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To care well for families facing a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition, carefully consider your communications impact, approach and tone.
Families receiving a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis will have many questions and concerns. They need to feel heard and supported as they gain a clear understanding of what is happening. As the doctor providing prenatal care, they will look to you for prenatal counseling attuned to their situation. Here are 3 areas of focus that can help you deliver compassionate care.
First: Know Your Impact
It’s no surprise that parents experience high levels of anxiety and depression following a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition. But, an Australian study on congenital anomalies found that these levels lowered following prenatal counseling. The study reported that families prefer prenatal counseling to come from a knowledgeable and empathetic medical professional who will be involved in the duration of care.
Therefore, it is incredibly important that you are aware of how you are communicating with them. As the doctor providing prenatal care, these families will likely be looking to you for prenatal counseling in the form of talking through the diagnosis, next steps, and what they will experience, in addition to being given tangible resources like handouts, charts, and referrals to organizations like Carrying To Term.
Next: Think People First
When communicating with bereaved parents, it is important to take a “people first” approach. Adapt your communications style to care for the full range of human response, not just the medical response. More than a patient facing a life-limiting condition for their baby or babies, remember that these are parents who are living and wrestling with the physical, emotional, and spiritual heartbreak of knowing that their baby will not live.
Dr. Shannon Abikhaled, an obstetrician-gynecologist, explains that her role as a doctor is to support the decision of the parents. The news that their baby has a life-limiting condition is about more than just understanding what the diagnosis means.
Keep in mind that these parents may be struggling to understand why this happened, why they cannot fix it, and what it means for their future. They are also people who have likely had no experience with the realities or statistics of bad outcomes in pregnancies. They may only care that this is happening to them and their baby, not that this happens to other people.
Therefore, when you enter an appointment with these families, remember that they are grieving parents first and foremost. To learn more about how Dr. Abikhaled cares for her patients facing a prenatal diagnosis of a life-limiting condition, click here.
Always: Offer Clarity without Judgement
Carefully consider your tone when you deliver critical information to these families. As you explain options, it is important to do so without judgment. Offer options and next steps without being directive. Use plain language with limited medical jargon, unless asked. This allows for families to consider their choices without feeling pressured, judged, or overwhelmed by terms they are not familiar with.
Give parents a chance to ask questions, and be prepared to offer clear explanations. Make sure parents feel heard and supported as they gain a clear understanding of what is happening.
The way you communicate with these parents may be the most important aspect of their prenatal care. It is so important, we have a whole post dedicated to communicating with parents through every stage of the journey — in their grief post diagnosis, anticipatory grief, and bereavement period following loss.
Communication is the first and foremost of the 3 C’s of compassionate care for carrying to term families. Learn more about the other two C’s in our posts on Consistency of Care and Special Considerations.
To learn more about caring well for families during post-diagnosis grief, anticipatory grief, and the bereavement period following loss, see this article.