What do you say when your friend just had a baby with Down syndrome? Do you congratulate her? IS there a clever response?
There was once a letter in an advice column written by a woman who didn’t know whether or not to congratulate a friend who’d just had a baby with Down syndrome.
She just didn’t know what to say.
The letter writer stated that she felt it would be wrong to congratulate the friend.
On the other hand, she didn’t want to ignore the fact that her friend had just given birth, either.
I had read the column years ago and don’t recall the answer, but I definitely recall that it was not the same solution that I immediately thought of.
Friend just Had Baby with Down Syndrome: Here’s How to Respond
Whether it’s in person verbally or through other means such as email or sending a card, here’s a message to consider:
“Congratulations on becoming a new mother!”
This puts the emphasis on motherhood rather than on the baby.
If she already has kids, then congratulate her on becoming a “third-time mother,” “second-time mother,” etc.
If you feel you need to say more, how about:
“What a lucky baby to have you as his mother. I’m so eager to meet (name of baby).”
With these responses, you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable responding.
But at the same time, there is enough focus on the baby in the follow-up comment that your friend will not feel that you’re dismissing her baby in any way.
“Check yourself and your biases first,” says Patricia Celan, MD, a psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada.
“You may feel like this is a terrible diagnosis, while your friend is not too bothered and is still very happy with the baby.
“However, you may personally feel you wouldn’t have a problem with this condition — while your friend may be feeling overwhelmed and anxious.
“Carefully consider what you plan to say to your friend to avoid expressing your bias, and err on the side of caution; you may otherwise offend your friend or leave your friend feeling guilty and alone.
“Simply start by congratulating the parents on the birth and then when the excitement settles, ask how the parents feel about the diagnosis.
“Then validate and empathize one way or another!
“Avoid asking judgmental questions about choices made during pregnancy and avoid giving unsolicited advice; offer to be available if your friend wants you to help in any way and leave it at that unless more information or support is requested.”
Do not send a sympathy card.
Even if the new mother is grieving, a sympathy card will just intensify the matter.
A newborn can be “perfect” by medical standards, but, due to bad parenting, can turn out to be a hellion.
You don’t know what the future holds; a sympathy card is OUT.
So assume that the most appropriate thing to do, when a woman has a baby with Down syndrome, is to send a congratulations notice.
You can’t go wrong focusing on the motherhood aspect.