Setting Boundaries with Family
With the holidays upon us, I’ve been reflecting on how family is involved in the pregnancy, labor and parenting experience. Some people can’t imagine starting this journey without their family involved, but, for many people, their relationship with their family is less than supportive. Their presence at or involvement in the birth might be stressful, triggering or even dangerous. So the question I’m asking this week is “How do you navigate your family dynamics as you approach your birth?”
Talk with your support person or partner
Sit down with your support person or partner to honestly discuss your feelings about how you would like both of your families involved in your birth. Are you both on the same page? If not, ask questions about why they feel the way they do. Understanding where you both are coming from can help you come to a healthy compromise.
Have a conversation with your family or family members (if this is productive)
If you feel comfortable, discuss your feelings with your family or family member. If you would like them to be a part of your labor, let them know how you’d like them to be involved. If you would prefer that they not be present, let them know the other ways they can contribute. They can help care for older children or pets while you are in labor or at the hospital. They can bring food to the hospital or home after Baby is born and you’re settled into your recovery room. They could even come over to the house after you’re back home to help with some housework or hold Baby while you nap. There are many ways family can feel connected to the birth that don’t involve holding a leg while you push! You get to define these boundaries.
Keep it to yourself (if a conversation would not be productive)
Sometimes communicating with your family is not possible or constructive. If that’s the case, remember that no one has to know that you’re at the hospital having your baby or laboring at home. You can let family know when Baby is born or even wait until you’re home from the hospital or birth center. The Facebook or Instagram posts can wait until you’re ready to share. If texts or calls from suspicious family asking if you’re in labor will stress you out, just turn off your phone or let someone else be in charge of your phone. It’s ok to keep this moment just for you, your partner and your baby.
Use your doula or nurse as a buffer
As fairly objective third-parties, nurses, doulas and midwives (at home) can be a great resource for enforcing boundaries. I always tell my clients and my students that my feelings can’t be hurt, so I’m a wonderful scapegoat! I’m happy to redirect a family member to the waiting room or kitchen if my client needs some space. Nurses are happy to relay the message to wait at home or in the waiting room if family shows up unannounced at the hospital. It’s a great idea to delegate. You’ve got a very important job to focus on! Also, you can always say that it’s hospital policy or your midwife’s policy to only have X number of people in the birth suite or birthing room.
Register as a private patient
If there is a person or persons who would make you or your partner feel unsafe if they showed up at the hospital, you can always register as a private patient. As a private patient, any visitors are required to give a code word (that you create and share) to know your room number. Knowing that you will be undisturbed can lower your stress levels and allow you to focus on the birth experience. You deserve a safe place to have your baby.
Set boundaries around postpartum support
Even after Baby is born you can set limits on visitors. You and your partner need rest and time to bond with your baby. Make sure that visitors know you need their help and you can’t play host to them while they are visiting. Encourage visiting family to stay at a hotel. They can always stay the night if you need overnight support, but they have a home base to go back to if you need space.
Reaffirm your values
Even with the firmest and clearest of boundaries, it can still be hard to stay grounded in what’s best for you and your new family. It can seem like there’s nothing that friends and family love more than offering unsolicited advice on parenting and newborn care. Remember to reflect on your values and reaffirm them with your partner. You are the parent and this is your family! You get to make decisions, and you get to take or leave any advice that comes your way. You can disagree with family. You are doing your best!
Obviously, every situation is different, so these are just suggestions for how to approach your own family. If you have specific questions, I’d be happy to answer them! Just shoot me an email or leave a comment below.