You hear the news that a baby is born. You feel joy and happiness. You are excited to find a way to congratulate the new parents. Is a call going to be enough? Should you pick some flowers and go there to congratulate them in person? Should you find a nice greeting card or just choose some balloons? Basically, you have so many options and don’t know what to choose.
You hear the news that a baby is born with Down syndrome. You feel like you don’t have the same options listed above. You have no idea how to react, what to say. You feel somehow sad and sorry for the grief of the new parents. You believe there’s nothing you can do so you decide to do nothing. But that’s wrong. The most important thing is to be there, even if you don’t say or do the right thing. They need your presence and support more than ever. Think of what you’ve felt when you heard the news and imagine what they are going through. They need your love to get through these hard moments.
Let us remind you which are your options:
- Smile and play with the baby: The first reaction when you see baby will mean the world for the new parents. You should smile and play with the baby any way you can. You can say that the baby has her mother’s/ father’s smile. After all, besides the features of Down syndrome, you can see some traits he inherited from his parents. Tell them about that, it will make them feel much better. They need to know that when you look at the baby, you see a part of them not just Down syndrome. The parents need help to accept their child and this will only facilitate the process.
- Ask the parents how are they feeling: You may be hesitant to ask this question, because you have no idea what to say next. But they will appreciate you asking because they need someone to talk to. They are overwhelmed by all the emotions they’re experiencing and they might not be able to talk about all that right now. Just knowing they have someone who cares about them is very important in this moment. Be careful what tone you use when you ask this question, try not to be too worried or pitiful. Otherwise, this will make them feel embarrassed and they will slowly isolate themselves.
- Ask about the baby’s health: Even if you don’t know much about Down syndrome, you know that it determines several health issues. Ask about the baby’s health, if he needs surgery or not. Be extremely careful how you build your speech. The best advice is to be realistic. Negativity or over-optimism will make the parents feel misunderstood and this will only make them isolate themselves from others. You can help the new parents talk openly about their child’s health issues and help them find the best solution. You can hear them out and give them your own advice. You can also help them by doing research in the field and recommend them doctors, procedures or medical centres.
- Encourage the new parents: It may seem like a cliché, but they really need someone to tell them that they will be wonderful parents. They are in shock right now, questioning everything they know, they are fearful and doubtful. They really need sincere encouragements from friends and family who know them for a really long time. They need you to tell them that they are strong enough to face all the challenges that will follow and that you are there to support them.
- Inform yourself about Down syndrome: Before talking to the new parents, start reading about Down syndrome. You will understand what this genetic disorder means and you will have an informed opinion if they need your advice. When reading about all of this, try to read some parents’ blogs and see what they’ve felt when their baby is born and how they managed to cope with these feelings.
- Be there any way you can: Set up a date in the near future when all of you will have dinner together. You are cooking. Ask when can you babysit. They need you to take the initiative and organize activities for you to share. They are too overwhelmed to do this themselves but they need it more than ever. Be careful to take into consideration their time limitations and not to pressure them.
- Offer your help: Help them in anyway you can. Even the small things. The new parents are going to a very hard time emotionally and they need all the help they can get. Help them with certain daily activities or be that someone they can talk to.
- Respect the parents’ requirements: Don’t overreact if they ask you to wash your hands with disinfectant before playing with the baby or if you have to wear a mask when you enter the room. The baby’s health is fragile and they will do anything possible to protect him. Don’t insist on holding the baby if you see that this scares them a bit. Be understanding and don’t act like you know better.
- Congratulate them on their wonderful baby!
- Bring presents!!!
In the end, I hope you see how many options you have. You just have to be understanding and to be there, everything else will come naturally.
As a parent, what else would you add to this list?