Thursday, October 29, 2009

What NOT To Say

Recently, a family member of mine gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, whom upon delivery was diagnosed with Down's Syndrome. I haven't talked to them directly yet, but one of the things I've wondered is the kind of questions or responses they have been getting. Of course they are as in love with him as they are with their other two children, and I and the rest of my family are as happy for this little boy's arrival into the world as we were for their other two children. However I also heard this statement: "Well, they should have known better since they are getting older, they should have been content with their two perfectly healthy kids."

I told the person who made that statement that I hope they would never say that to any parents, no matter who they were or what their situation is, because it is completely inappropriate.

Which leads me into this topic; things NOT to say. There are plenty of situations that lend themselves to the most ghastly of comments, and I'm sure we all have our lists of things that well meaning people have shared with us that have come across as offensive, insensitive, and down right rude. Since my situation specifically deals with adoption and all that goes along with being a single, pregnant woman, I'll stick to my experiences strictly within that realm.

First of all, let me say that I don't expect everyone to have the same opinions, thoughts or beliefs as I do, and I don't expect everyone to understand my decisions and actions. I knew that when I first told my family that I was pregnant there would be a variety of reactions, from support to obvious dissapointment. And when I told them about my decision towards adoption, they were even more varied. Keep in mind that I am the middle child of five children, so between my siblings and parents, there were plenty of opinions to go around. Me being thousands of miles away didn't help things much either (they were in Texas, I was in Alaska when I told them). But even with all of the differences of opinions and beliefs, there's only one response that I would qualify as belonging in the "What Not To Say" list. It wasn't just a statement, it was the whole reaction. This person didn't listen to anything I had to say, and immediately started lecturing me on how I was already ruining this child's life by choosing adoption. "Well I love your baby!" As though I don't? What a misconception to assume that for a mother to choose adoption for her child means the baby is unloved and something to be tossed to the side!

When I got to Alaska and was finally able to go to my first prenatal visit, the nurse there was very helpful and pleasant to talk to. Until she found out I was 32 and was giving my baby up for adoption. That's when she said, "Well honey, you're not getting any younger, you might want to think about keeping what you got." Apparently in some people's minds I have reached this magical age where I am somehow obligated to have a family and children, and how could a woman my age give away a child? My response to that is that I don't feel that any kind of age makes me obligated to have children, and just because I may be "running out of time" doesn't mean I shouldn't want the absolute best enviornment for my child to be raised in. Even if that enviornment is not under my roof (besides- I don't even have a 'roof' to call my own).

Another touchy subject for a 32 year old single, pregnant woman is birth control. First of all, if you are a stranger and do not know my situation, you have absolutely no right to take it upon yourself to enlighten me about birth control. Case in point: While working in a restaurant in Alaska with tourists constantly coming and going, I would get several questions from strangers about my pregnancy. I didn't mind that at all, it comes with the territory and it wasn't anything I felt the need to hide, be embarrassed or ashamed of. However when I entered into a conversation with one woman in particular, her words to me were, "Well, now I hope you've learned your lesson, and you really need to start thinking about birth control. You're old enough, and you need to take these things seriously." In my head flashed a number of responses I could say, like how I was practicing birth control, about how I do take these "things" seriously. But what it all came down to for me was that it is none of her business to speak to me about my sex life. I responded with, "That is a personal subject that I prefer to keep personal." Being the manager of the restaurant I didn't think it would have been good business practice to add in the explicatives that were swirling around in my head.

On the subject of me getting pregnant in the first place, when someone said to me, "You have to be half way smart about these things!" I didn't respond too favorably either. If there is anyone reading this who knows a woman with an unplanned pregnancy, I am begging you, please don't assume she is this careless sex whore who gives no responsible thought to what may happen. Ok, so maybe you wouldn't have put it in those terms, but if you say things like that, she may feel like that is how you see her. Speaking from my own experience, I feel like I was being very smart and proactive about not getting pregnant. My partner and I had discussed it and we both knew that neither of us wanted children. It wasn't just an abstract thought like 'theoretically, this may happen to some people,' but we thought of it as 'we don't want this happening to us!' When I first told Bill about the pregnancy, he doubted that it was even his because we had always been careful (though he didn't say that until a few months later when we were able to speak more in depth about it- he has been a great example of how to handle things perfectly!). My point is that there are few birth control methods that come with a guarentee, and people make their own choices on what risks they choose to take. Just because I fell into the small percentage group of people who have felt the heavy hand of that lack of guarentee, certainly doesn't mean I wasn't even being half way smart.

So what is a good way to respond? With support. Ask questions and listen, don't demand answers. Don't make assumptions. Be sensitive to what she is comfortable with sharing. Any woman who finds herself in an unplanned pregnancy has a lot of questions to ask herself, and regardless of her situation, how she got there, or the decisions she's made, she needs all the support she can get. She is carrying a new life inside of her, and it is not the time to chastise, lecture, or judge. Think of how delicately and lovingly you would treat her newborn, and treat the woman who is carrying that baby with that much respect. Weather you are a friend, a family member, or a stranger, the thing she (and the baby inside of her) need from you is your support, love, and respect. If you are a loved one and involved in her life and you feel you need to share your opinions, you should be able to, but not before making sure she knows she has your complete support, and not before listening to her. Ask her how she is feeling (emotionally and physically), what she is thinking, and what you can do for her, because all of those things are more important than your opinions or anything you may have to say.

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