Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"As Long as He's Healthy": The PreConception of Able-Bodiness

After the whole "sex debacle" we had with Droidlet - "It's a girl!" and then nine days before her/his due date "It's a boy!" - the line we constantly heard from everyone in regards to our sex-switching baby was:

"Well, as long as the baby's healthy..."

Even before the in-utero sex change, many well wishers, after telling them we did find out the sex, would say something to the extent of "Well, as long as she has all her fingers and her toes!" For some reason, these statements always irked me and I could never pinpoint why.

Until now.

A friend of mine studies "Crip Theory" and we were talking the other day about how our society, on many different levels, favors able-bodiness. We brought up examples from our personal experiences of how people tend to ignore individuals with disabilities, be uncomfortable with their community integration, or desexualized and/or treat them as children. For example, I used to work with this awesome guy who has Down Syndrome. One day, when we were hanging out and getting an Iced Tea from The Habit, a woman walked up to me and told me how nice it was that I "took him out for a walk" but couldn't believe I had "brought him to such a public place." My friend looked at the woman and said, "I wanted an iced tea." Not only did she refer to him as if he were an animal, but apparently didn't want him in a public area. After his response, we sat down and chit-chatted while the woman watched on in amazement.

My friend has a quadriplegic friend and they have heard comments from "why would anyone want to date a woman in a wheelchair?" when seeing her with her boyfriend, to men approaching them in bars saying "I'd be all over you if you weren't in that chair" - as if she wouldn't have a choice in the matter either way.

This conversation helped me realize why those statements had set something off inside of me. Although it's not the explicit intention behind people saying, "as long as the baby's healthy," this statement does assume a predominance of able-bodiness. What is this statement assuming? That if my baby is in the NICU when he/she is born, I will love him/her less? That if I don't count all ten fingers and all ten toes that he/she is less of a baby? These statements had irked me because they assume that if there was a physical "lack" with my baby when he was born then he was less of a baby, less of a person, which is very much NOT true.

Of course, I know that the well wishers behind these statements were mostly saying they hoped everything was okay with the baby, that the baby didn't have complications. But, what does this say about our societal preferences? Why is it "heart breaking" for people to see a child or adult with a disability? Is there a big difference between saying "As long as he has all his toes!" and "Let's hope he's not gay!"?

What this boils down to, yet again, is taking a look at how our language can be exclusive. Yes, I wanted Droidlet to be a healthy baby without complications, but why and how do we define the term "healthy?"


  1. Wow, Rach, once again I am so impressed with your new blog! So much delcious food for thought! Keep 'em coming! (and add me already! ;). I joined blogger for you, ya know ;) )

  2. What an awesome post. I would always say, as long as it's a healthy baby. The points you make are so true. You've really opened my mind. I read your article on offbeatmama.com. It's interesting that I came upon this article though. I have a cousin who is deaf and is treated like a little kid by a lot of friends and family as well.

  3. Thank you for your support!

    Hotelgal, I'm so happy you've found me through offbeatmama. And you make an interesting point about Deaf Culture. Deaf people are always looked at as if they are "disabled" which I don't think is true at all. It's a different lifestyle and a different language, yes, but a disability... no. And I think people generally do treat deaf people as if they are children, or less intelligent. I might try to interview a friend of mine who is hearing and has deaf parents. We will see.

    Thank you for your involvement on the blog!

  4. This is only sort of related to this post, but the comment from hotelgal made me think of a presentation I went to when I was doing my internship with the Rape Prevention Education Program at UCSB last spring. Women who are deaf who have been sexually assaulted are way, way less to report the crime. A lot of times, a police officer who is bilingual in Spanish will show up, but rarely is someone bilingual in sign language, and so the woman assaulted is left to fend for herself, making her experience that much more traumatic.

    Anyhow. Clearly it's far more complicated that my little blurb above, but some more food for thought! :)

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  6. For those interested, this just went up on OffbeatMama and it's awesome: http://offbeatmama.com/2011/02/deaf-parent