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Such the Spot: What to say when you don't know what to say

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Darcie Maranich

 

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One of my dearest friends recently gave birth to twin baby boys.  Although I haven’t seen them in person, I have seen photos and I can vouch that they are indeed the cutest little things.  They’ve got jiggley jowls and rolls of chub and big, curious eyes.  Before they were born, my friend wondered whether they’d be identical.  As it turns out, they’re not; one has blue eyes and the other has brown.  The less observant among us can also tell them apart based on their arms.  One baby was born without an arm from the elbow down, the result of amniotic band syndrome.  Like me, my friend is a huge fan of all things Disney and so when the doctor delivered the news, she couldn’t help but think of her son’s stub as his “lucky fin”, like Nemo’s.  As you can tell, my friend took the news in stride and focused immediately on the blessings these boys have brought into her life.

She was out running errands with her boys the other day when a child approached and, noticing his stub, asked what had happened to the baby.  In an effort to smooth things over, the child’s mother said, “he’s cute, though.”

Ouch.

Sometimes the most well-intentioned people say the most thoughtless things.  I am the mother of a child with Down syndrome.  I know this from experience. 

When my daughter was born almost fourteen years ago, so many of the people nearest and dearest to me didn’t know how to respond to the news of her diagnosis.  “I’m so sorry,” they would say.  I know they meant well, but they truly needn’t have been sorry.  No mother wants to feel as though the birth of her child is something to grieve, even if there are health issues.

With that in mind, I thought I’d offer three great things to say if ever you find yourself faced with a similar situation. 

  1. Speak the truth – Compliment the mother on her baby’s deep blue eyes or his irresistible dimple.  Focus on the positive attributes and offer genuine remarks that any mother would be flattered to hear.
  2. Don’t apologize – When you encounter an infant or child with a birth defect or genetic disorder, don’t apologize or make comments in an effort to excuse the condition.  If your child should happen to ask a blatant question in your presence (like the one who approached my friend), wait to see how the mother responds.  More than likely, she has a great answer on the ready.  If not, it’s okay to give a very general answer like, “he is exactly the way God created him to be.  Isn’t he sweet?”
  3. Acknowledge, don’t ignore – If someone you care about comes to you and delivers news about a troubling diagnosis, don’t ignore it or brush it off.  Some people mistakenly believe that ignoring the issue is the same as accepting it.  It’s not.  You can demonstrate that you care by asking respectful questions to gain a deeper understanding of the condition.  Acknowledge that the situation is a challenging one and offer to support your loved one every step of the way.

Hopefully these suggestions will give you the right words for the situation.  I speak from experience when I tell you that the right words can make all the difference.

  

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Darcie Maranich

 

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