One of the best gifts of new motherhood is the instant bond you have with other new mothers. Sharing that experience, similar but unique, creates a bond unlike any other. I know the feeling of relief that comes from giving birth to a healthy baby, and have been on the sidelines as several friends received a life-changing diagnosis for their children.
Based on those experiences, here is what I learned about how to help when your friend gets frightening news about their child’s medical status.
Give them time to grieve
It’s hard to sit still when confronted with bad news. As tempting as it might be to jump right in and do something, wait. Allow the parents and family time to grapple with what the diagnosis means to them, and let it sink in.
Getting a diagnosis of diabetes or cerebral palsy requires parents to set aside the life they had envisioned for their child and embrace a different path. Drastic changes and knowing that your child’s life will be different can cause parents to grieve the life they had in mind. Just because it’s not life threatening, doesn’t mean it isn’t devastating.
Bring a bottle of wine and let your friends experience the stages of grief without offering answers. You don’t need to solve anything or take action today, just show up and keep showing up.
Be supportive of their choice in doctors
It’s easy to get involved, research the condition and ask questions and give your opinion. Avoid pointing out that you always knew something was wrong. Allow your friends to manage their treatment plan with dignity.
Research the topic enough that you are informed, and they know you care enough to learn about it, but don’t question the doctor’s diagnosis or treatment plan. Help them advocate for themselves by asking, “Do you agree with the doctor’s choice?”
Don’t make it your new crusade
You might want to leap into action and start organizing a charity event on their behalf, but be wary. Some parents need a cause or function to focus their anger and frustration into, but others don’t want the spotlight on their private lives.
If your friends decide they want to pursue a legal solution with a birth injury lawyer, then help them organize their thoughts and research to find the best legal team available. If they want to open a foundation, help them get the legal and accounting advice they’ll need to get it started. Wait for them to ask for your help and then help out as much as you can.
Keep showing up
In my experience, it’s the little things that count. Unload the dishwasher when you stop by or take out the trash if it’s full. Leave snack size treats or deli meats and cheese in the fridge if you know what they like or set up an Amazon subscription for coffee pods to arrive every month.
You may never exactly understand what your friend is experiencing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be helpful. Remember that people handle frustration, grief, and fear differently. Try to respect your friend’s process even when they seek answers and comfort in a different way than you might. Don’t misinterpret it as a judgment about you or your friendship. The best thing you can do is be present.