What I hear when someone celebrates a “healthy baby.”

He’s become known as “the worst Chris.” Over the years, Chris Pratt has come under fire for attending a church with an anti-LGBTQ stance, as well as for his unexpected divorce from Anna Faris and his political views—he follows several conservative commentators on social media, and he said, during the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election, that he doesn’t “feel represented by either side” in politics and bemoaned the “common ground out there that’s missed because we focus on the things that separate us.”

On Wednesday, Pratt provided a new source of ire. He posted a pre-birthday tribute to his second wife, Katherine Schwarzenegger (yes, as in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s daughter), on Instagram. The entire post is cringe: He revels in how adoringly she looks at him, he compares her to his favorite baseball card, and he anticipates forgetting to buy her a birthday present (his net worth is $60 million).

The most cringey part for me, though, was this line: “She’s given me an amazing life, a gorgeous healthy daughter …” It’s a reference to their daughter, Lyla Maria, born in August 2020.

This might seem innocuous. People celebrate healthy babies all the time! But Pratt has another child with his ex-wife, Anna Faris. Jack Pratt, now 9, was born nine weeks early, spent a month in the neonatal intensive care unit, and underwent several surgeries.

“On our fourth day in the NICU, the pediatric neurosurgeon sat Chris and me down to tell us that Jack had some severe brain bleeding and there was a chance that he could be developmentally disabled,” Faris wrote in her memoir, Unqualified. Chris has called receiving the news “devastating.”

Each NICU journey is different, and I can’t pretend to know what Chris, Anna, and Jack went through. But this all hits home for me. My own son was born 10 weeks early, underwent a terrifying open-heart surgery, and continues to be monitored for health issues. I’ve learned too much about the toxic ways we prize “healthy” babies, congratulate “successful” parents, and continue to see disability and illness as an imperfection and a failing.

No doubt celebrating a healthy baby is, in one light, an attempt to say that one is focused on what matters in life. I understand the impulse. Before my son was born, I would tell people “all I want is a healthy baby,” when people asked if I wanted a boy or girl. But now, every time a parent announces that they have a healthy baby, part of me feels crushed all over again. How could I fail at the most human task: bringing a child safely into the world? How do I answer well-meaning questions about his future? I tell myself the other parents don’t know how they are being hurtful; their innocence is blissful.

But Chris Pratt knows exactly what it’s like to have a child with unexpected challenges. He has had a baby with extensive health issues. He knows—or he should know—the pain of hearing another parent congratulated for bringing a healthy baby into the world, as though it’s an achievement we might have any control over. It’s hard not to see this as a slap in the faces of Anna Faris, Jack Pratt, and anyone who has ever gone through painful experiences like these.

And I know that Chris Pratt knows all this because he has been an outspoken advocate for preemies and children with special needs. Both Pratt and Faris have been advocates for the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth. Pratt has donated to vision organizations and NICUs, and in 2014, he spoke at a March of Dimes event. Pratt and Schwarzenegger also announced recently that they are Special Olympics ambassadors.

Yet he’s still saying he values his second wife for giving him something very specific: a healthy baby. (He also values her for doing “everything” while he “periodically” “open[s] a jar of pickles,” as the Instagram post explains.) The “healthy baby” comment is not only an insult to babies who have faced health and developmental challenges, it’s putting the onus on women to produce a baby to some pretty particular specifications.

Yes, people should celebrate their babies. But what I wish people better understood is just how much babies who show up with some extra needs deserve celebration, too. If you know someone whose birth or childhood didn’t go as planned, above all, listen to them. Ask them how you can support them. But also, just react the way you would to any baby. Sometimes we struggle to know the right thing to say. Several of my friends apologized in hushed tones when they learned of my child’s birth. But I didn’t want condolences; I wanted congratulations. My baby was born! He was here, and he was the light of my life, and the source of my joy, and every gram of his tiny body amounted to a goddamn miracle.

Now I know that what I really wanted was my child, just as he is and whoever he may become.
We all deserve to be celebrated by our loved ones for exactly who we are.

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