Birth announcements are a wonderful way for new parents to show off their greatest achievement and to give their friends and families a first glimpse of their adorable newborn. But what if the baby is born with a disorder, a disability, or another type of special needs, such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy? First and foremost, the birth of a child with special needs should be celebrated just as much as the birth of any other baby, says Deanna Smith, an Essex Junction, Vermont, mom of three, including 4-year-old Addison, who has Down syndrome; Smith is also the blogger of Everything and Nothing from Essex. Whether this involves including or excluding the special needs information to highlight your baby's uniqueness, there are ways to introduce your precious baby to loved ones while helping them to understand the newborn's potential health struggles.
Although birth announcements are usually sent out soon after the birth of a child, some parents may want to wait for a less stressful time, especially if the news is related to medically related issues. Having a new baby in the hospital for any unexpected length of stay is trying enough, says Randi Gillespie, a former family support coordinator and advocate for the National Association for Down Syndrome who's also a mother to a daughter with Down syndrome. Parents may want to wait until their baby is healthy and released from the hospital. "Getting the baby home with the family is an important piece of the puzzle, a reminder that the baby is no different than any other baby," Gillespie says. "For some parents, providing an update or announcement is also a catharsis of sorts. Having the new parents write the announcement and also share some unexpected news allows for a healing and a coming to terms." Don't feel pressured to send an announcement right away, as there's no specific timeline you need to follow. Sharing your baby's diagnosis is a personal decision that should be left up to the individual parent, Smith reiterates. You might want to make connections with other families in similar situations and ask them for advice on how they handled their birth announcements.
There is no right or wrong way to announce the birth of babies with special needs; what's important is for parents to do what makes them feel right. "My son, who's 11 years old, had a stroke at birth; doctors told us he'd suffered brain damage," says Ellen Seidman, a Parents.com blogger at To The Max. "As Max lay in the NICU, my husband and I sent out an e-mail to friends and family saying that [Max] had complications at birth and, while nobody was sure what the future held for him, he was a beautiful boy. On the birth announcement we treated Max like any other baby, a baby to be celebrated."
A personal e-mail, in addition to an official announcement, may prove a bit easier as a way for the family to convey what has been going on, and it can allow the family to share information with everyone all at once, rather than with every person who may call or ask. "The announcement can be a great way to educate those who don't know about [the condition] and also provide some much-needed strength for the new parents," Gillespie says. "They are sharing difficult news with their closest confidants while also advocating for their new baby. They are, at this time, becoming their new baby's greatest champions." She offers an excerpt from an informal follow-up email her and her husband sent after their daughter, Maddy, was born:
Thank you all so much for your support since we found out that Maddy has Down syndrome. We appreciate everyone's thoughts and know that Maddy is a very lucky little girl to have such a wonderful group of family and friends in her life!
We would encourage you to educate yourselves as much as you can about Down syndrome and to remember that Maddy is a beautiful little girl who is going to grow up to be an exceptional child and adult.
If you do want to allude to the special needs without going into too much detail, include a short sentence somewhere on your birth announcement that says your baby "came with a little something extra" or that they "surprised us with an extra-long luxury stay in the NICU," Smith suggests. You can extend the announcement with an extra note via e-mail to explain your child's diagnosis and include a link to a personal website. Educating friends and family about the diagnosis and what it really means is important, especially if they're going to be a big part of the new baby's life, Gillespie says.
Although it can also be difficult to get a good photo of the new baby if he is in the NICU, "embrace the look of your newborn photographs," Smith says. "Let your 'baby first, label second' mentality shine through in your photo choice, even if your child's face may be blocked off by equipment that helps them breathe." Continue to share photos and milestones -- such as crawling, walking talking, and smiling -- of the baby as he grows and develops via social media, a personal website, or letters and photographs in the mail. "Any detail [you can share] personalizes the experience and, as for any new parent, allows [you] to share [your] beautiful child with the world and show [his] talents at all stages," Gillespie says.
Copyright © 2014 Meredith Corporation.