Being the micromanager that I am, I spent almost as much time planning my birth experience as I did planning my wedding. I imagined what the room would be like, what kind of music I’d be listening to and who would be in the room. So when I successfully got pregnant in 2014, I thought I had everything already planned out. Until my husband expressed his desires for the birth of our child, and they differed from my desires. I wanted family to be present at the birth, namely I wanted my mother there and potentially my mother-in-law, but he wanted it to be just us. His concerns were very valid (and not dissimilar to those concerns of many pregnant ladies) in that this was our first child and that childbirth was a very intimate experience; he wanted us to be able to focus on the moment and each other without excessive distraction. He wanted our first moments with Baby to be quiet and relaxed, not rushed because everyone in the room wanted to hold Baby too.
I completely understood where he was coming from, but I disagreed with him. I’m not a stranger to the “if you weren’t there when the baby was conceived then you won’t be there when the baby is born” mentality, but there would already be a handful of people that would be an exception to this rule: doctors and nurses who I’d likely never met before in my life. If strangers could be spectators, why would I hold a double standard for my specific family members? And plus, in the olden days, women labored at home or wherever with the matriarchs of the family. It was very much a family affair (except for the whole excluding dad part). For me, having a baby was a celebratory event and the idea of having other moms in attendance was comforting to me.
When I imagined my birth, I imagined my mother there by my side guiding me through, telling me when to push, or when to breathe. I imagined her giving me tips of the trade. I imagined her wiping the tears from my face when I thought I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I imagined her doing all of this because she had been through this before when she gave birth to me, her only child. I felt who better than to act as my doula than the woman who brought me into the world. However, my husband pointed out, just because I imagined something one way, doesn’t mean that’s how it would happen in reality.
My mother has a strong and demanding personality which can come off as abrasive to some people. So the last thing my husband (and I) wanted was for her to get on the nurses’ bad sides while I was dilated to 8 centimeters and waiting for them to call the anesthesiologist. She also got very excited around babies in the more recent years. (We babysat a friend’s baby the year before while my mother was visiting for the week and she spent nearly the entire night holding that baby. She was not too keen on letting us hold said baby.) This caused us to be concerned that once Baby came out she would jump into the action demanding to hold Baby before I or my husband had the chance to bond with our firstborn. Lastly, we were afraid that if the doctor came into the room to ask a question she would jump in and answer based on her beliefs and not ours. With my mother-in-law, the concerns were similar in that she can be outspoken and her beliefs and ideas regarding childbirth were significantly different from my own. As with my own mother, there was the concern that she may answer questions based on what she thought was best and not what the husband and I thought was best. The last thing I wanted to do while pushing a baby out was to have to argue with the moms over what I wanted with my birth experience.
Once my husband made the above points, I started to doubt my desire to have family as a spectator during my childbirth experience. But I had been so deadset on my birthing plan that it was difficult and painful to give up. I turned to the internet forums to see what other women did, and the majority of women did not want their mothers anywhere near the birthing room. They wanted their husbands/partners and no one else. It appeared that I was a minority with this issue. Fortunately, my sister-in-law had delivered her baby a few years prior and had invited her mother to attend the birth of her firstborn. So I asked my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law (separately, of course) to ask what each thought of the experience. I’m grossly summarizing here, but both of them provided pros and cons, though neither said they regretted the choice. They provided me valuable input for weighing the pros and cons for inviting my own mother to delivery room.
In the end, my husband and I asked my mother to attend. However, we made it clear to her that we did not know what to expect and that we might want privacy as things progressed (e.g. she might start driving us C.R.A.Z.Y.), so if at anytime during the process we asked her to step out, we wanted her to do so without reservation. I also made her promise that she would stay by my shoulders when pushing time came around. And she agreed. We would have invited my mother-in-law, but due to geographical logistics we were unable to.
