My 6-year-old daughter went to her first baby shower last weekend. A family friend is expecting a baby girl, and children were welcome at the party, much to my kindergartner’s delight. No surprise, she was especially impressed by the frilly pink décor and the candy buffet, and on the way home, she had a slew of questions.
“Mommy, if someone has another baby next year, is it okay if they have another shower?” she wanted to know.
“I think so. Every baby should be celebrated,” I said. “Plus, I support any reason to have cake.”
“Are you going to have more babies, Mommy?”
I told her I wasn’t, and a few minutes later she began to muse about her own future family.
“I don’t care if I have a boy or a girl. I just want a healthy baby,” she announced.
I’d said the exact same thing at least 617 times when I was pregnant. Well-meaning loved ones and even strangers would ask me if I wanted a boy or a girl, and I went with the cop-out “as long as it’s healthy” without really thinking about what I was saying because it was the socially acceptable answer.
I knew my daughter was also simply parroting what she’d likely heard several times throughout the day — that the parents to be were ecstatic that their baby was a girl, but they wouldn’t have minded either way as long as their child was healthy — but somehow these words coming from a child’s mouth sounded strange. Hearing them out of context suddenly made me realize that they’d been wrong all along.
We say this, mostly because we know we’d sound like a jerk implying that we’d prefer one gender over the other. I mean, what if I’d had a boy and told everyone I actually wanted a girl? Would that mean I was disappointed in the human being I carried for nine months, or that I might love a boy less than a girl? No parent ever seeks to imply that they wouldn’t completely adore, welcome, and pretty much swoon with gratitude over their baby, but when we say, “I don’t care as long as it’s healthy,” that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Even though we don’t mean to, we’re saying that we want a perfect baby, and that, yes, we’d be sad, disappointed, maybe disillusioned if we had a child that was anything less than healthy — except that is the reality for a huge number of parents. I easily know just as many families with children who have special needs as I know families without. When I put myself in their shoes, hearing someone say that all they want is a healthy baby sounds harsh and unacceptable, not to mention untrue.
I have never met a parent of a child with special needs who was not as dedicated, not as thankful for, and not as completely in love with their baby as anyone else. I have never heard of a parent who no longer “wanted” their little son or daughter just because they weren’t “healthy.” So why do we keep saying all we want is a healthy child?
I think what people are saying is that they don’t want their little one to suffer. I get that, because I too find the idea of my daughter being in any kind of pain unbearable. It’s natural to want that, but it’s also unrealistic.
When people say they want a healthy baby, they are, no matter how unintentionally, perpetuating ableism and excluding those who may not have healthy or typical bodies and their families. The solution isn’t to angrily shame anyone who has accidentally said the wrong thing. Instead, let’s be positive role models for change and say this instead:
I want the child I am meant to have.
This is so much kinder, so much more accurate, and so much more inclusive. When we say, “I want the child I am meant to have,” we leave out no one and imply that we are open to all possibilities. Our words come from love, acceptance, and gratitude. We speak a sentence that creates families without the expectations that may ultimately set us up for disappointment and resentment.
When we say, “I want the child I’m meant to have,” we are saying, I want this child that is coming, whoever they are. I want him, her, ze, or them. I want this human being in the body they have, with their unique mind, their special perspective, all the quirks they are bound to have. I want them no matter who and no matter what, and I will never stop wanting them, or loving them fiercely, and I am so happy they are here and I get to experience whatever shape this life takes with them.
“My love,” I said to my daughter on the way home from the baby shower, “would you love your babies any less if they were sick?”
“Of course not!” she said, laughing at the ridiculousness of it.
“Do you think I wouldn’t want you if you weren’t healthy? No way. I love you no matter what, forever,” I told her.
“I’m going to love my babies the same way,” she said.
I explained to her that not all babies are healthy, and many babies and children are different, but obviously we love them and are happy they are here too. No life is a disappointment.
“Every baby should be celebrated, right, Mommy?”
“Right,” I said.
“With cake,” she added.
“With cake,” I confirmed.