Firstly, let us congratulate you on the birth of your new baby. Remember, your baby is a baby first and foremost, and that the syndrome is very much secondary. Your little baby is as precious and as beautiful as all new babies and has the exact same needs. We think it is extremely important that the fact that your baby has Down syndrome is neither your fault nor that of your partner. The simple answer is, the birth of your baby with Down syndrome is the result of a chromosomal problem.
These are the comforting words of Down Syndrome South Africa (DSSA); a non-profit organisation made up of people with Down syndrome, their families and interested persons working to improve the quality of life for those with Down syndrome.
Your new baby
Upon learning that your baby has Down syndrome most parents react in similar ways.
According to DSSA, these reactions range from denial to fear of the unknown and disappointment - that this is not the baby you had hoped for, rejection of the baby, and self pity. It is important to remember that you are not alone; the same fears have been shared by parents before you. Here are a few tips provided by DSSA on how to deal with the news.
Open up. Don’t shut your partner out. It is important to remember that both you and your partner are going through this together. Talking eradicates most of the worry and anguish which both you and your partner are experiencing.
If there are other children in the family, be aware of their needs too. Explain the baby's condition to the children as simply as possible. Bear in mind that they too were thrilled at the arrival of a younger brother or sister. Children usually accept disability more easilu than adults do and can only benefit by developing a sensitive approach to life and people.
Don’t grieve behind closed doors. So many parents, especially fathers, hide their emotions because they think it is a sign of weakness to show how hurt and disappointed they feel. But your children may need you to prove to them that it is okay to cry. Your children, friends and family will reflect your attitude, and if you cope effectively, most other people will too.
Granted, your baby will develop at a slower rate than other children, but this does not make him or her less in need of your love and parenting. You will learn to love and enjoy your baby.
Telling your family
Educate yourself as fully possible about Down Syndrome. As soon as it is medically confirmed, share the news with family and close friends. The longer you wait the more difficult and awkward telling people will become. Hiding the fact that your baby has Down syndrome is a bad idea. Give your family and friends the opportunity to hold your baby and play with him, or ask them to babysit for you if necessary. It may even help to offer them brochures to educate themselves on Down Syndrome.
Dealing with people’s reactions
Always remember that people tend to take your behaviour, reactions and outlook as an indication of how they should react to you. Know that many people will feel awkward about speaking to you and will sometimes be clumsy in what they say. Speak openly about your child and people will feel at ease with the situation. Discuss the myths surrounding Down syndrome with them.
Where to go?
Constructive aid is available for your child. Seek information from your nearest Down Syndrome branch. They will be able to offer you a list of local therapists, if needed. Ask to see a support parent who can provide support, as well as answer many questions that you may have. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, it is your right, it is your child. (Zaakirah Rossier/October 2010)