What Not to Say to an Expectant Parent

What Not to Say to an Expectant Parent

Parents always look into the future.

My husband and I raised three amazing offspring who are now all adults. And we shared all of it, the raising, the teaching, the loving. But just four days ago while we were walking, my husband told me the most amazing story. One I had never heard.

It happened four years into our marriage. We had just discovered that I was pregnant for the first time and things were going well. We could share our news. And so my husband did–at his office, in a group of people who worked for him and with him. There were hugs and congrats. Until one woman came up at the end and spoke to him (almost like the Bad Fairy in Sleeping Beauty.) This woman might have had ten years on my husband, but she was not another mythic figure, not the aging fortune teller with a not so subtle warning.

But this is what she said to him: “How can you bring a child into this world?”

He was stunned. Maybe the question had some merit, but this woman was not a close friend, not an economic adviser or priest or psychologist–you know what I’m getting at–someone who knew us intimately and might have some specific concerns.

But no–this was just a statement from a woman working in the next department. Take it or leave it. John rejected her question. Absolutely. You do so when you are on Cloud Nine. This is your first child!! You are more than thrilled.

And as we walked, he said that maybe there had been a response at that time, but “my consciousness wasn’t raised enough to know what that response would be.” So honest.

Right this moment we live in times where deciding to bring a child into the world could be problematic. In my work in progress, my novel, I consider exactly that problem. My main character, Ella, a nurse and a mother, reflects on discussions with her mother, Cecile. This scene had its origins in conversations with my own mother–when she would lament the “state of the world” after reading the newspaper or watching a newscast and I had to REJECT her words. After all, I was raising children in that world, I had to embrace it.

She would always defend her practice of medicine, because she was a part of it—medicine was what she was. It was not unlike when she had defended certain aspects of current culture to her mother, something she had done often. Cecile ripped apart the changing mores of society. But Ella defended change, because the result was Ella’s society, Ella’s culture. She lived in it and dealt with it and so she had defended it. She couldn’t condemn what was a part of her, what she had embraced and brought Sarah into. If she had condemned culture and society, then she would be condemning herself.

As my husband and I finished our walk, we reflected on the ups and downs of our family life–mostly ups– and how the reality of our parenting, our family life helped bring all three of our adult children to where they are now–having good lives, good careers. That they are GOOD PEOPLE.

We concluded that is the key: you cannot run away from society and culture–but you can be instruments of change by upholding values and teaching your children those same values. I am not saying that we were perfect. We are STILL LEARNING how to be the best that we can be. And in our society today, everyone of us might think about devoting ten minutes a day to examine how we treat others, how we contribute to society, how we can do better in those regards–and then if we are lacking, to go and do something about it.

What NOT to say to an expectant father or mother?  Hey, wow, what a mistake.

Because life is full of promise and possibility. I love to think about Abraham Lincoln’s mother–a woman that Lincoln prized and honored with these words: All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother. 

And certainly, she didn’t bring him into a cushy world, but one of hard work and struggle. I have always been saddened that Barack Obama’s grandmother died the Saturday before he won the 2008 election. Certainly she must know that her love carried him far.

Wishing all mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers reading this a special blessing–especially if a child is on the way. After all, in any age, we cannot see the future, but we can pledge to make it better.

 Photo thanks to NPR  Frida Kahlo art.






18 thoughts on “What Not to Say to an Expectant Parent

  1. Oh Beth this brought tears to my eyes. What a insightful post. I loved that you honored your mom. I love that you are writing your novel…I wait to hear what Ella has said lately, she is one courageous woman… Remembering my Dad so much this month,as the anniversary of his death is the day after Thanksgiving… guessing what he would say about this world today. Then my dear husband, who died on November 22…this year I so miss his wisdom. Change is the hope that President Obama gave us, I hang onto this, and am sure his Grandma knew he was on his way to be a great President.

    • So lovely to find you here on a grey Monday morning. Thanks, Carol. Would that I had more Carols in my life who believe in my thoughts and react to them. I think part of reflection IS connected to aging. I think about my mom, you are remembering your father and your husband. We are bright lights reflecting their shining stars. And as you read, my book is often about longing for a father. So blessed that my husband has fought his cancer for over 16 years–our children love him so. Have a good week. Beth

  2. “How can you bring a child into this world?” Is a very important question to ask yourself today. Thanks for having the courage to bring this issue up. I decided 40 years ago that I could not wish this world on any small child and I am glad I made that decision back then. No, we cannot see the future, but the earth is changing in major ways, mostly because of our need to continue to bring more children into it. This question needs to me asked.

    • Thanks, Laura. I think it has always been an important question, one that MEN don’t always ask themselves. But I think more women do, as they have a granular take on raising a child. We need good people to have good children. But it doesn’t always work that way. Your decision reflects intelligence as well as courage. Thanks as always, Beth

  3. The things people say! It was certainly her issues and all about her but talk about bursting your good feelings.None of us have a crystal ball and if you choose to have children and are overjoyed at the prospect of a new role in your life why would anyone not share in your joy!

    • Thanks, Haralee. John could never figure it out either, and with the happiness he was experiencing, he just ignored the comment. But what a comment.

  4. The consideration of bring or not bring is such an intensely personal one. Would you ever walk up to someone and say “I can’t imagine why you haven’t had children yet? Is something wrong?”

    I’m sitting here trying to imagine someone with so little sensitivity or self-awareness, they’d even consider such a gloomy question appropriate to an expectant parent.

    • Love your take on this, Susan, because YES, each person makes their own decisions as to whether to have kids or not. John and I had agreed on ZPG. Zero Population Growth, just replace yourselves. Later I had the hard task of taking him out of that. But I succeeded!!

  5. Bringing a child into the world is the ultimate moment for husband and wife. It’s one’s family, the people who should always be there for you. And one never knows what a child will become in this world. Some will succeed, and others will fail, but they should all be loved, because at the end of it all, that is what truly makes one happy. And that love starts with Mom and Dad……..

  6. Beth, I loved this…and I have a little story…when I was about 12, I remember the adults(I was around the corner on the stairs) at my grandparents talking and my grandfather said, “no one should bring a child into this world today”..he was a Sunday school teacher and so his word was from God…he went on to tell the others his reasons why and I ran away, not wanting to hear them. I’m glad I didn’t listen and went on to marry and have 3 children. I’m glad I didn’t listen…there have always been reasons not to have children and always been reasons to have them and there always will….by the way this story took place in the late 50’s….

    • Thanks, Renee. Yes, the irony. So many in this country would like to go back to the 50s. Each decade has its problems. I’m glad you live by your own decisions. Me too.

  7. It always amazes me that so many peripheral people in our lives don’t get the concept of boundaries.
    And honestly, if everyone thought “why bring a child into this world”, that would truly be the end of hope, wouldn’t it?

    • Love your thought about hope. And yes, we all need to remember we are individuals. What you say might be way wrong as to the person’s past life and goals and sorrows. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Connie. I believe in boundaries and I hope younger generations will pull back a bit regarding the “I’m pregnant” news. We are joyful, but I’m old fashioned, feeling they should wait a bit, make sure all is well before jumping on Facebook!!

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