Q&A: how to keep in-laws out of the delivery room

Lindsay writes:

"I am 37 weeks pregnant with my first child, and my husband and I are really excited about the baby. As my due date looms near, there is one area that is causing me much anxiety: visitors during labor, deliver, and post-partum.

I’ve never been through this before, but I really have this strong feeling that I don’t want any visitors during labor. Even after the birth, I would really like some family bonding time, and be able to have visitors in at my discretion. I plan on breastfeeding and would like some privacy after the birth to make sure that I get the best start I can. My parents have known me my whole life (duh) and we are very close. They  completely understanding of my wishes and will do whatever I want. They are so excited to meet their first grandbaby!

I like my husband’s family, I really do. His mom has 5 sons, so my MIL is no stranger to the whole baby-birthing thing. This will also be their sixth grandchild. Although my husband and I have never gone to the hospital for any of the births of our nieces or nephews, we’ve always received calls that labor was beginning, etc… They all go to the hospital and wait. I do not want this. I would prefer people come after, if they feel compelled to come to the hospital at all. Is this wrong of me?

Also, is it wrong that I want my parents to be the first to hold the baby? They have been such wonderful parents and this is their first grandchild, so I kind of want that honor to be theirs. Is this unreasonable?

The problem in all of this is my MIL. She can be overbearing, pushy, and controlling. Since she has been through this five times, she exerts herself an expert on all things child-related. I can see her dispensing all sorts of "advice" and anecdotes on how it was in her day, etc… I don’t want her ruining these special moments by trying to "trump" my experience (which she has done the entire pregnancy). On the other hand, I understand that she is excited about the baby too.

I guess my question is, how should I handle this delicate matter and how much control I will have when the time comes? I don’t have a problem making my wishes known or standing up for myself, but I would like to handle this in the most agreeable way possible, preferably before a conflict situation arises. My husband knows my wishes, and he will do his best, but she is a master manipulator. It’s my (well, our) birth and I just want what I want (again, should I just let it be?).

Oh, and it will be virtually impossible just "not to call" when labor begins. My husband owns a business with two of his brothers whom he sees on a daily basis, so no hiding his absence from them! This is why I feel I need to express my desires before it happens – without looking like a bitch (if possible).

Any advice or insights you could offer would be greatly appreciated."

Rats! I was feeling so self-satisfied while reading this question because the answer was going to be, "Don’t tell them when you go into labor, and after you have the baby call and say ‘Things just went too fast for us to call!’" (A friend of mine did just that with her second child, and it worked perfectly.) But your in-laws foiled me with the working together thing.

But let me go back to the basic premise of this question, which is that you have the right to have things the way you want them when it’s your birth and your child. You do. You really do. Your MIL had her chance (5 times), and you have every right to control the things you can control about the birth. You know you won’t be able to contol the labor and delivery, so you absolutely should be able to control who’s there while it’s happening, and who’s there right afterward.

I think you’ll have better luck in figuring out a strategy to keep your in-laws away until you want to see them if you can figure out why they want to be there so much. Part of it may just be the family culture. Some families do everything (even having babies) together, so it may have just become the expectation. But I’m betting that your MIL’s insistence at being there has more to do with her own fears and hurts than anything else.

Part of your MIL’s pushiness may be her feeling left out because the mother of the father is never included as much as the mother of the mother is. I know I’m not unique in that I had my mother with me for both my births and wouldn’t even have considered having my MIL there. As a mother of sons myself it makes me sad to think that it’s highly probable that I won’t ever get to see any of my grandchildren be born, because my daughters-in-law (if any) will probably want their mothers there, not me. I understand 100% your not wanting her to be there. But at the same
time I feel sad for her (and for myself) that she won’t get to
experience being the first to see her grandchild. The need to go to the hospital and wait is her way of making sure she gets to be part of the experience, because otherwise I’ll bet she feels like she won’t really get to be there. She’s pushing herself in so she can’t be shut out.

The problem is that it’s making you want her there even less. I’m betting that there’s a way you can reassure her that she’s going to be a big part of it without having to have her there while it’s happening. (Can someone who had an epidural explain to me what it’s like to want to chat during labor? The very concept that you would want to have anyone you didn’t completely trust there while you’re in labor is so far out of my imagining.) If you have prearranged the way for her to be a major participant, then you may stave off her jumping into the moment that you want to save for yourself and your parents.

You need some kind of modern equivalent of boiling water to keep her busy while the real work is going on. I’d suggest that you ask your MIL if she and the rest of the family can prepare your house and have dinner waiting for you the day you get home with the baby. Schedule an informal photo session of the generations for 4 days after the baby is born (on Day 3 the mother usually has a rough day because of the hormones, so you probably shouldn’t see your MIL on Day 3). You might also ask if they’d do a small, family-only Welcome Baby party a few weeks after you get home, or some other thing that’ll give her a project but that won’t stress you out.

In the meantime, talk to your doctor and get him or her on board with the idea that you don’t want anyone else there while you’re in labor. Have your husband tell his family (because it’s his family so he needs to be the one to tell them) that the doctor doesn’t allow family to be there during labor because in the doctor’s experience it prolongs the labor and makes it more difficult for the mother and baby (or something like that). Then have your doctor write an order for no interruptions for you and the baby "until breastfeeding is established." No one should be allowed in the room with you at the hospital except your husband, the doctor, the pediatrician who checks the baby, the nurses, and the lactation consultant. Then when you’re discharged, the doctor should dictate that you not have any visitors for longer than 15 minutes at a time except your parents, who will be taking care of you at home for the first few days. If your doctor won’t actually do this for you, lie and say it’s the doctor decreeing this.

These conversations are probably going to suck. But you and your husband need to establish from the beginning that you make
the decisions regarding your child and your little family, or else your
MIL will run over you for the rest of her life. Even though her motivation may be love for her son and her grandchild, it doesn’t give her the right to push you around or criticize your parenting decisions. You and your husband are going to need to practice saying things like, "Ooh, that’s an interesting idea. Our pediatrician says that the most recent research shows…" and "That’s a good tip! I’m going to really have to think about that." If you’re pleasant about it and make her feel like you’re taking her opinion seriously but making your own decisions, eventually (we hope) she’ll stop offering advice on every topic.

You may be able to mitigate the problem by asking for her advice on things you don’t care about. What’s the best way to wash the baby’s hair? Does the baby need a hat in this weather? What’s a good way to burp the baby? That kind of thing, that’s not going to make any difference in the long run, but that will give her the chance to participate and be the expert. If she feels needed, she won’t have to insert herself at every turn.

Another thing you could do is to establish a regular weekly visit in which you bring the baby to your ILs’ house (that way you control when you leave). They’ll know they’re going to see the baby every Wednesday night (or whenever your regular visit is) so they won’t be as tempted to pop in or call asking to see the baby all the time.

I hope that by reassuring your MIL that she’s important and essential to the process and demonstrating that you’re giving her plenty of time with your baby, she’ll be able to accept the limitations you’re going to have to make on the delivery and first few days. Just keep in mind that it is absolutely your right not to have your ILs there at the birth and right after. Make sure your husband is on the same page about that, enlist your doctor’s help, and don’t back down.

I hope you go into labor on a Saturday and everything goes so quickly that you truly don’t have time to call your in-laws! Have a safe and easy birth.

Did anyone else go through this? How did you handle it?