Coping With Bad News
By David Menconi
When you consider the millions of things that have to happen exactly right during gestation, it's miraculous that the vast majority of babies come into the world in perfect health. But that doesn't make news of congenital birth defects any easier to take. I know, having been there myself. Last year, the day after our boy-girl twins were born, a doctor sat my wife and me down to tell us our daughter Claudia had Down syndrome and a heart condition.
We did not see this coming, and the news was devastating. But with work, patience and a great deal of help, we managed to regain our footing pretty quickly. So here are some suggestions on how to cope with bad news of the developmental sort, generally applicable to most such situations. (And by the way, Claudia is now 14 months old and doing quite well; thanks for asking!).
Let Yourself Off the Hook
A natural initial response is to feel guilty or somehow responsible, as if you've done something that deserves punishment. But it's a feeling you should purge as quickly as possible. The best thing to tell yourself is that things sometimes just happen for no reason anyone can fathom. Having a child with special needs does not reflect poorly on you as a parent or person. Anybody who makes you feel as if it does is someone to be shunned.
Take Everything One Day at a Time
Trite, but it bears repeating. Depending on which condition is involved, it could be years before you'll know much about your special-needs child's capabilities. So obsessing too much about what might happen 5, 10, or 20 years down the road is a waste of time and energy; whatever you're worried about most likely won't even be an issue by then. This is not the same thing as short-sighted denial. Everyone must plan for the future--obviously, those of us with special-needs children most of all. But your focus should be primarily on the here and now, on things you can actually do something about.
Find the local support group for your category of special-needs child. Other parents going through the same thing can be enormously comforting, and offer valuable advice and insight. There is also a wealth of literature, at the library as well as online.
Remember: Other People Will Take Cues From You
It's okay to feel sad, depressed or angry. You'd have to be superhuman not to feel that way at least some of the time. But keep in mind that your friends and loved ones are probably unsure about what to think of your situation. If you act like it's a tragedy, they will most likely think the same thing and act accordingly (which might amount to avoiding you altogether). Seeing you making the best of a difficult situation sends a powerful message.
Get the Most Up-To-Date Medical Information Possible
Do not automatically assume your doctor has it. We've heard stories from other parents about some doctors who still use "The M-Word" (as in "Mongoloid") to describe children with Down syndrome.