If you’re lucky enough to have supportive family members who want to be a part of your biggest days, then you know how hard it can be to establish clear boundaries and set limits. In wedding planning, home buying, even dog ownership, we end up negotiating. Sometimes it feels like a big deal: when your mother-in-law insists on wearing red even though you’ve told her you’re a cool tone bride. Or when she rearranges things in your kitchen.* If we are wise, we learn to make concessions. It’s all good practice for when your baby actually arrives and you must learn the art of Dealing-With-Grandparents.
*For the record, my mother-in-law is an incredible, boundary respecting woman who has not done the aforementioned oversteps.
The thing is, your actual birth experience is a completely different story. Whether it’s your mother-in-law, sister-in-law, or even your own mom who is insisting on being present as you birth your baby, this is the time to stand your ground. If this premise both terrifies and enrages you, read on.
In-Laws Are Partner Territory
If the offending boundary crossers are in-laws, your partner can and should be the one having the difficult conversations with them. First, be sure the two of you are on the same page about who you do want in the room. Will it just be the two of you and your midwife? Or will you have your own mom too? It’s up to your partner to handle relaying the facts to his or her family.
Second, think carefully about the language the two of you will use with your in-laws regarding the birth. For instance, using “and” instead of “but” when you’re stating your case works wonders. Try, “We know how much you want to be present and we’ve decided we’d like it to just be the two of us.” Saying it this way leaves no room for argument.
Hire A Doula
Reason number 1,729,320 to hire a doula: she can play gatekeeper and ask intruding family members to leave. It’s true that we are trained to be respectful mediators; but we also don’t need to make friends. Our clients’ peace of mind and tranquility is our top priority.
One client was shocked when her in-laws showed up at the hospital, settled into her room, and made it clear they intended to stay. Her partner, who had said during our prenatal meetings that he’d ask them to leave if they came, could not muster the words or strength to ask them to go. Enter... me. A good doula will advocate for her clients by facilitating effective communication between all parties. A great doula will boot out in-laws who’s very presence is stressing out her clients, thereby restoring peace and progress to the birth room.
Give Your Mother-in-Law a Task
Here’s a trick you can rely on until the end of time: find a job for your in-laws that is A) important, and B) something you actually want them to do. Maybe it’s watching your toddler and even having a sleepover so your partner can stay with you at the hospital. Or it could be grabbing groceries, thawing one of the frozen meals you prepared, and ensuring you’ll be well nourished when you return home. Or taking your dog for a walk.
Whatever it is, make sure it’s something you can happily hand over to them. The point here is to accept your in-laws’ offer to help on your baby’s birthday, but on your terms.
Rely On Hospital Protocol
Most hospitals with labor and delivery wards will ask a birthing woman if there is anyone she does not wish to allow into her room. If all else fails, give the hospital the names of your boundary pushers and allow your nurses to be the enforcers. It’s always a good idea to preregister at the hospital where you’ll be birthing because, let’s face it, filling out paperwork in the midst of active labor contractions is miserable. If you think you’ll end up with unwelcome guests, consider talking about your concerns with your OB or midwife at a prenatal appointment and ask that they make a note of it in your paperwork. At the end of the day the last thing you’ll want to be concerned about is who might show up when you’re in labor.