A Letter to Grandparents About Birth | How You Can Be More Supportive
I am writing this blog post in response to the countless parents that contact me needing help with this subject. The subject is, “How do I explain the kind of support that my partner and I need for our labor, birth and postpartum time without offending the grandparents and family? This is such a loaded question and a hot topic with couples who are having babies right now. Your kids – this pregnant couple, are trying to assert their independence and autonomy as adults but still want to please you as their parents and as the grandparents of this new baby. As an educator – I get to play good cop/bad cop in helping you understand why this new grand baby coming into your life needs some extra understanding from you. How the baby does with all of the stress, expectations and possible confrontation is way bigger than how we feel as adults about things. It’s all about the baby…and us checking our egos(all of the adults involved) is the best way to keep less stress around this new baby.
First – Why Do We Think We Are Owed?
Our culture(movies, sitcoms, social media) has painted the picture that birth is a family affair. That birth is a spectator sport and even worse – that we all deserve to be there. No. No. No and nope to all of that. Birth is sacred, private and solitary. It has been that way from the beginning of time. The more we have pushed birth in the current day to be a medical event instead of a natural occurring process in nature, the more our society has become accepting of the idea that birth is inherently dangerous and needs to be managed. Medicalized birth has taken the privacy away from a women in her most vulnerable(and powerful) time. Science does not back the idea of public birthing. Mammals need privacy, safety, warmth, darkness and sometimes silence to birth with full intuition. If that was the standard for birth, our maternal and baby mortality rates would not be rising each year in this country because of all of the interventions and people we add to the birth room.
So, may I ask you to look at birth from a more natural and MODERN evidenced based approach and give what I am saying a shot. Remember that Twilight birth was also a birth practice that was done for almost 60 years in this country. It took us THAT long to realize the brutality for both mother and baby and there is still evidence coming out today how those births shaped the mothers and babies who had those experiences.
The scientific evidence backing birth as a natural process continues to be released in study after study and has been monumental over the last 75 years. However, only some of the evidence has made it into our hospital systems. Litigation, lawsuits and our inherent fear of birth in this country may prevent us from changing our maternal healthcare system at this time. But we can also not deny that science is still there and birth is working beautifully in countries when we don’t mettle as much in the process. I am all for medical intervention when it is needed. I am not fearful of hospitals and 99% of my families birth in them. But sometimes we cause the problems and have to use more intervention to rectify the situation. Why should we do that with your grand baby’s birth. If nothing is needed, let it be.
May I begin with the first thing I teach your kids in birth class – this is not about you – it’s about your baby. What kind of birth does your grand baby want? How can you best support your grand baby? How can your grand baby come into a birth room full of love, connection and trust? THAT is what all of this education is about. Once everyone(parents, grandparents, other family members and friends) take themselves and THEIR needs out of it – things begin to change. This is your grand baby’s birth – it only happens one time and it should be spectacular. Let’s agree to become united in supporting the baby and THEIR needs because this is their first “birth”day.
So how can you support these birth choices you may not be a fan of?
First off, learning what your kids are learning about the birth process and how they are preparing for their birth experience is essential. ESPECIALLY if it’s a natural birth. If it’s something you don’t agree with or understand, you may get a different perspective of their decision making process if you read the books or some of the evidence based articles they have been pouring over. I’ve had some grandparents say it just seems like “what they’re doing is reckless”, especially if they’ve chosen to birth at a birth center or at home. But once you understand the philosophy and the actual physiology of birth it will make more sense. You actually stop worrying as much when you read what the science and statistics are. My parents that are engineers are the best at compiling the data for the risks vs benefits. Maybe they are the ones who should be writing this blog!
Can I ask you to examine why you may not be a fan of their birth choices. Are these fears from your birth experience – was it traumatic, unsupported or not what you wanted? Are you afraid they are setting themselves up to be disappointed? Do you feel that medication/scheduled caesarean or induction is a safer route?
