I want to talk about something today. It’s gonna rub some of you the wrong way. Some of you will think I’m being overly sensitive and silly. Some of you will be annoyed with me.
And that’s OK.
I’m an undying fan of Story.
We all live wildly different lives and walk the paths of completely bizarre Story lines, but at the end of the day, we’re all in this together and the only way we can ever begin to understand one another … and more importantly, support one another … is if we speak aloud the matters of our heart.
And so, I want to flesh out with you something that’s bugged me for years. But mostly, it’s made me cringe and made my heart sting even more so lately.
“I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl … so long as it’s healthy.”
Those words get tossed around by anyone and everyone even remotely affected by an impending birth.
New moms. Dads. Grandmas. Aunts. Cousins.
If someone you love has a growing belly and a sweet heartbeat (or two!) inside, while you might prefer a certain sex, the end wish is for HEALTHY. You might dream of all things pink and sparkle, but either way, you’re happy if it’s healthy. Or, as often the saying goes, “has 10 fingers and 10 toes”.
And I get that. Truly. It makes perfect sense. No one wishes for hardships. Particularly those affecting the sweetest, squishiest , most deliciously lovable newborns among us.
Does anyone actually WANT their child to live a life of suffering?
Does any parent or grandparent actually DESIRE for the new littlest to need a host of specialists and medications?
OF COURSE NOT.
And believe you me, if I could wave a magic wand right. this. second. and take away my girl’s cerebral palsy, do a rain dance and whisk away her epilepsy, I would do it in a heart beat.
OF COURSE I WOULD.
To think any differently would be insanity.
Make no bones about it: I am deeply saddened that Jill suffers. My heart wrenches when I see how it affects her siblings. My gut churns when I see a twinkle of defeat in her daddy’s eyes.
I would never wish for my child to walk this path … no matter how darling she looks in her metallic walker … and if I could do ANYTHING … anything at all … and then see her jump and play and run and yes, even fall, without fear of a 911 call and an ambulance ride, you better believe I would do it in a heartbeat. Half a heartbeat. My dream of all dreams would be to see my girl jump rope and then read me a story.
So trust me that I get it when people say “… so long as it’s healthy.”
I get it. Deeply. Profoundly. Minute by minute. Every day of my life, I get it.
But the cringing comes from a deeper place. A place that worries what it says, on some level, about the worth of my daughter whose seizures last hours and cost thousands. About the worth of my friends’ son who has seven fingers and not the widely hoped for 10. About sweet Brock, whose family fought tooth and nail for an exhausting three years to beat cancer.
About the place prescribed, even unintentionally, to all the children that society wouldn’t consider “so long as it’s healthy.”
But mostly, I worry of little ears overhearing these sentiments. This figure of speech we toss around without thought.
How does the preschooler, the one in remission who spent last Christmas in the ICU, feel when he hears his teacher, glowing that first-time mom glow, rubbing her belly in the way only pregnant women can, smiling warmly and telling another mom … ”Oh, we don’t really care what it is. So long as it’s healthy.”
The little girl in a wheelchair, rolling past a set of strangers in the checkout line, catching up on life and giddy with the announcement. “We’d love a girl … but really, as long as it’s healthy, it really doesn’t matter.”
The teenager scanning her Facebook feed, especially during the November Thankful a day madness, seeing messages of “Today I’m thankful my family is healthy!” “Day 16: thankful for a healthy baby girl in my tummy!” “Day 22: grateful for my happy, healthy kids!”
Because here’s the thing that rips at my mama’s heart: Sure, you and I, we know what those people mean. We know they aren’t meaning to be rude. And really, it is a great thing to be thankful for. Of course it is.
But kids are notoriously literal. They are incapable of unpacking intent. Of seeing the bigger picture of what is really being said. Kids can’t peel away the layers of meaning.
Because all that little boy can hear is: “… so long as it doesn’t have cancer. Because I definitely don’t want that. I don’t want him. So long as it’s not him. Then I’ll be happy.”
Because all that teenager sees is “Day 7: grateful that I don’t have her as a daughter.”
Because all that little girl hears is “… so long as it can walk and talk, because I don’t want my baby to be like her.”
Because all Jill will one day hear is “… so long as it doesn’t give me the grief of seizures and equipment to haul around. I can’t imagine having to be her mom. Anything as long as it’s not her.”
Is that what any of us are saying when we rub our overextending belly buttons and shift our weight on swollen feet?
My guess is no. No one is.
But history is riddled with good intentions gone horribly bad. And just because it isn’t what you meant, doesn’t mean it might not still be hurtful. ESPECIALLY when who you speak of is a child.
And to go further, I can’t help but wonder if maybe subconsciously we ARE saying these things? After all, 90 percent of fetuses with Down Syndrome are aborted. So are we really being honest, as a society, to say that we don’t mean to suggest all these awful things? If we could test for epilepsy in utero, would there also be an associated percentage to report? If we could run biopsies on unborn babes, would we see a downshift in childhood cancer rates?
Perhaps we would. And if the answer to that is yes … how can we roll our eyes at the thought that a child, or this grown woman for that matter, might be offended at the seemingly blase “… so long as it’s healthy” figure of speech? Is it really just a figure of speech or is there more under there? Even more than any of us even realize?
And even if none of this is true, could we pause for a moment to consider how our words might impact the most innocent of ears? The ones who have seen the sterile walls of hospitals more times than they should. The ones who have amber bottles lining kitchen counter tops, their names printed boldly along the top of the label. The ones who fight every single day to do what you and I take for granted.
Because as the mama of that little girl, while I would do anything to take away her struggles, I can most assuredly promise you she is still worth it. Our family would be woefully done a disservice to not have her be a part of it. Even if she doesn’t fit the mold of healthy.
So Long As she is here. That’s what I say.
And I wish you could see that too. “… I don’t care what it is. So long as it is here. So long as I get a chance to know it.”
Day 4,432: grateful she is mine. Thankful she is here. Blessed to have four incredible kids.
Let’s change the dialogue, friends.