The past few years of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, having a miscarriage, & pregnancy complications and then finally getting the happy news that I was past the danger stage in a successful pregnancy was exciting and unnerving at the same time.
I read all the books, was staying healthy, had been taking prenatal vitamins religiously, and by all accounts doing everything “right”. When I went in for an ultrasound expecting (like every parent) to hear that my child was perfect, I received the heartbreaking news that there were some pregnancy complications and one genetic abnormality.
Through my journey to Mommyhood and while talking to others who had experienced similar pregnancy complications, I have compiled a list to help those trying to comfort a loved one when the news they receive is anything but comforting.
- Don’t give the situation a silver lining. “It could be worse”, “maybe it’s not that bad”, “just treat the baby normally”, or “maybe it’s a blessing in disguise”, belittle the essential mourning process mom and dad need. The reality they always pictured for their baby is gone. Mourning that loss is essential to accepting the new reality for their family and any challenges that may come along with that.
- Unless you are an expert or have personal experience, don’t give advice.
- Don’t give an open ended offer of help. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” rarely results in a request for help.
- Be mindful not to place blame on parents. Mommy shaming is very real despite doctors’ reassurances that there’s nothing they could’ve done. Parents are probably already going through their own checklist of maybe it was too much of this, or not enough of that. They don’t need accusing questions that may cause them to feel any additional or unnecessary guilt. “It’s probably because you work out too much.” Really? Mom doesn’t need that kind of blame placed on her.
- Be careful of terminology. Yes, people really did say these. “We won’t love the baby any less”. Really? If your love for the baby doesn’t go without saying, you probably don’t need to be a part of its life. “Your child’s only limitations will be the ones you place on him” – false. Developmental complications WILL place challenges on the baby’s life. Surgeries, childhood bullying, and/or physical limitations may be a reality for the child regardless of parenting style.
- Give specifics of what you can do to help. “I would love to bring you dinner, which night is best?” or “Can I babysit for you this Friday?”
- Networking is great. If you have a friend who has been through something similar offer to get them in touch with the parents, hearing advice or success stories can be very reassuring when you can actually relate to the one it’s coming from.
- Help the parent find inspiring stories, videos or support groups. There are many resources via social media, blogs, and Facebook groups.
- Help the parents shift their attention back to being excited about the arrival of their little one. This is still such an exciting time in their life, offer to go baby shopping with them or decorated the baby’s room.
- Just listen. They might need to vent or cry. You need to be there and just listen and hug (or scream and shout depending upon the person).
It can be hard to find the right words in a painful situation. Sometimes silent support is best. When in doubt, just offer a hug and say nothing. April is genetic limb difference awareness month. It has been comforting to see that I’m not alone.
*A huge thanks to Heather for sharing her story and being willing to help us put together a thoughtful and needed list to help others when dealing with tough issues.