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I'd rather be a disabled woman than a healthy man...

I've been thinking about this concept of "having a healthy baby is the most important thing!" Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I'd wish illness or disability on any of my children, but really, is being healthy the MOST important thing, and is it fair to tell a mother than whatever she wishes is always secondary to having a healthy baby.

Another way to put it... If a woman wishes for a particular kind of birth and doesn't get it, or a woman wishes for a particularly gendered child and doesn't get it, is it FAIR to say, "At least your baby is healthy?" I mean, ok, to all those people who think that a child should not be a "disappointment" because of how they ended up being born, or because of the gender they are, would you happily accept a child with a challenge; perhaps Down Syndrome, or Reflux, or Asthma, or ADD, or Autism? It's ok to be disappointed and to wish that a child did not have those things, but it's not ok to wish that a child was a particular gender, even though being a particular gender means having particular experiences... For example, boy children will never know what it is to carry another person within their body, or nourish a child from their breast. A boy child will never understand the subtlies of how women communicate in a sisterhood that is not equalled amongst men. A girl child will likely never know what it is to always be assumed to be equal in the workplace without having to "fight for it, and work twice as hard for equal acceptance", she will never know what it is to be part of the "brotherhood of men"... A child born as a result of an induction will never know the benefits of natural hormones, and a child born in distress from an emergency c'section with never know what it was like to be born without adrenalin running through it's system (and this is in NO way a judgement of parents who have been through these events, these are not our choices and that is why we feel disappointment oftentimes)...

And yet, as a person with a disability, who has never known what it was like to see far and wide, to drive a car, to watch my sons playing on a football field, or take them bike riding or point out the fabulous rainbow parakeets up in the tree to them, I am happy! To never have experienced the stillness of meditation, or sleeping without the sensation of bugs crawling inside my legs, and yet, I don't regret (mostly) being born a girl with a disability.

"The most important thing is that the child is healthy", and what if the child isn't healthy? Because that's the most important thing, do you get to "rightfully" reject that child? No? Well, then that's a lot like having gender disappointment, or birth disappointment, isn't it... So, why the judgement of parents who are disappointed in these ways? Why is it more ok to be disappointed about disability than about gender? Having a disability has it's challenge, being a particular gender also has it's challenges - ask any woman with endometriosis, or any man who has had prostate cancer...

In the end, I'd rather be a woman with a disability than be a healthy man, I don't know any different. My parents both had gender disappointment when I was born, AND they didn't get a healthy baby either, and yet, somehow they managed to love me as much as they loved my healthy brother!

Comments

Juniper said…
Sif, I think this is a very interesting post! I wanted to say, that you would probably really enjoy reading this book that I borrowed from BABS called "Defiant Birth" about our quest for perfection in our babies, and how women are often pressued to test for, and sometimes abort, babies who come out somehow "less than perfect".

I know that isn't exactly what you were trying to say in your post, and you were referring to the gender issue, but it made me think of this fab book and I really want to recommend it to you!

However, I realise that you probably dont have any time to read it, with all your school reading you need to do!

Shall tell you more about it when I see you next!
Sif said…
That sounds like a really interesting read, and I'll definitely borrow that book, one day...

This thing about gender/birth/perfection never really played much on my mind until just recently when I started to think about what that sentiment, "A healthy baby is the most important thing" actually suggested, and how, as a not-born-healthy individual, I felt about that...

Of course, you know what I went through when they found the echogenic focus on Bryn's heart at the 20 week scan, I had to actually face the possibility of having a "not healthy" baby, and I realised then, probably for the first time, what my parents might have felt when they first realised my issues (not until I was about three!), they already had gender disappointment, but that was not acceptible, now they had the new disappointment of a child who might need life long care (they didn't know the extent of my issues back then)...

Not getting what you hoped and prayed for is disappointing, WHATEVER it is, there is no one thing that is more worthy of disappointment than another thing... IMO...
loz said…
This is such a huge complicated issue that is different for all of us huh and I completely agree with you while yes a healthy baby is ideal so is so many more things but at the end of the day it is how we feel so no matter what the issue or non issue it is how we feel and that needs to be understood!! Be it about birth, gender, disability and the anymore number of things I think it is good to talk about it :)
katef said…
oh this is such an interesting topic and I my head is spinning with ideas about it all...

I first encountered the 'healthy baby' statement the day after my girls were born and I was so incredulous! What? I was supposed to be happy that they were 'healthy' which I assume to this person meant 'alive'... sorry but I wasn't grateful or happy, I was scared, devastated and yep disappointed.

Disappointed about a lot of things that I wished had happened and didn't.

I think it is totally valid to be disappointed if your baby or birth doesn't turn out the way you had hoped it would.... heck I think that is normal. It doesn't mean you love the child any less....

I still wish that my girls had not been born the way they were. I don't regret having them for a second, I don't love them any less for the issues we had at birth or since, but as you know I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I still, even now, know that if I'd had a choice I would have chosen for them to be born separately... not because being a twin is all bad but because like everything else in this world it has it's challenges.

I used to feel guilty for having those kinds of feelings but I am getting over that.... I know I love my babies (all of them) despite the challenges they throw at me so I am ok with being a little disappointed by some of the issues we have been through and I am sure are yet to go through. I can accept life's imperfections and love just the same while still wishing things were my kind of perfect.
clelkaje said…
Sif, I think the other side of the coin is people wishing thier babies more perfect for their baby's sake, not just their own sake. This might be for reasons like not wanting babies with some disease to suffer terrible pain or something, or sometimes just that miscellaneous "I don't want my baby to have a hard life" which might come with Down's, or dodgy eyesight, or just being 'ugly', IFKWIM?! I say that as a woman once commented to Kaje about how his childhood would have been awful and full of suffering as he had red hair (ironically enough he was sitting next to someone who grew up black under apartheid but he didn't rate a mention!).

I really think people's perception of what counts as 'suffering' in life would really influence how they feel about having a baby which isn't 'perfect'. I certainly know that was the case for some parents I met through working in Genetics who definitely did not want to give birth to another baby to suffer the same fate of some disease (often the horrible fatal ones, but some that an outsider might view as manageable like CF or Down's) because they felt that the child's life contained more suffering than not - obviously because their experience of the child's condition was particularly horrible, which might not be another family's experience...

Very interesting post.
Sif said…
Clel, I think *most* parents wish for a healthy baby for the baby's own sake, so they will fit in and not have challenges and not be sick, and not need to undergo procedure or be at threat for dying early etc. etc. That was partly what I was getting at though... Often the child with the disability deals with it better than the parent who watches on, because they've never known any different. Yes, there are times when children with challenges bemoan their challenges, but then again, healthy children also have moments of wishing they were taller, shorter, fatter, thinner, had less freckles, had curly hair, etc. etc...

Kind of like "being intelligent", I think some parents mistakenly mistaken perfection (good health, good looks, high IQ) for guaranteed happiness or success.

There are a lot of very happy, very successful people with disabilities and illnesses, that were once children born "not healthy"...

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