Ladies for Life

“Keeping your baby”

Posted on: October 20, 2008

A few years ago, when my husband told me that an unmarried, often-feuding, financially-strapped couple we know had become pregnant, the first words out of my mouth were a worried “They’re going to keep the baby, aren’t they?”

And then it hit me. I had become part of the problem.

Without meaning to, I was contributing to the widespread (and strange, and evil, and cruel) notion that when a couple finds out there’s a baby on the way, they are expected to decide whether to have an abortion, as if this were part and parcel of the whole parenthood experience. Honestly, ladies, do we want a society in which every pregnancy becomes a time to choose whether to try for a live baby (miscarriages take a toll, sadly enough), or destroy their child before it draws its first breath? And yet, here I was, acting like that’s precisely the sort of society we lived in, and I had become a member in full standing.

It struck me that if I’d seen the young woman who had just found out that her reckless conduct had resulted in conception, there was every chance in the world that I would have somehow brought up my hopes that she would “keep the baby”.

Hello?! I would have offered help and encouragement, too, you understand – but it struck me that probably the last thing a young mother in a bad spot needs is constant reminders that some people think that it’s irresponsible to “keep a baby” unless circumstances are lined up right, and fortune seems to be smiling on her. And this young woman’s life was a bit of a mess just then. And so you know that she was getting just all sorts of unsolicited advice to jettison the kid just because she didn’t have her act together.

Well, a funny thing happened along the way. First off, the couple decided to face the music. They got married, had the baby, and have had another one since. They put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, and in general they pass the “are you a grown-up?” tests we all get sprung on us from time to time. (And sometimes pass, and sometimes don’t do so well on.)

As for me, I decided I was going to train myself out of saying “You’re going to keep the baby, aren’t you?” in all its variations. I would treat each expectant mother as if she were the sort of mother who wouldn’t dream of abortion, and I was not going to bring the subject up. I would offer help. I would offer encouragement. I might offer congratulations. But I would not bring up the subject of abortion. I would steadfastly act as though of course she was “keeping her child”. Unless she put it up for adoption…

Ladies, when did we let the popular culture redefine “keeping your baby” to mean “not kill your baby”?

Until quite recently, deciding whether to “keep your baby” meant deciding whether to raise it yourself or put it up for adoption. It meant trying to figure out what was best for the child after it was born.

It did not mean treating a fetus like junk mail, the decision being nothing more or less than deciding whether to bother reading it or to toss it in the trash can unopened.

So, anyway, if you have slipped into using “keeping your baby” as a euphemism for “not getting an abortion”, may I suggest that you reconsider?

I’d like the phrase moved back to meaning what it used to mean. Wouldn’t you? At the very least, I’d like to see a reduction in its use as a kneejerk phrase that neatly glosses over what’s really under consideration.

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2 Responses to "“Keeping your baby”"

We need to take back our language. About a month ago my friend referred to the baby I’m carrying as an it. It took me a few minutes to figure out what on earth she was talking about. After she finally clarified I realized that she was speaking about my child as if she were an inanimate object instead of my baby I could answer her question. I was reminded that we as a society often refer to our babies in such a dehumanizing way. I would guess it somehow helps to justify actions and choices by doing so. I have caught myself referring to other peoples babies like that too. It seems easier to do do so if I don’t know if it’s a boy or a girl, but it is still dehumanizing that child. So I’ve made an active effort to refer to the unborn as either a he or she if known or as a they (a term my husband right up until we found out our baby was a girl much to the confusion of people who thought we must have been having twins). We’ve become so lazy about our words and what they mean. It’s more important then ever that we take back our language. It helps to convey to other people that these little babies are human and deserve life. Thank you for a wonderful post. I will definitely be working harder to use words the way they are supposed to.

Ah, look – from force of habit I used “it” in this very post, saying “whether to raise it yourself or put it up for adoption”. I’ll try to be more careful. It is tricky, isn’t it, when you don’t know whether the baby is a boy or a girl, or if you’re trying to speak in general terms – but you’re right, there must be workarounds for those cases.

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