It’s time to get into the matter of being picky about who shows up at your birth. I feel it’s especially relevant now when tensions are already high and pregnant people are carrying additional stresses into labor. If it were ever THE time to surround yourself with positive, compassionate people, it’s now.
How can you decide who will be an appropriate guest at your labor? What considerations are good to make? More on these below!
Support Person Restrictions
Let’s touch on essential birth support and how new restrictions have been affecting birth plans. If planning to birth at home or birthing center, visitor restrictions are likely to range from “zero” to “case-by-case” to “essential support only.” Approaches may be more or less stringent geographically. For the past year, most hospitals have restricted support people
(even professional ones) from attending births.
Good news: it’s a perfect excuse to get out of inviting your in-laws. Bad news: it means those with their hearts set on a doula, photographer, or other person to attend their labor have gotten the short end of the stick.
Thankfully it appears some hospitals are beginning to relax this policy, so double-check with your provider and birth facility so you can be aware of what to expect regarding policy.
Limiting Extra People
It makes sense to want to pare down the excess and stick to essential support people who will help progress, rather than hinder it. I would say an “extra” person doesn’t aid labor progress, provide a useful service, improve safety, or benefit the birth giver’s emotional wellness. There’s a reason they say for every extra person in the room, add an hour to labor. It’s no wonder, given the privacy, vulnerability, and intimacy needed for undisturbed birth. (FYI, professional labor support such as a doula is an essential role, not extra!).
I’ve seen laborers close up, shut down, or become self-conscious when family and friends show up unannounced. I’ve seen labors stall when excited relatives decide to hang out for hours in the waiting room, twiddling their thumbs and pacing impatiently. I’ve seen laborers become distressed under the pressure to invite their whole family, who vocalize a “right” to be there.
Still, for some birth givers the presence of close friends and extended family promotes a sense of security and safety. The involvement of a large number of visitors is traditional in some cultures. And right now, pregnant people may crave even more face-to-face time with loved ones. Because I can’t know all the nuances of your family/friend dynamics, ultimately I believe in the vision you have in regard to attendees, and it’s that vision we must fight for.
Visitor Candidacy Guide
Below is a guide for screening would-be attendees. Are they the best fit, especially when available spots are limited?
Visitor candidates should ask themselves if they’re comfortable experiencing the following at any point during their visit (consider all the senses in this exercise):
- moaning or sexual sounds
- amniotic fluid
- exposed organs (hello, placenta!)
- breast milk
- partial or total nudity
- pubic hair
- affectionate displays between birthing couple
- surprises, because with birth you just never know
How do they typically react when:
- frequently interrupted?
- advised to keep their opinions to themselves?
- told this is a ‘no judgment’ zone?
- given specific instructions?
- feeling unimportant or useless?
- being ignored for possibly a long period of time?
- expected to maintain a positive energy?
- told “no” or “stop”?
- you change your mind and revoke an invitation without warning?
Now answer YES or NO to the following:
- You feel 100% comfortable sharing your birth plan with them
- You feel 100% comfortable telling them what you expect from them.
- You feel 100% comfortable letting them know whether you want them to be present for the entire labor or to leave partway through.
- Your partner is in agreement with you on this decision.
- You’d feel comfortable pooping in front of this person.
- You feel you could let go and surrender to your most primal self in front of them.
- You wouldn’t feel embarrassed to have a sexual experience or feel pleasure in front of them.
- You wouldn’t feel ashamed, stressed, or “wrong” to have a painful experience in front of them.
- You’re willing to briefly educate them about what labor is like at your birth place.
- You aren’t in the habit of playing hostess for them.
- You aren’t in the habit of putting their feelings and needs first.
- It was your idea to include them.
- You smile or feel good when thinking about them attending your birth.
This is necessarily a “must have” checklist; it is simply a guide to stir further consideration. Use your answers to paint a picture of how this is likely to go, in reality.
Other Options For Unwanted Visitors
Is someone pressuring you to invite them to your birth, or expecting to be present for sake of tradition, culture, or other reason — and you’re not okay with it? You don’t have to compromise, placate, or play peacekeeper in any way, should you wish to not include someone in your birth story. BUT I do realize many will aim to seek a middle ground or alternative anyway, so perhaps you could:
- Agree to let them “pop in” in early labor, but they’ll need to keep their visit short
- Agree to a brief video chat in early labor
- Agree to let them know when you’re in active labor so they can send good vibes
- Agree to plan a one-on-one activity with them around your due date
- Agree to their attendance if they take a comprehensive childbirth class with you
- Offer to let them meet baby after the precious early days have passed
- Say you’ll text a post-birth family photo, or call them once you’re settled
- Say you’ll tag them in a social media birth announcement
- Suggest they help out by watching your older children
- Suggest they help out by running errands for your family while you labor
- Suggest they help out by cleaning your home while you’re at the hospital, or prepping food to fill your fridge
- Explain how your birth place restricts visitors & you’re not in control of this decision
- Reassure them that if anything emergent happens on a need-to-know basis, someone on your birth team will update them
Most importantly, you can remind them this is YOUR birth & your decisions about it have nothing to do with them.