First published Summer 2012
There is something comfortably old-fashioned and idyllic about bringing a baby into the world, surrounded by the friends and family who will love and nourish her for the rest of her life.
However, if you Google family birth, you will find hundreds of women writing impassioned letters, begging for advice on how to keep their mothers-in-law, stepfathers, ex-husbands, grandfathers, nosy aunts or others out of the delivery room.
The best answer? “Tell them that since they weren’t there when the baby was made, they don’t need to be there when it comes out”!
The birth of one’s child is an incredible event, and can be one of the highlights of your life. However, it can also be a relatively messy, noisy, exposing experience. If you are considering having a family birth — which means having more than your partner and doctor or midwife in the delivery room — do the following first.
1 Check in with your obstetrician or midwife. Some healthcare providers welcome having family members and friends in the delivery room, and some do not. If the policy in the practice is to leave it up to the patient, ask for some advice. Your provider has probably seen it all. If you don’t want a family birth but don’t know how to tell your friends and family, ask for some suggestions on how to say no.
2 Find out the hospital or birthing facility rules. Some have limits on the number of people who can be in the delivery room. You need to know this ahead of time so your grandmother doesn’t rush to the hospital when you go into labor at 2 a.m., only to be told that she can’t come in since there isn’t room.
3 Remember that the birth of a baby can lead to friction between the two sets of grandparents. They both may want as much time as possible with the baby. Allowing your parents, but not your in-laws, in the delivery room could cause hurt feelings. Rather than start off your new baby’s life with resentment from the excluded ones, it might be better not to allow any grandparents in the delivery room.
4 Be sure to ask your partner what he wants. It might be hard to imagine not wanting those you love to be with you at such an important time, but your partner may have a different image from you of the birth experience. Becoming a family with just the two of you welcoming your child might be important to him. On the other hand, if he is the queasy sort, he might welcome another reassuring loved one to support and coach you if he isn’t up to the task.
5 Remember that although most births proceed without complications, unexpected events do happen. Sometimes they happen quickly. In such cases, the medical team is likely to want everyone other than your partner out of the delivery room. If friends and family are going to be with you, they need to understand that if a doctor or nurse tells them to leave, there is to be no argument.
6 Talk to friends who have had different childbirth experiences. It might be hard for you to decide what you want, especially if this is your first pregnancy. Finding out what others have done can help you get a sense of what it would be like to have just you and your partner — versus other family and friends as well — in the delivery room. Visualize both experiences, and get a sense of what feels most comfortable.
The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way, as long as you and your healthcare provider are comfortable with all of the options. It is your body and your baby — the decision to invite anyone else into the delivery room needs to be yours (within the birthing facility rules).
Alice D. Domar, PhD, Executive Director of the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health, is an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School. Her latest book is Live a Little, co-authored with Dr. Susan Love.
Will you/did you have family members in the delivery room? Why or why not?