Here are some ways you can support someone who has received unexpected news during pregnancy:
Often, people who talk about their worries do not necessarily want a solution but to have their feelings heard and validated. Be an attentive listener by allowing your loved one the space to express their feelings, fears and concerns without judgement. Having someone listen can be an immense comfort.
Sometimes, we can try to be encouraging by telling the parent that they are strong, that they would only be given what they can handle or that everything will be fine. Some parents can appreciate this, but others can find this hurtful and dismissive. If you spend time listening to the parent, they may guide you in the best way to respond. Listening to the individual and their response and knowing this can change as time goes on is so important.
It may help to learn about prenatal diagnosis and seek accurate and reliable information to prepare both you and your loved one for the path ahead. Be mindful that the parent may not wish to share the specifics of the diagnosis with you. They may keep this information private due to the uncertainty or due to worries that you and others may have opinions or treat their pregnancy or baby differently. There are other ways to educate yourself, such as learning about support services local to the parent.
You may wish to offer to accompany your loved one to medical appointments to provide support and, if they feel comfortable, ask questions and help them remember important information. You could take notes. This will help you know what support you can provide now and in the future.
Sometimes when people receive unexpected news they may be in shock or feel as if they are detached from their body and the world around them. They may forget to eat or have difficulties sleeping. You can help ground them by encouraging them to prioritise self-care. Remind them to eat healthy, regular meals, get plenty of rest and take breaks from things they find overwhelming. Sometimes, reminders can feel like pestering, so be mindful of this. A less confronting way to support self-care is by offering practical support, see the tips below.
Positivity vs. practicality
Some people respond well to positivity, it helps them focus on the hopeful elements rather than the parts that are scary or overwhelming. Other people don’t respond well to this approach, and they feel it is dismissive of their experience. Being practical and knowing about worst-case scenarios can help some people prepare for the next step.
Know that people experience trauma and grief differently
You may feel worried because your loved one has withdrawn emotionally or has become busy or talks about their worries often. Everyone responds differently. Some people like to be close to people, others like to process things on their own first before they talk about it with someone.
Knowing what that person’s style is will tell you how you can help them. It’s also helpful to know your coping style. If you want to talk about it a lot and your loved one doesn’t then you may need to connect with other support to help you process it all. And vice versa, if you don’t want to talk about it, but your loved one does, then it can help to voice this and encourage them to talk to someone they trust. You may offer to help them connect with someone and let them know that it is because they deserve someone who can hold space for them, and you feel unable to offer that. This will help them know you care, while also maintaining a boundary if you feel you can’t provide that support.
Regardless, finding ways to feel connected during a traumatic, stressful time is also important. This might look like sharing your worries. It might mean sitting next to each other in silence but being together. Taking time off work to slow down and do something together. Being present at scans and medical appointments. Letting your loved one know that you are there will help them feel less alone in their experience.
It is also important to know that their reaction may be different to what you expect. Not everyone experiences a prenatal diagnosis as a traumatic event.
Emotional support and practical support
When a loved one has received a prenatal diagnosis, emotional and practical support are crucial. Parents benefit from having people they can talk to about how they’re feeling but also having people who can take over responsibilities when needed is helpful, too. Dropping older children off at childcare or school, preparing or delivering meals and, transport to medical appointments without the expectation of going in, or offering vouchers for food or self-care activities are practical ways to help your loved one.
Similarly, another practical support can be to do things that aren’t related to the prenatal diagnosis. Sometimes parents need to switch off from their thoughts and want to focus on something else. Be attuned to the needs and vibe of your loved one so you can offer the right support at the right time.
You can also ask your loved one: What can I do to help you?
Seek help for yourself
If you’re a loved one of an expectant parent who has received a prenatal diagnosis, you may feel overwhelmed, uncertain, fearful, anxious or low in mood at times. It’s important to recognise when you may need additional support to help you process your thoughts and feelings and prepare for a baby with an anomaly.
You may experience symptoms of trauma, anxiety or depression.