Your experience was YOUR experience. Different circumstances, different dynamics and different in-laws. Just different. Your grand baby’s birth has yet to unfold. Their story hasn’t even taken place yet and it may be amazing! Birth has so many layers to it and it is unfair to say that because it went one way for you – it will go that way for your daughter/son. I know this from personal experience – but that’s another blog post. Try writing a better ending to your grand baby’s story instead of fearing the worst. THIS is what their parents are needing your support with the most. Focus on what beauty can take place, it happens all the time.
Filter the advice you want to give…
Before you offer any advice, can you double check it to make sure that it won’t instill fear in the birthing family? Even if it’s your experience that you don’t want them to repeat, do you really need to offer that thought or suggestion? Or is there way you can express a concern without painting(in vivid detail) the trauma that you’re trying to prevent. Pregnant women and their partners, have a heightened sense for pulling in negative thoughts and feelings. Those fearful feelings go straight to your grandchild. It is teaching your grand baby that the world is not safe and then your grand baby is baking in fear instead of love. Thoughts and feelings from the parents are shaping this baby’s personality. What if you just didn’t mention that fear to them. What if you kept it to yourself? What if you bit your tongue even though it may hurt a bit? It’s all about the baby…
Support the mother’s choices – no matter what.
We are mammals. In order to birth well, mammals do better without an audience, in a calm and protected environment. Her neocortex(thinking brain) needs to shut down and her hind brain needs to take over. This is best done in the dark, with her partner and with low or no interruptions. Laboring at home without other people’s excitement and worry is best for her and your grandbaby.
Privacy in labor can also shorten her laboring time. Birth and sex are very similar. How well would you orgasm with a room full of people? The less people know this mother is in labor – the better. When she knows that everyone on both coasts is aware that baby is on its way- she feels pressure. Pressure to perform, pressure to hurry, pressure to live up to outside expectations. THAT interrupts a natural process and inhibits her body from working hormonally the way nature designed it to work. There is a very delicate, hormonal feedback loop in play during the birth process.
When this new mom asks for only her partner and her doula to be present for her labor, please don’t be offended. This mother is a powerful vessel that is bringing your grand baby into the world. A peaceful beginning starts with all of us supporting her choices. Things go better when she feels safe – ALWAYS. This may be hard to do if you do not accept their choices – but for your grand baby’s sake – can you put that aside and support the mother? It’s all about the baby.
Offer a listening ear without judgment –
This may be a big learning curve for us as parents who have taught lessons, protected and given advice for 30 years to this child of ours(I am not the best at this either). But right now, this person, our child – is already a parent. They have taken that step. How would we treat them if they were a friend? Would we listen more than we talked and be more supportive and helpful for what they were going through? Most likely, yes.
These new parents already feel judged by everything in society with this social media chaos that’s around them. Make yourself the safe place so that your grandchild feels supported by you. The way you support this pregnancy is going to set up the kind of relationship you’re going to have with this new family and your new grandchild. The last thing you want is to cause tension fear or worry. If the birth does not go the way everyone expected, then this new family will need you to listen with love instead of saying, ‘I told you so.”
They want you to be a part of things and they love you. They just need space to figure out the beginning of this new relationship with their baby. THIS time sets them up for early success as new parents and it needs to be protected by all of us.
I know this sounds like so much to ask of you. It IS a lot to ask of you, but it’s truly what is best for this new grandbaby and these new parents. One of the biggest fears new parents have is hurting your feelings or disappointing you. But if we all put the baby first, stay calm and rational in our conversations with each other, communication can build and we can love through these new experiences. I wish that for everyone – it’s all about that baby.
I invite you to go to SarahBuckley.com and download her Ecstatic Birth Ebook which explains in detail, the hormonal feedback loop that is in place during the birth process. It will answer way more questions that I could ever cover and is beautifully written by a doctor and backed by science.