When it came time to go to the hospital, my mother was there almost every step of the way (she didn’t sleep at the hospital since the one sleeper sofa was reserved for the husband). During the days we played games and we talked about Facebook feeds; at meal times, she’d do the honors and get the food for us. When the pain got strong I attempted alternative comfort measures, such as back massage, rolling on the yoga ball and deep breathing, until I was ready for the epidural. Despite my mother being physically present, there was no wiping of the tears or coaching me through as I had imagined. Rather, she was uncharacteristically quiet and spent a lot of time on her phone when we weren’t busy playing card games. If I specifically asked her for help with comfort measures, she did so with a smile (though, truth be told, I preferred my husband to give the massages since he had attended the birthing classes with me and was able to give a firmer massage than my mother could). On the fourth day, when it was time to push Baby out, she quietly sat in the corner near my shoulder just as I’d requested months earlier. But, as we know, desires change and after ten minutes of pushing, I offered her the opportunity to be an active participant. I mean, the husband was already holding one leg, and I had a feeling it was going to take more than two pushes to get Baby out. I didn’t want my mom getting bored after the second hour of pushing because she wasn’t allowed to get up from her chair. As soon as I made the offer, she happily jumped up and grabbed my other leg and got a front row seat of the show. Still, there was no coaching or advice, although she did give me the oxygen mask between pushes, which I greatly appreciated.
Two hours later Baby was born and my mother immediately grabbed the camera, as we’d requested, and started taking pictures of those first moments. When Baby and I were stable she stepped out of the room to notify my mother-in-law that Baby had been born. Then she waited, patiently. She didn’t incessantly try to take the baby from me or the husband. She took more photos of us and just took in the moment. And while Baby was being assessed on the other side of the room, my mother did something really special and took photos of Baby and then came back to my bed to show me. That whole experience brought tears to my eyes because it made me feel like I was right there with Baby even when I physically couldn’t be. Before my mother left for the night, we let her have some baby time and took some photos of her and Baby.
Looking back at my birth experience, I ask myself if I made the right decision. As my husband had pointed out, my imagined experience would not likely become reality, and it didn’t. Rather than having a mom who was the super doula, I got a quiet observer (and helpful errand-runner). She didn’t want to step on any toes or come off as pushy or abrasive. And that was okay with me. Instead of having to fight with someone while I was in labor, I had someone who would just listen. No judgements. No arguments. No second-guessing my choices. To me, that was way more important than having a mother who would do the deep breathing exercises with me. If I had the chance to do it over, I’d make the same decision.
If you’re struggling with the same decision of inviting your mom to the delivery room, then I would suggest strongly considering the following points.
1. What is your mom’s personality like? Is she aggressive or is she passive? Will she yell at you to get that baby out if she feels you are taking too long or will she sit in the corner reading a book until all the hard work is over? Will she listen to what you want or does she say she knows best because she’s been-there-done-that? And what meshes better with your needs? If you need someone to motivate you with tough love, your aggressive mom may be just what the doctor ordered. On the other hand, if you want a quiet and serene birth you might appreciate not having a drill sergeant mom in your face.
2. Is your mom on board with your birth plan? This isn’t a make or break, but I found it easier to relax knowing that my mom agreed with, or at least accepted, my decisions. I didn’t feel like she was second-guessing me with my epidural, for example, because she had had an epidural when she was in labor with me. Also, if the husband was out of the room on, say, a lunch break, I could rest easier knowing she could be my advocate on certain things.
3. If you ask your mom to step out of the room, will her feelings be hurt? There many reasons why you may need to do this, and you may not have the time, energy, or desire to explain the reason to your mom. Maybe your mom is getting really annoying and you just want some piece and quiet. Maybe you suddenly feel uncomfortable being completely naked with her in the room. In my case, I didn’t want my mother to see me in excruciating pain when the doctors had to do the cervical checks. Whatever your reason, if you need to ask her to leave, will her feelings get hurt? If so, it may be easier to let mom stay home so that you can avoid this situation completely. I put this one as number three, but it’s actually the most important one. It relates to the first two in that your mom’s personality and ideas toward childbirth will partially play into how she will react in this situation. But also, when you are in labor, your feelings change at a drop of a hat (you may have always wanted her there and now you need her gone or vice versa) and you need to be focused on you and your baby. The primary objective is birthing that baby, not nurturing your relationship with your mom and you can’t afford to be distracted about whether or not you offended her by telling her to get out of the room.