What if my baby turns out an ugly duckling?
Who needs 3D fetus scans, anyway? If my kid comes out looking like the Great Gonzo, I would still love him and protect him.
Six PM on Friday in the middle of the Tel Aviv Intercity Highway is no place for a pregnant woman and her irritable husband. We’re inching our way home from a systems scan at the ob-gyn office. They call it an expressway but it’s always jammed; if the speed limit was 25 mph, nobody would get caught speeding. It could be a good use of public space to build playgrounds on the roadside, call it a pedestrian mall and have children run around safely.
My patience is slowly running out, but Babe is calm and giggly, looking at the scans and admiring the technology that makes it possible to take pictures of a baby while still in the womb. I would be more impressed of a technology that takes pictures of the kids at a Hanukkah party without actually being there. It’s something I’d put my money on, like some people did on Waze, which tells me I’m stuck in traffic. Thank you, Waze. I already know it!
Babe doesn’t even know how bad I feel, perusing the pictures that the doctor printed “especially” for us. I keep mum, not wanting to spoil her joy, but also because I cannot recognize anything in some of the most expensive pictures that I’ve ever had. All I can see is something like a tennis ball with a torso, taken under bad lighting, something that someone could have thrown to his dog to play with, or is it a toy for a naïve pregnant couple?
The doctor told us that these are 3D images of the fetus, but nothing really assures us that these are not stock pictures that he sells to all his patients. In true life, I cannot see how my 4-year old girl resembles me, so how can it be that this tennis ball is my son and not a fetus paying rent in a surrogate mother’s womb in a rainforest?
…even if to all the others he’s the ugliest creature to crawl the earth. I will always love him, in good times, in bad times, and even if he grows to be stubborn and won’t brush his teeth at bedtime.
“Isn’t this the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen?” Babe asks me as she pulls out another Rorschach inkblot. If it were not for my male pride and the evolutionarily embedded love that I feel automatically toward this fetus, I wouldn’t say that he seems like much. Where’s that little upward pointing nose and little curls? Good old anxiety now kicks in: what if he is born like this, a chewed up tennis ball with a nose like Gonzo the Muppet’s? What if he turns out to be a bald, fat, bespectacled dwarf?
Are we going to have an ugly child? No, no, no way! We come from families with proportionate facial features, evolution is on our side, but accidents happen and create cosmetic hazards. With all due respect to our proportionate facial features, I’m not a David Beckham and she’s not a Bar Rafaeli, and even if we were, there’s a margin of error. Now I’m not just irritable, I am afraid, very afraid.
Of course I will love my ugly duckling son, who for me is the handsomest, even if to all the others he’s the ugliest creature to crawl the earth. I will always love him, in good times, in bad times, and even if he grows to be stubborn and won’t brush his teeth at bedtime. He is my son who will carry on after me, and who for me will always be the most beautiful creation you’ve ever seen. But now that he has grown, I worry about him, not about me.
We hear that children can be mean and have no qualms hurting other children, but it is nonsense to single out children, as if grownups and even old people cannot be mean. “Have you considered treating his problem professionally?” they might ask, and he might hear. There is nothing legal to be done about people interfering in other people’s affairs, and often, the less you know someone, the more he or she take liberties to spout their stupidities not just on appearance but also on disabilities, handicaps, speech and behavior, everything, in fact. I fear not the embarrassment that I might feel, but the sense of vulnerability he might have to other people’s toxicity, the harm to his natural optimism. I am willing to absorb all the putdowns and stares, but not if they are directed at my child.
Whether we wish it or not, our appearance classifies us in an instant. As a child, I had a choir of boys calling me “fatso” on my way home from school. I can assure you that as a child, my world was much wider than my few extra pounds. The kids would follow me and remind me that I was fat, as if I had not known, and it wasn’t just them. During all my childhood, I had rude strangers who believed they were smart enough to give me advice on losing weight, no permission asked. All I wanted to do then was disappear, not hear anyone and not think about it anymore. It’s funny how in those moments I did not feel the insult getting into my skin ─ as a child you don’t think in adult terms. But in time, the hurt penetrated. In truth, in real time I did not feel anything, and luckily, there is no pain that a frozen yoghurt with whipped cream and a doughnut cannot heal. Today, though, it does hurt. I am saddened to think of myself, a small boy returning home from school, carrying on in such situations.
It’s hard for me to see him in situations like these; I want to go out and protect him. Put my hand around his shoulder, give him a good hug and tell him that all will be fine. Sometimes no more than this is needed.
Our instinct as adults to shield our children from harm is blessed, but also blinding. We tend to focus on our own difficulty in these situations, forgetting that the little ones are persons with a world of their own, who see, feel and evaluate all experiences that come their way and have a way of protecting themselves. Like my young self, and many other harassed children, they can deal with troubles on their own. This is what I did as a child, and it seems to me that other children did the same: we took it in stride and carried on without reflection, and more ─ we didn’t even think about ourselves as helpless children. We parents are there to assure them: if the hardship is too great for their beautiful world, we adults must step forward, be there, embrace them and act for them. But as long as the hardship to our children is bearable, all we need to do is just be there in the background, because they know how to deal with it by themselves.
It doesn’t really matter if he who cracks the egg is handsome or ugly, perfect physically or with visible flaws. The most important thing is that he is born healthy: walking, seeing, hearing and sensing; with all the other things, we will deal without professional help. Yet if I have a daughter, I want her be pretty like her mom; if a son, he should look like me, his big daddy. If it’s a boy and he gets his mother’s genes, it’s also fine: he may be a bit short, but will be breathlessly handsome. On the other hand, it won’t be a good idea for my girl to have too many of my genes. At no time in history has it been easy for a six-foot-four tall girl to find a good match, except perhaps in the Israeli women basketball team. The worst is if she gets my height, weight and big head. If she does, I hope it is filled with a good brain, so she knows how to deal by herself with all this useless mess.