Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"As Long As It's Healthy"

Recently, a group of us had a conversation about how far back our memories went.

“Do you have memories from when you were two or three?” my husband asked me.

“Yes, but they are mostly traumatic,” I said. I was sort of joking, mainly for the benefit of the people around us, but let’s put some emphasis on the sort of.

As much as I hate to type it, and as much as they don’t reflect the much more diverse experience of my childhood, my clearest, earliest memories all involve sickness: wheeling my little pink suitcase down the stairs en route to a surgery at age two; standing in my crib in murky pre-dawn light, crying because everything hurt; the many-week stay in a hospital isolation ward in nursery school.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful childhood—parents who loved and advocated for me; older brothers who supported me; friends and family who worked around illness. When I could, we traveled to exciting places. I spent summers on Cape Cod, where I saw my cousins and grandparents every day and I could start to recover from the infections that ravaged me during the school year. I was fortunate to attend good schools and had a wide range of extracurricular experiences. This isn’t to say illness wasn’t ever-present, because it was, but it did not overwhelm or define these other experiences.

But my earliest memories are not the ones the pictures in photo albums portray. They are not the birthday parties at Papa Gino’s or the play dates or the Christmas mornings we lined up for pictures. They are vivid and visceral: the smell of rubbing alcohol as the IV nurse prepped my ankle since my arms were all used up; the harsh white sunlight of my room in isolation; the smell of the artificial strawberry flavor they used in my anesthesia mask over and over, a smell that to this day causes me to dry heave immediately.

This has been on my mind lately, as we prepare for the arrival of our long-awaited child. People often ask me if I have a preference for a girl or a boy.

“As close to full term as possible,” I give as my sole preference (mainly because when I say “alive” people look at me strangely.)

“As long as it’s healthy,” they will counter, and I nod my head.

(1. I don’t really like to use the word “it” in this context but it’s a common saying. 2. We actually tried to find out the gender last week, figuring we might have enough surprises to contend with during this pregnancy, but the baby had other plans that involved tightly pressing his or her legs together the whole time. Baby 1, parents 0.)

“As long as it’s healthy.”

It’s the universal comment people make, and with good reason.

Of course, of course I want my child to be healthy. I might not be able to give him or her many of the things that I had—for example, it’s far too early to consider siblings but it’s complicated terrain. But if he or she could grow up healthy, it would mean the world to me. Like any parent, if I could spare him or her my experiences and if I could avoid the heartache I know my mother went through watching it unfold for her child, I would be so grateful for both of us.

I know my most serious condition (PCD) will not be passed on to our child. Beyond that, we’re in the same boat all parents are: we hope for the best. We won’t give in to worrying about the what-if’s until someone tells us we need to. I joke often that my husband is made of hearty Midwestern stock and it’s true—his family members are literally some of the healthiest people I’ve ever seen, the type of healthy I didn’t even know existed until I met them.

“At least we’ve got that going for us,” I’ll say.

But sometimes, “as long as it’s healthy” gives me pause. Perhaps it’s because I over-think things or perhaps my tendency to be a bit contrary is exacerbated by pregnancy hormones or what, but sometimes the phrase gets old. Because this thing is, I wasn’t born healthy. In fact, several weeks premature and with collapsed lungs and pneumonia is pretty much the opposite of healthy. But I’m here, and living a full life, and have many positive experiences that outweigh the illness ones. I have no regrets.

So I smile and nod when people say this, as it is something I want so much for my child. But as I can attest to from my own life and from watching members of my family, we never know what curveballs will come our way. While health is my greatest wish, if something comes up I take comfort in knowing I have a lot of experience in illness and advocacy I can put to good use for our child. And I will be able to tell him or her that it is okay, that he or she might struggle more than others but that this life will be a wonderful one.


Lyrehca said...

As always, a great post, and a very good point you make about not being born healthy yourself.

Never That Easy said...

I am pretty sure I left my congratulations on your previous post, but I will offer them again (just in case my foggy brain is incorrect): My very best wishes for you and your expanding family.

I have a hard time with this whole issue (as you know), but count me in as one of those who gets a hinky feeling when somebody says "As long as it's healthy." Mostly because I'm not. And because I know lots of babies and children and young adults and adults who are not - and may never have been - and they're all still living their lives.

But yes, it's confusing, because of course, healthy would be awesome, and healthy would be exactly what you'd wish for your child, but a part of me still cringes when I hear it anyways, because it feels ... devaluing, maybe or IDK I can't find the exact right word here, but it feels like I'm not honoring all those babies and children and adults and families and lives I know that don't get to be healthy.

I hope that made sense...

Laurie said...

Thank you both for your comments! NTE, you did leave me a wonderful message of congratulations, which I really appreciate.

I totally hear your point-a part of me reacts the same way, especially since I was one of those babies who was not born healthy. I think people have nothing but the best intentions when they say it, but it definitely gives me pause.

Aviva said...

I shouldn't speak for people I don't know, but I think when people say "As long as it's healthy," they just mean that good health is the first thing we want for our children.

I'll confess: Scott and I had a definite gender preference even before I got pregnant. Thankfully, we both wanted the same gender, and we got lucky to get the girl we hoped for. But healthy? That was at least the top three things on our list of what we hoped for.

I do hope your baby is full term (heck, maybe even late! ;-) but not too late) and extremely healthy. But I think the most important thing for a baby is that s/he is loved. And I know without a single doubt that your baby will be deeply, deeply loved. And if s/he has health issues, you've got a great support system going and you definitely know how to navigate the medical system and advocate for your baby.

We've been truly lucky that Ellie is really healthy. She didn't even have her first ear infection until just before she turned 3, almost never gets a fever, etc. The most invasive medical experience she's had is a throat culture and/or shots. But tomorrow she's having her first medical "procedure" looking for the cause of a series of 3 UTIs in seven weeks, and man, I'd give anything to be the one going through it instead of her. It's really emotionally upsetting to see my 5-year-old baby going through this. And yet, by the time I was 5, I'd been hospitalized at least six times, sometimes for weeks at a time. I had a point, and I think I've lost track of where I was going.

Except that I really do hope for a healthy and happy child for you. :-)

So hey, are we going to have a virtual baby shower for you?

medical school said...

I always appreciate good posts & this is a really great post.

Laurie said...

Hi Aviva!

I totally agree, I think when people say that it comes from a place of great intentions and is something every parent would want.

Hope Ellie's test went well and that she is feeling better!

Dana Asmara Morningstar-Marton said...

Congratulations to start! I do wish you the best. We are in the process of adopting, and I often feel the same way you do. When we filled out the preference form and the medical sheet of what health conditions we would be OK w/ and not OK w/, I also would question how I would be with a child that wasn't healthy. Afterall, I wasn't healthy. I was premature. My husband was also premature, but he is as healthy as a horse. When he was asked about filling out those forms, he said he wanted the healthiest child possible. For me, that's tough. On one hand, I fear if we would have a child who needs a lot of physical help, it could be too hard for me (physically) because of my own disabilities. On the other hand, I feel like (as you were saying) I've had a great life without being healthy. I've been happy, done all the things I've wanted to do. I haven't really been denied anything. I feel like it's almost unfair to only want a healthy child. I guess the best thing to do is pray for a healthy child, and leave it in God's hands. He knows what we can handle. He won't give us more than we can handle.


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