Among the gifts of our Catholic faith is Church teaching on openness to life. We believe all children are a gift, regardless of their abilities. We welcome our special needs children with the trust that God has placed them in our families and we are uniquely prepared and capable of caring for them. One challenge of this teaching, however, is discerning the addition of a child when a family already has a child (or several) with special needs. This is not something that should be taken lightly. I am not a theologian, but the term “serious reasons” likely has implications for a family with an existing child with special needs. While some fears are unwarranted, it is appropriate and good to pray through the specific issues that your family may face in choosing to welcome a new baby into your family. Once you have made that decision (or God has made it for you as sometimes happens), how do you prepare your home, family, and life for the newborn days while also maintaining care for your special needs child? Here are 9 things to consider:
Communicate with your healthcare provider. Your situation is unique due to the social concerns of your family life. Your provider can help and support you in this, but only if you tell them. We ended up moving up my scheduled c-section to make sure that as much support as possible was in place for mom, baby, and siblings.
Have back up in place for your special needs child. This will look different for every family based on the unique needs of their child(ren). For our family this looked like respite care for a few days while mom and baby were in the hospital so that we knewour daughter was safe and well cared for while we were unavailable.
Make a plan for physical recovery. It is hard to slow down for a season, but pushing through the early postpartum period will not do anyone any favors in the long run! Take the time you need. If you have time, put a few meals in the freezer before baby is born and stock up on frozen pizza!
Say yes to help. Help can look like meals from a friend, house cleaning, baby care, sibling care, or just about anything else. Help can even look like accepting a few extra hours of screen time so that mom can rest. One unique way that friends have helped us is by making up activity or project bags/kits for our special needs daughter- a new puzzle or coloring book to keep her focused, safe, and close to mom.
Schedule non essential appointments a month (or more) before the baby is due. I know regular appointments and lab work sometimes sneak up on me. Double check for anything that will be due in the first six-twelve weeks after the baby is born and check with your doctor to see if they can be moved up or pushed back. You won’t be able to avoid every appointment, but adjusting just one will provide breathing room in your schedule as you adjust to your growing family. Double check all prescriptions and emergency supplies. Put things on autofill and have them shipped to your home if at all possible. I like to call the pharmacy the last place they hold you hostage. Do what you can to avoid this becoming a postpartum time sink.
Assess the abilities of your child with special needs to promote safe and loving relationships with their new sibling. This could probably be a post of its own. Some special needs siblings have physical or cognitive limitations on their ability to interact in the typical way with a new baby. They may need help with holding or other ways to participate. They also may not be interested. Respect and accept that it might take time.
Prepare your special needs child for what is coming. Plan ahead and talk to your child about what to expect using books, social stories, and other resources. We watched the Daniel Tiger episode on welcoming a new baby so many times that my daughter quotes it to us!
Be prepared to press pause. Newborn life slows everything down. What can you drop for a season and what is still required? Now is probably not the time to pursue a new therapy or treatment that is time and labor intensive. The therapy will be there in a few weeks or months when you have recovered physically and family life has established a new normal.
Have you welcomed a new baby while parenting another child with special needs? What would you add to this list?