Whenever the question is asked, I cringe. There is nothing wrong with the question; it’s the most common answer that bothers me. It’s an answer given by people who mean well, but who probably haven’t thought about what the answer implies. This is especially true if the parents-to-be are first-timers.
Question: “Do you want a boy or a girl?”
Most common answer: “I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s healthy.”
This sounds like a solid, non-prejudicial statement; a statement made by prospective parents who don’t want to set themselves up for disappointment. It’s likely that these words came out of your mouth during at least one of your pregnancies, or when your wife was pregnant, or when someone you love was pregnant. I’m sure that I used to hear these words without giving them a second thought. I’m also positive that I said this at least once at some point in the past.
Please do not misunderstand–there is nothing wrong with wanting a healthy baby. It is the implication behind the most common answer that I find disturbing. Again, the statement is, “I don’t care what it is, as long as it’s healthy.” The somewhat hidden and often unthought of implication is that a healthy baby is worth more than an unhealthy baby; that the amount of love given by the parents to the baby is solely dependent upon its health. It is a declaration of conditional love.
What if the baby isn’t healthy? What if she is born with major disabilities? What if he has to spend the majority of his first years in a hospital? Is he going to be loved, adored, and cherished even if his disabilities are long-term, even if he never gets any better, even if he is in an incapacitated state for decades?
Or, to put it another way, what if your child is healthy until her 10th birthday and then acquires a debilitating disease? Do you cherish her less then? Do you look at her differently? Does your love for her grow cold?
I am not suggesting that we hope for unhealthy children. I am suggesting that we consider the implications of our words, that we understand that our words have a way of shaping our attitudes. If we aren’t careful, we can allow what we say to impact how we feel about people with disabilities. Everyone is important. Everyone has a purpose. Everyone has been created by God and is loved by God. Everyone, healthy or not.
Several years ago, I would not have considered any of this upon hearing the most common answer to the boy/girl question. There is one may reason why this changed. His name is Matthew and he is my youngest son.
Due to the drug use of his birth mother, Matthew (one of our adopted children) was born prematurely with a grade IV brain bleed, an injury so severe that he should have been profoundly disabled. Some doctors predicted that he would never walk and that he would never be able to communicate with us. He spent the first two months of his life in the hospital and came to live with us along with a heart and breathing monitor, more medicine than I can remember, and a lot of prayer.
We were unsure of what his little life would be like, if he would grow and mature the way that our other children have. But one thing is certain–we did not love him any less. He needed us and, even though I didn’t understand this then, we needed him. I believed that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and that God has a plan for each of us, but I had never been confronted with the possibility of raising a child with severe disabilities.
Does God have a purpose for even those who are unable to move or to speak? Does he love them with the same as he loves those of us who are healthy? The answers to those questions are yes, of course He does. I concluded that no matter what might happen in Matthew’s life that God would love him immensely. And so would I.
Matthew is now approaching his 7th birthday with vibrancy and vigor. While he has mild cerebral palsy, he does not let that stop him from running and playing with whoever is able to keep up with him. He has a smile that lights up a room and a determination that has touched many. There are other little boys on the baseball field and the basketball court with more talent, but there aren’t any that try harder.
Matthew is fearfully and wonderfully made and so are those who will never be able to run and play, those who will never grow any stronger or be able to reciprocate that love that their parents give them. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, too. So are you. There is a purpose for each of us–just because it may not be easily seen does not mean that it is not there.
I will end this post with a simple request: be mindful of the words that you speak and the implications behind them. Unhealthy babies need love as much as the healthy ones. This is true for unhealthy adults, too. May we love unconditionally and seek to assist each other on the journey home.
(Has this ever bothered you? Does it bother you now? How have you seen the lives are those living with disabilities inspire others? Share away!)