UNPOPULAR OPINION: Childbirth is Not a Spectator Sport

I'm going to make this really easy: if you weren't there for the conception, don't expect to be there for the birth of the baby.
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April 10, 2015
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unpopular opinion, family, privacy, childbirth

I'm hearing more and more of extended family demanding to be a part of the whole pregnancy, labour and delivery experience, and I have to ask: Why?

Oh, I've heard the answers: “It's MY grandbaby!” “It's not just their baby, it's also our family member!” “My friend got to be there when her grandchild was born!” “I've been there for all of my other grandchildren's births!””If it wasn't for me giving birth to her/her husband, this baby wouldn't exist!” “I invited her when my baby was born!”

No. Just... no.

There is absolutely no reason, other than being invited by the woman actually giving birth, for anyone to be present when her child is born, other than whatever needed birth attendants are required, be it in a hospital or a home birth. In fact, in a recent court decision, it was decided that the father of the baby doesn't have the right to be there, if the mother didn't want him to be. It's her medical event.

I'm going to make this really easy: if you weren't there for the conception, don't expect to be there for the birth of the baby. And I'm pretty sure most folks don't invite in their parents, siblings, or friends to cheer them on while trying to conceive.

There's no 'owesies' or 'fair' involved. It doesn't matter what anyone else has done, if there's a multigenerational family tradition involved, if her friend is invited as a birth attendant, but her mother and mother-in-law aren't. It's about what is best for the labouring mother, to make her feel most supported. Stress has been shown to negatively impact labour and delivery, so why on earth would anyone want a woman to not have what she needs? Just because something was okay with someone else, doesn't mean that every woman has to accept the same for themselves.

Frankly, I blame reality TV for a lot of this attitude. What was once considered a private, special moment, is now recorded, narrated, and blasted across television screens.

Even 'waiting room warriors' can be stressful. Knowing that there's someone waiting down the hall isn't a relaxing thing, especially when there's an expectation of a stampede to get to see the new baby as soon as possible, getting to hold and pass around the baby to everyone there. This is completely contrary to what is actually needed by the baby and the new mother: to hold the baby close, skin to skin, to bond and establish breast feeding (if applicable).

And it doesn't end with the birth. Somehow, in our society, the postpartum period is becoming largely ignored, something to 'get over' rather than being a very real, very valid need, to recover from the birth experience. Instead of being allowed to rest as much as possible, being allowed to focus on her baby and recuperating, more and more new mothers are being expected to host people, sometimes starting with the first day home with the baby. Rather than being able to take her sore, bleeding, leaking, sleep deprived, hormonal, possibly stitched-up self to bed, (worse still if she had a Cesarean section) she's being inundated with phone calls, ringing door bells, and demands to visit with the baby. Or, worse yet, demands that the new family pack up and travel to visit others.

I understand that the arrival of a new family member is an exciting time. But there needs to be some understanding and respect for the physical and emotional well being of the mother. Frankly, I wonder if one of the contributing factors to postpartum depression isn't that there's a stunning lack of respect for so many women after childbirth, with the new baby seeming to be the only person of interest, and the mother being treated merely like an incubator. “I'm here to see the baby, not you!” a friend of mine was actually told, and dismissed with, “Why don't you go do some laundry or something, while I bond with my grandbaby?”

The whole idea of bonding with someone else's baby is ridiculous. And, yes, even if it's your grandchild, niece or nephew, it's still someone else's baby. Baby needs to bond with Mom and Dad or whomever their primary caretaker(s) will be. Babies have no object permanence, and no long term memory as of yet. So, to a baby, someone else taking them from their mother's arms isn't a comfort, it's an interruption, a disruption of their small world. It's not to the baby's benefit to 'bond' with extended family, it's solely about what the extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc) want.

There needs to be a focus on what the recovering mother and her baby need, rather than what anyone else wants.

A baby isn't going to go stale, isn't going to transform into a completely different being if not inundated with visitors from the moment it draws its first breath. I promise, it's not suddenly going to grow horns and a tail because nobody visited for a while. Or become a teenager overnight.

Try putting selfishness aside, and looking at what's actually in the best interest of the new family. If offering help, actually mean help, not, “I'll hold the baby while you do your chores.” I've yet to hear of any brand new parent say that they wish someone would hold their baby for them. Do laundry, drop off a meal, run errands, sure. Nobody I know of would rather tend to chores than their baby.

It wasn't so long ago that the postpartum period was treated with respect, with women being encouraged to rest and recover for a few weeks after giving birth. Now, in North American society, it's dismissed, belittled, and ignored as much as possible. In fact, the US is one of few industrialized countries left that doesn't provide for a standard maternity leave.

Giving birth isn't a spectator sport, but it is a life altering event, and should be treated with respect. Before, during, and after.

Photo credit: Flickr / Creative Commons