Growing up pro-life, I heard the word “eugenics” tossed around often, even from an early age. I became especially interested in learning more about the topic during my undergraduate years when I majored in psychology. The fall semester of my junior year, I took a class called “Historiography of Psychology.” I’ll be honest – while registering for classes, I definitely misread the title and thought I was signing up for “History of Psychology.” I soon learned that “Historiography” is the study of the way history is portrayed. A subject we covered extensively was the history and historiography of eugenics, which is closely tied to the field of psychology. I’ll never forget my professor saying that not too long ago, when students took a placement test, instead of worrying about being placed in a lower math or reading group, they had to fear being sterilized, a common eugenic practice.
In graduate school, one of my favorite classes so far has been “Rhetorical Grammar.” I wasn’t convinced I would enjoy it at first — I am a writer, I thought to myself, not an editor or a linguist! I did not want to go back to my middle school days of identifying the different parts of a sentence or debating where a comma should be placed. But I soon found out that while we learned quite a bit about proper grammar, the class was focused on rhetoric — or the way language is portrayed.
As a writer for Rehumanize International, of course I knew that writing could be an important part of social change. I also recognized the reality that language matters — though I honestly had never given it much thought beyond avoiding demeaning language or slurs in my writing. Before I took Rhetorical Grammar, I didn’t realize that the way I write can be an agent of change. Things as simple as capitalizing the “B” in “Black” can provide a world of difference in how a message gets communicated. When it was time to pick a final project, I recalled my background in pro-life and psychology, and I choose to focus on the rhetoric of eugenics.
Now, as a pregnant mother, I’m recognizing the influence of eugenics in everything around me. From ultrasounds to baby books, I am always conscious of rhetoric based on a eugenics model — one that says only those “good enough” should be born. Fortunately, I have had excellent doctors and nurses so far that have treated both my son and I as patients worthy of care. Like every new mother, I worry every time we have to do a test, or have an ultrasound, or when I just feel like something isn’t right. But there is a great comfort in being pro-life. We already know what our “decision” would be, were our son to have some abnormality; we’ve already decided to love him, to carry him as long as is healthy, to care for him whether his life be long or short, peaceful or difficult.
I could say “but hopefully our son will be perfectly ‘normal,’” without any kind of disability or difference, but I know that normal looks different for everyone. My husband and I both needed extra supports throughout school, having both been diagnosed with learning differences. Of the three children in my family, two of us were allowed accommodations for learning differences. I actually don’t know if I’d want my son to be what society considers “normal.” I wouldn’t know what to do with him!
In my next series of blog posts, I am going to explore eugenics through the eyes of a pregnant mother. I want to analyze how the way we treat pregnancy helps or hurts, and how we can move away from this flawed pseudoscience that still affects us today in so many ways. I want to take my experiences and see how we can change our healthcare system for the better.