Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"What any good mother would do!"

I had an experience yesterday at work I'd like to share and discuss a bit. I was "facing up" some product on the floor at work while carrying on a short conversation with another employee who said something to the extent of,

"Every first child should be a boy!"

I laughed and said, "Well, I'm kind of hoping for a girl."

Then a customer jumped in to the conversation and said,

"Oh, is this your first child?"

"Yes," I said (Even though I personally count this baby as baby #2).

She told me she had wanted a girl with her first child but ended up having a boy instead and it was great. I laughed and replied,

"Well, either way I'm sure I will be happy to just have my baby!"

And then she replied with an all-too-common response. She said,

"Well, as long as it's healthy - right?"

I looked her in the eyes and responded with a smile, "Whether my baby is healthy or not, I will still love my baby because it's mine."

The tone I delivered this line was matter-of-fact, but sincere. It wasn't snooty. It is often difficult to explain the tone of conversation shared in pure dialogue.

Having a sister with Down's Syndrome who had to endure open heart surgery, stomach surgery and a myriad of other health issues I often feel a prick of irritation at this statement. "As long as it's healthy!" This phrase is said so cheerfully, without a thought. Don't get me wrong. I pray for my growing baby's health and strength every day. Nor do I want to undermine the difficulty parents face in raising a suffering, sick, or mentally challenged child. Every mother hopes her child will not have to endure suffering of any kind really. But, Riley, the little girl who fought for her life for the first year and onward, has been one of the greatest blessings my family has ever experienced.

Suffering is undoubtedly a integral part of being mortal human beings. We suffer in life - physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, socially... The suffering and sadness, is really an essential element to our happiness. And I would argue that what we suffer for most, are the things we love and care for the most, the things that bring us the greatest happiness. Suffering does not make our lives meaningless, but rather it accentuates what is meaningful to us.

Her comment, taken to its philosophical roots, reminds me somewhat of Virginia Ironside's philosophy on children who are unhealthy:

"What any good mother would do!"

Are not millions of babies killed each year, because we believe they would have to endure suffering of some kind? Whether they have a chromosomal defect or would be raised in a less-than-ideal situation?

Suffering does not make our lives meaningless, but it shows to us what we treasure most.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this one friends. Talk to me.


  1. I guess I've never really analyzed the statement "As long as they are healthy." It does seem to imply that unhealthy babies are undesirable. But, to be honest, people aren't saying this to be rude: they are saying it as well wishes. Why would you wish someone to have a sick child, one they could lose? No one wants to wish you with a suffering child. I know that through suffering and trials we grow, but having a healthy child will bring lots of challenges in itself.

  2. Katelyn - I totally agree that people aren't saying it to be rude. And I agree that having a healthy child will bring lots of challenges in itself. Who's to say an unhealthy child won't enjoy their life either? What I'm proposing is that saying, "As long as they are healthy," is just one of those cultural things we say, that both reveals an underlying philosophy yet has also become carelessly used. Like when we ask the checker at the grocery store, "How are you?" We don't really want to know how they are. We just say it without thinking about it. Or when we see someone who has an angry or sad look on their face and say something like, "C'mon. Let's see a smile!" Or even ask them, "Why aren't you smiling?" What I'm proposing is that this is perhaps one of those statements we should think a bit more carefully about before we say it, because it does have broader implications whether they are intended or not. I think it reveals some cultural attitudes as well. The cultural attitude of fear of suffering. The idea that happy=good and sad=bad. And the idea that with optimal physical health=ALL is well, healthy and happy. Am I making sense?

  3. You absolutely make sense, and I totally know what you mean. Having twins, people say all sorts of dumb stuff that is the culturally what you say to people who have twins (I once blogged about them). I never know what to say to people when they tell me "Well, you've got your hands full." There's so many implications in that sentence alone, like it's bad to have twins, because it's bad to busy, or stretched, or to have more than one kid even, especially that are the same age. It's not even a helpful or well wishes statement. It's more like stating what I am obviously am aware of every single day, and they don't offer any help either. It is strange how these cultural things come about.

  4. Following this discussion, here, I've got two things to add as a mother of two young kiddos.

    1. People in general are pretty good. They want to help, but we've sort of become a beaten down society in the sense that everything we say must be "politically correct". Maybe they want to help. Maybe they admire you. Maybe they are remembering the times when their children were young and that's when the "As long as they're healthy" comes out. HOWEVER, you can't really walk up to someone and help them load their groceries into their car anymore. Most people are afraid to offend by stating their true opinions. So they say the things they're expected to say instead of speaking from sincerity. I don't know. I used to think that people in the world were pretty jerky. When people are waiting behind you in line at the grocery store or in their cars while you are a pedestrian, they sort of are. When you speak to most people one-on-one, there's a general goodness still. Even if they say something that is utterly cliche, maybe they just aren't being brave and have fallen into the trap that society has disallowed them to say what they'd really like.

    2. When people say "You've got your hands full", I tell them what my sister has told me: "I'd rather have my arms full than my hands empty." Makes people think and I've found it to be totally unoffensive.

  5. I agree completely, I would never wish for sufferings but without them there is little meaning and point to our existence. I love this quote by Pres Hinkley- " Be Happy. All of us have problems. We face them everyday. How grateful I am that we have difficult things to wrestle with. they keep us young... they keep us alive. They keep us going. They keep us humble. They pull us down to our knees to ask the God of Heaven for help in solving them. Be grateful for your problems, and know that somehow there will come a solution.

  6. I have a problem with the "As long as they're healthy" statement also, but for completely different reasons. When I was having pregnancy issues with my first and was unhappy with the medical care I was receiving, people kept telling me that the important thing was that Rex end up healthy, as if that justified any means. To me, the process of getting and being pregnant and having a baby were just as important as the baby in the end because what I did while pregnant affected the baby. I wanted a natural, spiritual birth where my baby came when he was ready, but the rest of the world wanted Rex just to be healthy--in the end. I feel like if they'd let things be, he would've been healthy from the beginning...I don't know where I'm going with this, but I just wanted to say that the idea that health is the only important thing also frustrates me.

  7. Jami I totally understand what you are saying and have felt the same often times. I grew up helping and actually babysitting a little girl with problems and understand what you are trying to communicate. Although it would be a hard thing to have an unhealthy baby, the mother would love them anyway... (I hope). I am not making sense, but there is a blog that was also published in Parents magazine that made me so angry talking about just this thing and I felt like no one else understood what I was feeling. How could you not love this baby growing inside of you? How could someone even think such selfish thoughts? i will get off my soapbox now, but I totally know!

  8. I stopped getting offended or irritated when people would comment on how small my child is. I can unload the reasons why she's so tiny and everything we've been through with her. So when they say that she is "tiny", to me it is a loaded statement. However, I realize they are making an observation based on assumption. Take it in stride, nod and say, "yes, my baby could be monkey for all I care, I'm just glad I have one." and realize that your version of "healthy" is much more loaded than the average person's.



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