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The Problem With Saying, 'As Long as the Baby Is Healthy'

“As long as the baby is healthy, then nothing else matters.”

My shoulders stiffen, my brow creases, and I inhale sharply every time I hear some variation of this phrase. Health is important, but when we focus the entire worth of someone’s experience on how healthy they are, we are implicitly demeaning the inherent value of those with less health.

Now I know what you are thinking, “That’s not what I meant! It’s normal to wish for a healthy baby. What’s wrong with you?”

“Normal” has never been the friend of the medically disadvantaged, and the second question is more complicated than you may really care to hear.

We need to stop equating health with blessings in general conversation.

When you are living with a chronic illness, you’re often already on the outside. You feel lonely when you can’t participate, for whatever reason, and it accumulates starting in childhood. However, it is the unnecessary reinforcement of health as the penultimate perpetuated by adults around you that starts the “sick is less” snowball.

“As long as the baby is healthy, then nothing else matters.”

Every time I hear this phrase, I will gently clear my throat and represent the invisible ill. It is my perilous hope the room will remember, at least for a moment, that despite all the well wishes, sometimes those wishes wither on the vine and you’re left with a miracle that grows up to be a mirage.

I do not have children, both by design and by decision, but I have practiced medicine as a Primary Care Physician Assistant for the better part of a decade and have a kinship with kids of all ages. This comes from my own experiences with childhood illness, chemotherapy and medical trauma. I understand the fear that grows in a child’s heart when they are defying the medical odds. As I’ve often joked, I practice from both sides of the exam table.

Recently, a case presented locally in which a 15-month-old boy was diagnosed with type I diabetes. His mother knew something was wrong but was initially dismissed by the pediatric team. Shortly after this dismissal, the young boy was in diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially deadly state in which the blood sugar is too high, requiring emergency stabilization.

He was healthy. Now he wasn’t.

Now what?

“As long as the baby is healthy, nothing else matters.”

Now we introduce needles and numbers, dosages and directions, restrictions and remedies… Now we introduce inspirational hero worship and remove any sense of personal privacy as you and your family are in the “less than” space.

But, if you hope, wish, pray, swallow or inject long enough you’ll get back to that place where nothing else matters.

The place where everything is bright and clear.

The place where family and friends smile with delight when you walk up unhindered rather than the dark place you are now, where the light behind others’ eyes has dimmed and been replaced with something much more saccharin. Something sentimentally bitter and sweet because they only wish you well, after all.

It happens every day, in every clinic, in every state around this country, I know, but cases like this still shake me. It brings me back to my own childhood. It reminds me that once upon a time, I was a sick kid on a cold table, wondering what I could do to make them stop bringing me into those offices and operating theaters.

What could I do to get back to that place of “healthy” the adults were always talking about…?

What could I do to get away from the place I was, the dark place where “nothing else matters?”

I can speak up, now that I’m trained up; I use my white coat to coach others that their words matter. As for those well-wishes we could do without, let me propose an alternative blessing to bestow:

“As long as we love each other, then nothing else matters.”

Getty image by Janna Richter.