7 Ways To Support Parents Faced With A Difficult Prenatal Diagnosis
It was supposed to be one of the most wonderful days of our lives. On April 29, 2008, at just over twenty weeks pregnant, it was time for my anatomy scan. I was very excited to find out the gender and to see my little bean again. My pregnancy had been going wonderfully so far; no morning sickness or other issues. When the sonogram tech brought in the doctor to “take a look at something,” I knew there was a serious problem.
Never would I have guessed that my precious baby boy would be diagnosed with a severe heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. Never would I have guessed that we would leave the appointment in tears instead of joy. Never would I have guessed that this could happen to us. I called it the day our lives changed forever.
Nothing prepares you for learning your unborn baby has health issues. In our case, it changed everything. For a friend or family member watching a future mom or dad going through this hell, it can be difficult as well. Sometimes you just don’t know what to say or what to do. This can be hurtful to the parents. It can also lead to unwanted stress. In this way, personal relationships become strained. The following is a list that is very helpful when feeling the need to lend your support:
1. Don’t judge.
Judging may very well result in a punch in the throat. In the next few weeks and months, the expectant parents will undoubtedly be faced with some very hard decisions. Some may include whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. Support them in whatever they decide. It is not your job to impose on them your personal beliefs or to play God. The last thing they need is the additional stress of those questioning them or judging their choices.
2. Feed them.
Will there be a NICU stay in their future? Do they have additional children (or pets)? If they will be in the hospital for a prolonged period, a great idea is to organize a meal train. During these stressful times, it is quite common for the parents to forget about their own needs- one being eating. Call upon friends and family to make sure meals are brought to the hospital. Even just a nice visit with them can go a long way. For us, it was comforting to have family and friends to lean on during such a hard time. If they have other children, help coordinate child care.
3. Plan a baby shower. Or not.
Feel them out about this. It can be a touchy topic to some, as it is often unclear whether the baby will survive. In my case, my sister took it upon herself to plan a shower for me. In our way of thinking, whether sick or not, this little guy was going to be part of our family soon and we wanted to celebrate him. On the flip side, other parents may be uncomfortable celebrating before the birth. That is also fine and completely understandable. Support their decision either way.
4. If privacy is what they need at times, then leave them the hell alone.
With all the stress, my husband and I didn’t always attend every event. Often, it was just too much to see others with their families as well as pregnant women. It definitely added to the whole bitter sweetness of the pregnancy. Expectant parents are also often drained due to the nature of the experience. Follow their lead. Be patient and understanding with them. Never make them feel bad for not going to a wedding or baby shower. It is nothing personal and won’t last forever.
5. Is your name Dr. Oz? If not, then shut up.
Regardless of your qualifications, it is not necessary to offer your two cents on as to why the health issue may have occurred. A lot of parents are already feeling guilt and wondering what they could have done to prevent the diagnosis. To try and somehow offer an opinion is not only unacceptable, but can be downright devastating to the parent. They have enough to deal with. Stay out of it.
6. Do your research.
I was always touched when friends and family took it upon themselves to find out a little about Liam’s heart defect. To me, it showed interest and caring. You may also be able to offer some good resources for the parents. That being said, it is never okay to offer opinions (see #5).
7. Just be there.
I often felt very overwhelmed and burdened. It meant a lot when others took time with a simple phone call or visit. Sometimes I just wanted someone to take the time to listen. Help the expectant mom or dad in getting what they need during the pregnancy; whether it is a baby item or a nourishing meal. Being that it is such a draining process, they need all the physical and emotional strength possible. You may feel at a loss for words, but just being there helps. Sometimes you may not need to say anything at all. A warm hug and soothing words can go a long way. For me, it always did. I always remembered the love a true friend showed me.
(photo: STILLFX/ Shutterstock)