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Moms of Children with Special Needs: When Your Friend is Expecting

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
07/02/18  2:08 PM PST
special needs mom

There’s something to be said for developing your “surprise face” when someone close to you tells you she’s pregnant. It takes the same combination of forethought, practice and magic as does your “gift-receiving face” at Christmas and birthdays and other celebrations when everyone is staring and waiting for a reaction.

As a special needs mom to a son who was born ten weeks early with a myriad of complications that rerouted us to the research hospital and left us there in the NICU for three months, I have more than a touch of PTSD when it comes to pregnancy and labor and delivery. What should have been “natural” and pretty uncomfortable but otherwise benign, was in fact, traumatic. It was the most stressful situation I have ever been in, second only to the first year of my son’s life when he had a tracheotomy, g-tube, pulse-oximeter, and a whole host of early sicknesses that got us regular rides in the ambulance to the ER.

And so, when someone I dearly love tells me she is expecting, I have a cocktail of mixed reactions. Luckily, the progression usually carries me to a rational place.

Shock and Excitement

I am still, to this day, shocked when someone announces a pregnancy. It was so very hard for us to make that happen. It took years of increasingly invasive (and expensive) fertility treatments, and loss, to get our three children. So, whenever I hear the “we’re having a baby!” news, I initially feel a little shock, like when you plug the toaster into a faulty socket. Oh, people actually can do this and do it all the time. The shock does fade, however, and in its place, comes excitement. Yes! You’re gonna have a baby! We are going to celebrate this kid Lion King-style! Step one: show me ultrasound pics and the baby clothes you have already secretly bought. Step two: let me give you ALL THE THINGS (toys, playmats, crib sheets) that are currently sitting in my house waiting to go to Goodwill.


Close on the heels of excitement, however, is the fear. This is the very bottom of the bell curve for me. It was just so scary for us. Pregnancy was fraught with iffy ultrasounds and an unplanned amniocentesis and genetic material sent to the Mayo Clinic and bed rest and bleeding and more bed rest and early labor and delivery less than an hour after I arrived at the hospital. And of course, a child with very special needs. I would not trade my son for a million lifetimes of easy living. But I still have yet to fully process and come to peace with those early days when he was on the ventilator and drowning in specialists and new diagnoses and information. That’s a hard hill to run.

I have to remind myself that not everyone’s experience will be like mine. I mean, obviously. Not everyone loads a wheelchair in and out of their minivan and has to learn to be an insurance-whisperer either. And even if they do have a child with special needs, I can’t ignore how much better a human being I am for having my son. So, hard, but good. This is what stems the tide of fear.

Acceptance and Love

This is the good part. After the shock, excitement and fear comes all the love. I think of how each one of my family members and friends reacted to the news of our son’s rare syndrome and later diagnosis of cerebral palsy. I saw how they first took in the trach and suction machine and feeding pumps and all the other paraphernalia. And I see now how they take in the wheelchair and the speaking device and the heavy kid in my arms. It is a progression from wonder to love. You cannot help but love my son. He is joy personified from his big Precious Moments eyes to his groovy wheelchair dancing. And this is how I always feel when I first meet a new baby. Special needs or not, that baby is a miracle. And how can you not love a miracle?

I don’t know where you are on your journey of accepting how your parenthood has played out, but I do know that we all bring our baggage to the table. How ever you receive the news of someone else’s impending joy, I hope you give yourself some grace for all the things you have done, and continue to do, well. And that when that baby comes, you do what you do best…love.


special needs parents

Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom, author and blogger.

Discover her new book, Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood.

Read her blog, The Mom Gene.

Follow her on Facebook.


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