As seen on the Huffington Post.
What is normal? Well, according to the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, normal is defined as usual or ordinary; not strange. In the same definition, Merriam-Webster’s adds normal is a representation of mental and physical health. In the concept of society, normal is defined relatively the same. Normal is largely based on how a person’s behaviour and appearance conforms with social standards. You are either “normal” and you fit into society or you are “not normal” and therefore do not. Until recently I placed little thought on the definition of normal and the injustice it serves for many members of our society.
It may be because I’ve been exposed to the sensitive nature of human normality, but I find fault in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defining normal by the mental and physical health of human beings. There is also fault in our society in the way we judge each other and categorize one another based on social norms. We live in a world that is so complex and filled with great difference. Differences that should be embraced and used as inspiration for kindness, generosity and understanding. A world where the term “abnormal” should only be used as a term to indicate results in medicine, not to define a human being. Even more so, not to define a fetus in limbo of a diagnosis.
It was only three weeks ago when my husband and I had our twelve week ultrasound with our first child. I watched my husband light up as he looked at the little life we created on a black and white screen. I clenched my husband’s hand with excitement, awing at our tiny baby’s nose. Little did I know I would rely on that hand only days later to be clenched as a result of panic and fear. In the days that would follow, we would anxiously be seated in our doctor’s office awaiting results we never anticipated to hear — that our baby had an abnormality.
The words used to describe this abnormality were as complex and scientific as they come. In medical terms, our baby had a thickened nuchal translucency. In more common terminology, the condition placed our baby at higher risk for genetic differences such as Downs Syndrome, and congenital heart defects. As quickly as the words left the tip of my doctors tongue, the tears were streaming down my face. I locked my eyes on my husband and plowed through an entire box of Kleenex as our doctor explained the tests we would have to undergo, doctors we would need to see and risks of our pregnancy. There were few words that stuck with me during that conversation.
We were sent home with a copy of our ultrasound. The top of the paper stamped with urgent in big, red, block letters, and the bottom of the ultrasound using the word abnormal to define our little 12 week baby.
In the days that would follow I would search the Internet to find expectant parents in a similar situation. To my surprise baby forums were flooded with parents whose baby had the same abnormality. The majority of mother’s discussed the tremendous amount of heartache they went through, only to find out that their baby would be born “normal.”
From the few people we shared this heart breaking news with, many wished us well and hoped that our baby would be born “normal” rather than healthy — and each time someone wished our baby be born normal, my heart ached. In one sense, I understood that their intentions were well-meant, but in another sense it was clear that if my child was born with physical or mental differences, my child would not fit into society’s definition of normal. In combination with the serious complications and medical issues that come along with Downs Syndrome, society viewing my child as “not normal” was not something I was ready to accept.
A team of genetics counselors prepared us for the worst possible outcome. We were forced to place value on the life of our child, and the value they would have in our world. I continued to imagine our little baby, who my husband and I created through love. A baby with innocence and purity. A baby who I loved without even meeting and continued to love despite the differences he or she may have.
After a grueling two weeks our baby’s DNA testing came back low risk for trisomy related chromosome conditions. Before we had a chance to breathe a sigh of relief, we were told a second abnormality was found and we would require further genetic testing. My heart aches for my husband and I as we face this new path of unknown, but my heart also aches for the families who will become the statistics we fear. The family who will have to integrate their beautiful child into a society with a closed definition of normal.
If you know a family member, friend or coworker in a similar case of limbo, please do not tell them you hope their baby is born normal. Rather, substitute normal with the word healthy. It may seem like a small request to make but it means a world of difference to the people living this situation. The word normal is a shitty reminder that it’s not just good enough to be born healthy.
To everyone who has ever felt like they never fit in, who has ever felt like they were not normal, know: what makes you different makes you beautiful. Embrace your difference. Our world is a beautiful place full of many beautiful people. Placing a standard or status quo on what makes a person normal in our society masks the true beauty of all of our differences.