging and exhausting. It can be, quite frankly, burdensome and lonely. As a nurse in a pediatric hospital, I work with these children and families regularly. I take care of the kids who fell short of that bare minimum “As long as it’s healthy,” the kids no one seemed to wish for quite like this. And they change me. Every shift, when I walk onto my unit, as I swipe my badge to clock in, I say, “Bless my team, and show me your miracles.” I’m not super religious, but this has become a regular prayer for me. I get to see miracles every day, and playing a small role in these miracles is what makes my job awesome. I get to cheer for the child with Down Syndrome who fearlessly remains still for my IV stick. I high-five the dad who proudly programs the feeding pump correctly for his child’s g-tube. And I cry with the momma who knows in her gut the cancer is back, and chemo and transplants can’t beat it this time. My job can be scary and hard – there’s no as long as it’s healthy – but my patients are perfect.
And it’s not just about expectant parents. It’s not just about congenital or chronic. The reality is, it could be anyone at any time. It could be a new cancer diagnosis, a traumatic brain injury from an accident, a metal health crisis… Many kids are healthy until they’re not, so let’s watch our words and take care not to imply that anything other than healthy is anything other than good.