The other day, a woman in my circle of acquaintances emailed me this question:
My husband has a friend who just became a father for the second time. We heard through the grapevine the baby has Down syndrome. They've posted some photos on Facebook, where they have received dozens of comments of the usual ilk—congratulations on your bundle of joy, what a beautiful baby, such a cute head of hair, etc. What should we say to them (not necessarily on Facebook)? We want to say something that is not untrue and not unkind.
Immediately, I was transported back to that snowy morning nine years ago when I sat at our kitchen table, laptop open in front of me. Dave and I had come home from the hospital, where baby Max lay in an incubator in the NICU, to grab some clothes. I stared blankly at the email list of friends and family that I'd put together in the weeks before my due date. The plan was that Dave would send out an announcement blast when Max was born, only then things went nightmarishly wrong. I wasn't sure what to tell people.
Finally, I typed. I don't remember the exact words but they went something like this: "We had our baby three days ago. His name is Max and he weighs 7 pounds and 8 ounces. There was some trouble at birth and we don't know what the future holds, but we do know that we have a beautiful boy."
People started sending back emails and cards. Some simply said, "Congratulations on your new baby boy!" and those seemed a bit empty to me given the horror we'd just been through, although I knew that people weren't sure what to say. Some friends said things like "You are so strong, you will be able to handle this," and told me that they were there to talk or to come over and just hang out. Those are the notes I've saved.
There's no one standard response for what to say to a parent who's had a child with special needs; every birth and every parent's reaction to it is different. But I think it's important not to assume that parents consider it a tragedy when they have a child with Down syndrome or other special needs. Condolences are for deaths, not births.
I told the woman who had emailed me that she couldn't go wrong with simple words—saying congratulations, and that she and her husband would be there for the couple. We both thought it would be a good idea to pose her question here so all of you could weigh in.
So please, share your thoughts. When you had your baby, what did you most want to hear from friends?