The pressure to have the perfect baby: are we all a bunch of amateur eugenicists, or are we just into mother-blaming?


I consider myself pretty lucky. I have two amazing kids who have so far managed to reach adolescence without being eaten. They’re total weirdos, and do many things in ways most people around them don’t. And that’s okay. I know, though, that there are many people in the world, and maybe even in my life, who would not want my kids, because they’re not perfect.

When my oldest was first going through the diagnostic process to determine whether he was autistic, I had many … well-meaning (?) people send me links to studies on what might have caused it. Did I drink during my pregnancy? Too much access to ultrasound? Epidural? Did I eat something “wrong” when I was pregnant? Did I take medication? What did I do to make my kid less perfect than he should be? The questioning picked up again when my second child was diagnosed. I MUST HAVE done something.

The answer is, I did nothing but exist. My kids are likely autistic because I am. I have an explanation, and it’s one that works for us, but not everyone does. Parents who have children with Down Syndrome are told they waited too long, that they are at fault for their babies’ imperfection. Many are pressured to terminate pregnancies when their viable fetuses don’t fit what we’ve decided is the ideal.* Most pregnant people are policed about everything they do, and blamed when their babies don’t come out as expected. Eat lots of fish? Well, the mercury will make your kid stupid. An occasional glass of wine? Yep, your kid’s going to be a criminal with no sense of remorse.

And Gd help you if you don’t breastfeed, because WE ALL KNOW that babies fed artificial baby milk have lower IQs.

So, here’s my question: why do we care so much about the cult of the high IQ? Is being a genius a guarantee that our kids will grow up into “successful” adults? Do conventionally smart people have an easier time in the world? Probably. But not because they’re smart. It’s because the world is set up to privilege certain kinds of strengths over others. Able-bodied people are privileged over those considered disabled. They’re valued more, even as infants.

In our world, where “stupid” is still an acceptable insult, we daily reinforce that being smart is better. And if smart is better, and we have the power to prevent not-smart people from being, then it stands to reason that those who create new people would be pressured to follow very narrow behavioural rules in order to ensure they have the smartest kids possible. We have invested so much time, energy, and funding into policing pregnancy that we “don’t have the resources” to create and maintain space for those who don’t fit our norm.

I’d love to see a moratorium on campaigns designed to scare pregnant people into compliance. I’d love to see people use the words “stupid,” “idiot,” and “moron” less and less. I’d love to see more people embrace the strengths of the “imperfect” people in their lives. I’d love people to stop glorifying IQ, making it seem so much more important than it actually is.

* Because this needs to be said: for whatever reason you choose – of your own non-coerced will – to terminate a pregnancy, I will support you 100%.

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