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I Don't Care, as Long as It's Healthy... but What If It Isn't?

Kayley is the mum of a toddler with cystic fibrosis, a genetic and life-limiting health condition.

Kayley and her toddler on Cystic Fibrosis Trust Wear Yellow Day

Kayley and her toddler on Cystic Fibrosis Trust Wear Yellow Day

"So, do you think it's a boy or a girl?"

One of the first things anyone thinks about during pregnancy, seems to be whether the baby will be a girl or a boy. Whether it's your mum wanting to dangle a ring above your belly to watch how it spins, or your friends who just "have a feeling" - thinking about gender can make a pregnancy feel more real. And when discussing the topic, the question inevitably comes, "Do you want a boy or a girl?". And the inevitable, familiar response: "I don't care, as long as it's healthy".

But what if it isn't?

As the mom of a toddler with a life-limiting condition, I've learnt to hate this phrase. I never realised the entitlement that sits within it - the acknowledgement that illnesses and problems do exist, but the near certainty that it's something that happens to other people. And although you'd never mean it in that way, the "as long as" implies that somehow you'll love it less if the worst does happen.

Discovering your perfect baby has a health condition triggers a grieving process for the healthy baby you thought you were having. Whether you discover in pregnancy, or postnatally as I did, it's completely normal to go through a range of emotions - grief, sadness, hopelessness, fear... and also anger. Frustration that this wasn't supposed to happen to me, and that other families don't appreciate how lucky they are not to be going through what you are.

In reality, other families do appreciate how lucky they are, and what's more, they're fighting their own battles that noone sees. My anger at other people (jealousy, I suppose?) has calmed down. Over time, I came to see my little boy for who he is, not the faulty gene that I gave him, and all the implications of it. But that little phrase still triggers me: "I don't care, as long as they're healthy."

Our first (and only, so far!) in-patient hospital stay

Our first (and only, so far!) in-patient hospital stay

Experiencing illness reveals an inner strength inside us that we don't know we have. As parents, we face a million mini challenges every day that we never thought we'd have to fight, but we rise to it. As a parent-carer, this is intensified. Battling with the GP to get meds on time, balancing work with hospital visits, arguing with a willful toddler to take his medication and sit down still for his treatments. If you'd asked me before I had him how I'd cope with a child with a health condition... I'd have said I don't know if I could. But the reality is you just keep on getting up in the morning and fighting the battle that's put in front of you.

Sometimes I look into his eyes and I love him so fiercely I could cry. There's no "as long as" anything with parenthood. I'm a fierce mama bear and my love isn't conditional on anything.

So what can you say, next time someone asks you a question about pregnancy, whether it's about gender, hair colour, height, or any other attributes. How about:

  • "I don't care, I'll love them unconditionally."
  • "I don't care, they'll be perfect to me"
  • "I don't care, I just can't wait to meet them".

For any nervous mamas to be, the odds are that your baby will be perfectly healthy. And even if they're not, you'll discover a fierce love you never knew you had, one that isn't conditional on anything.

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© 2022 Kayley Dempsey

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