How to Support a Friend with a Poor Prenatal Diagnosis

Do you have a friend or family member who has just received a poor prenatal diagnosis for her child? Is a coworker expecting a baby with a terminal diagnosis? Do you want to help but aren't sure just what to say or what to do? If so, thank you for caring so much.

When a prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 18 or Trisomy 13 is received, the parents are adjusting to the reality of the situation. It is not helpful to say things like, "Maybe the doctor is wrong," or "I know someone else who had a similar diagnosis and their baby was fine." Although you are meaning to offer hope, it often tends to make the parents feel like you think they are making too big a deal out of this, when it is a big deal.

It is not helpful to say, "Maybe the doctor is wrong."

In the same manner, if you and they are spiritual, don't pray for a miracle unless the parents indicate that's how they want you to pray. Telling them you are praying for a miracle can sometimes make them feel like something is lacking in their faith if their baby isn't healed. They are working hard to come to peace with the situation; telling them you are praying for them to have peace and wisdom is comforting.

The most important thing is to just be available to listen. Don't be shocked if your friend spends time planning her child's funeral, selecting the burial gown, or other similar topics. A mother's instinct is to care for her child, and this is just another way to do that.

If you would have held a baby shower for your friend, don't assume she will or won't want one. Ask her. Some moms want a shower because they want to treasure whatever "normal" things they can about the pregnancy. Others may prefer a "pampering" party, where they can try to relax from the stress of carrying a baby with a poor diagnosis. Others may find a shower too painful. So talk to your friend and find out what will help her.

Likewise, don't avoid talking about the pregnancy or the baby. Many a mom has found that friends and relatives act as if she isn't pregnant, which is a very hurtful thing. Although they are trying to protect her and themselves from becoming "too attached", it causes more pain than it saves. Moms love their babies and are proud of them, even if they are very ill. Love her baby, too, and allow her to talk about her child if she desires.

Gifts are appropriate! Although you may feel strange buying clothing or gifts for a baby who may not live, it is comforting for the mother to receive things for her baby. It adds a little normalcy to an otherwise abnormal situation and makes her feel that her baby is still loved, despite his or her illness.

Purchase two identical gifts, one for the baby and one for mom

A wonderful thing to do is to purchase two identical gifts, whether clothing or stuffed animals. That way, the mom can give one to the baby and keep the identical one. Many moms do this, and then reverse them for the burial, so they can keep the one that belonged to their baby with them.

Offer to be there at the birth if your friend wishes. Any time you spend with the baby means memories you can later share with the mom, which will be so comforting. Offer to take photographs, so your friend can focus on spending time with her baby instead of on taking the pictures that will be so important later.

And after the baby dies, there is still much you can do. See How to Help a Grieving Friend to learn how you can really support your friend.

How to Help a Grieving Friend | What to Say to a Grieving Friend
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This page updated November 16, 2004.