The twenty week ultrasound is routine for pregnant women. You're excited to see baby on the screen, excited to find out what color you should paint the nursery, and excited to hear that all is good and well with the person growing inside you. But what happens when the doctor discovers that all is not well? You'll begin to rearrange your vision of the future. You'll need to start making different plans. Many mother face insurmountable doubt, fear, and guilt when they discover that their child will have some struggles that other children will not have. Reconciling your own emotions is an important part of making yourself ready to welcome your new child.
It's not your fault.
The first feelings are guilt and grief. What if you could have prevented this from happening? What if something you did affected your baby?
These questions, while normal, are not healthy for you to contemplate. The first step in emotional healing and preparedness is to accept that you are not responsible for the disability of your child. It will take practice, but you will need to train yourself to redirect thoughts of guilt into more healthy expressions of emotion. Some examples of self-blaming thoughts include:
- "I shouldn't have exercised so much." Exercise is healthy for pregnant women, and it is in no way responsible for damaging the development of a fetus.
- "I wish I had remembered to take my vitamins every day." Prenatal vitamins are important for nutrition during pregnancy, but missing one or two days here and there would not have caused any problems.
- "I should have eaten healthier." While there are some studies that show that eating junk food during pregnancy can predispose a child to obesity, there is no evidence that the occasional slice of pizza or can of soda will cause developmental problems for the baby in the womb.
- "I shouldn't have done so much bending over." Regular tasks, like cleaning up and folding laundry, do not create physical or mental handicaps.
- "I should have quit my job." The stress from work might make you more tired and emotional during a pregnancy, but it has no bearing on whether or not a baby is born with a disability.
Feelings of self-blame will only hinder you on your journey to acceptance. Repeating logical facts and explanations like those above will help to battle guilty, irrational thoughts. Another temptation is to blame your partner. Maybe something in their DNA affected the growth of the baby. This feeling is also normal, but it has the potential to damage your relationship. The best course of action is to accept that there is nothing that you or your partner can do to change the past, so it is now time to prepare for the future.
You can do it.
You may feel overwhelmed with the road that is now before you. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to prepare. Consider:
- seeing a pregnancy counselor. You can express your feelings of fear and guilt. You counselor will help provide you with coping strategies to help move you through difficult emotions. Also, a counselor can give you relationship exercises to strengthen your bond with your partner so that you can meet the challenge together. Your pregnancy counselor can also give you support if you choose to end the pregnancy instead of continuing onward.
- going to a support group. Many mothers have been where you are. You can glean both wisdom and validation from a group a women who are going through, or who have gone through, what you are now experiencing. The advice will help you to prepare and envision a life where raising your baby as a healthy, happy child is possible.
- talking to your doctor. Your doctor will be able to give you prognosis statistics on your baby's condition. You can ask all the questions you have of a medical nature, and be informed of any surgeries or special care that your child will need so that you can begin to research and prepare financially.
Finding out that you will parent a child with special needs can be a difficult and emotional time. However, with the help of yourself, your partner, and health professionals, you will be able to put aside feelings of guilt and fear and meet the challenge with strength.