“Do you have a preference for a boy or a girl?”
The pregnant woman pauses. Considers her belly and gives the typical answer.
“I don’t mind, as long as it’s healthy.”
It’s the standard response. I know I gave it myself many months ago before I knew the Peanut was a girl. There’s not a lot of thought in it, and when I said it I was trying to reassure the asker that I didn’t have a preference and my hopes weren’t set on one or the other.
But what does it actually mean?
As long as it’s healthy.
You’ll love it… as long as it’s healthy?
You’ll take it home.. as long as it’s healthy?
You’ll be happy… as long as it’s healthy?
The implication is that as long as your baby is healthy, you don’t mind the smaller stuff. But whenever I hear someone utter that phrase now I wince. I know they don’t mean they wouldn’t love an unhealthy baby. I think it’s just the assumption that that won’t be something they will have to worry about. And for most pregnant mothers, that turns out to be the case.
When the Peanut was in her second stay at the hospital, I popped out of her room quickly to grab a Coke from the vending machine and saw an ante-natal group getting on the elevator, on their hospital tour. A few months earlier I was on that same tour. I wrote about it here. Even then I knew my pregnancy, and my experience of motherhood, would be outside the realm of what most mothers experience. But I was still hopeful and excited, and didn’t know what was really to come.
I watched the group. The women in varying stages of their third trimesters, waddling slightly and holding their partners’ hands. I remembered that feeling of excitement and anxiety as we saw a birthing suite. Each couple thinking about how they would be there soon, and finding it hard to really imagine what it was going to be like.
Now, I’m on the other side and I look at those mothers and wonder if any of them already knows that their baby might not be one of the ones that’s healthy. Did any of them get hard news from their scans? Will any of them discover something unexpected at the birth of their child? Or in the days and weeks that follow?
It’s not that I wish these scenarios on anyone. I just remember, and envy, that not knowing. That feeling that you don’t even need to consider the thought of whether your child might not be healthy, because you assume it won’t be you. That your labour will be hard, maybe very hard, but that at the end of it you will get to go home with a healthy baby and complain about the normal parental complaints. Sleeplessness. Breastfeeding. Colic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not down playing any of these things. They are challenging hurdles. Every new mother and parent has a huge adjustment to make.
It’s just when I see pregnant women, full of hope and excitement, I can’t help but whisper under my breath that the “as long as it’s healthy” might not apply to them. And that realising this will be hard. So hard.
I looked back at a few old posts today and hardly recognised the person who was writing about birthing plans and epidurals and not minding how the birth went “as long as she’s healthy”. I thought the biggest issue the Peanut and I faced was her eye. And that seemed like a huge thing at the time.
At one of my last ante-natal classes our instructor briefly talked to us about “expectations” and what could happen if our baby wasn’t quite what we expected. She mentioned birth marks and minor abnormalities. She even equated her daughter being a red head as being one of these “expectations” being blown away (I sat with eyebrows raised, knowing that my little girl might have no left eye, and she was saying we should prepare ourselves for the possibility of a red-head, like it was an abnormality and one serious enough to worry about!)
After the indignation subsided I remember feeling almost smug, like I had already come to terms with the unexpected in my daughter. Like I knew the worst that was to come and had dealt with it. I wasn’t going to be surprised when I met my daughter.
It goes without saying that I had a lot more to come to terms with.
I know that if someone had responded to my, “as long as it’s healthy” with, “but what if she isn’t?” I would have automatically responded, “of course, I’ll love her.” But I don’t think I would have really thought about what that meant. While it might be a good exercise for soon to be parents, I don’t think you can really play that kind of mental experiment with yourself and come up with an honest answer. You really can’t know until you are in that situation. And why take that hope and excitement away when for most parents it will never have to be questioned.
Now, while I feel so much happier and more comfortable with who the Peanut is, and who I am becoming, I can still appreciate a sense of loss for what I had expected. Not just for who the Peanut would be, but for what kind of Mum I would be, and the life I thought I would have. I’m ok with life, and I’ve come to accept the path I’m on, but it’s tempting sometimes to try and see down the other path. See what might have been if your expectations had been correct. If “as long as it’s healthy” was just a turn of phrase to be forgotten once you brought your baby home.