Birthing is one of the most intimate, instinctive and personal experiences of a woman’s life.
For most people, it’s very easy to understand that a woman in labour will need and appreciate as much privacy as possible.
However sometimes, it’s those who are closest to us that are unable to respect that all important need for privacy, when we need it the most.
Family Psychologist, Daniel Chable, finds this is a common issue within families. He believes only those people who were at the conception should be at the birth, unless:
- There are specific reasons for others to be there, like midwives, doulas etc;
- The woman who is about to give birth makes a specific request (preferably in writing) for others to be there.
Some women couldn’t think of anything better than having their mother with them while they give birth, but that doesn’t mean that you should be made to feel guilty for not wanting family there – these are your birth wishes and not a family Christmas bash. You also have the right to change you mind at any time.
Daniel says, “The most important thing at such a time is for the pregnant woman to feel as relaxed and as comfortable as she possibly can. She should not feel obligated to have any other person, apart from the father, present at the birth. She should not be made to feel guilty if she doesn’t want anyone else there. If the people who presumably care about her, like her parents, have any sensitivity to her needs and best interests, they would respect her wishes and behave accordingly. The birth is actually nobody else’s business apart from the new mum, the dad and the baby.”
Chloe recalls her mother-in-law’s insistence on telling the family she would be there during the birth of her grandchild. “My mother-in-law drove me crazy throughout my pregnancy with this. She never once asked me if I wanted her there but told all her friends and family that she would be there. She had even been telling everyone that she was taking time off work to be at the birth.”
How Who Is At Your Birth Can Impact Your Labour – And The Outcome
It’s more than just a matter of respecting a woman’s decision to birth her baby in privacy – she may already feel apprehensive, anxious or frightened about how the birth might unfold.
This can have a negative impact, especially if she has extra stresses of people being present who she doesn’t want to be there. The birthing mother may become even more nervous, self-concious or feel the pressure of performance anxiety.
Doctor Sarah Buckley writes about the effect of adrenaline (produced as a result of anxiety) on the birthing mother. She says, “The hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline are known as the fight-or-flight hormones, or, collectively, as catecholamines (CAs). They are secreted from the adrenal gland above the kidney, in response to stresses such as fright, anxiety, hunger or cold, as well as excitement, when they activate the sympathetic nervous system for fight or flight… high CA levels inhibit oxytocin production, therefore slowing or inhibiting labour.”
So if a mother-to-be is stressed during her labour, it's not good news for the mother or her baby. It could slow or stop her labour from progressing, which can result with interventions to speed things up. For example, a labour augmentation with synthetic oxytocin (same drug used for induction) might be ordered. Pain medication may be requested to escape the stress of the situation and to provide a feeling of control — or to escape the pain of the augmented labour.
Ultimately, where there is no progress or if the baby becomes distressed from the stronger or longer labour, a c-section may become necessary. A slow or stalled labour in a hospital can not only be uncomfortable and exhausting for the mother, but it will often result in an augmentation to hurry things up.
Just Like Sex, Giving Birth Thrives With Respect And Privacy
Some birth advocates talk about how making a baby is exactly like making love – and should be treated with the same respect and privacy.
Doctor Buckley writes, “Some writers have observed that, for a labouring woman, having a baby has a lot of parallels with making a baby: the same hormones, the same parts of the body, the same sounds and the same needs for feelings of safety and privacy. How would it be to attempt to make love in the conditions under which we expect women to give birth?”
Juliette remembers feeling horrified and vulnerable when her parents walked into the delivery suite when she was in labour.
“They got to the hospital and just decided to tell the hospital staff that they were here to see me. The staff let them into the room I was in (hooked up to the syntocinon drip, having some pretty intense contractions at the time) and they both just walked in and started talking to me. I couldn’t believe it. I felt so vulnerable, invaded and kinda betrayed. They stayed for ages and it was all I could do not to scream at them. I felt like crying. I know I was holding back (labour) because I didn’t feel that I was emotionally in a safe place where I could “let go” and just let it all happen. I was so tense. Even after they left (about an hour later) I was stewing about it for the rest of the labour. Something to focus my anger on I guess!”
Kerry’s mother also arrived uninvited into the birth suite. “Prior to giving birth to my first child, I made it very clear that I only wanted my husband there – i’m a pretty private person and only felt comfortable having him there. Although this was made clear to mother-in-law, she turned up anyway and came into the birth suite while I was in labour. I was just gob-smacked. After she left, I was in floods of tears and found the birth experience more stressful to cope with than I imagine it would have been if she had stayed away and left me and my husband to share the experience alone as planned.”
Because Kerrie’s mother had a previous history of inviting herself into the delivery suite while Kerrie’s sister was labouring, Kerrie had already thought ahead. “We decided that we wouldnt be telling anyone when we went into labour. It annoyed many people, especially parents, but the decision was ours and no-one else.”
What If My Mother / Mother-In-Law Is Angry Or Upset With Me For Saying No?
Daniel says, “Generally I believe that most mothers probably have a genuine wish to be supportive and helpful and that setting a limit can leave them feeling hurt and upset – sometimes this can be expressed by being angry with you.”
#1: Let her know you can understand she might be feeling upset and hurt, however you certainly had not intended for her to feel that way. Add that you and your partner would really value her contribution to your baby’s life after the birth.
#2: You might also let her know you have really valued her contribution to your life up until now, but you and your partner are clear about your wishes with regards to whom you would both like to be present (apart from yourselves).
The technique may be described as kicking and stroking, in that you maintain your limits (kicking) but acknowledge valuable qualities (stroking).
Always Let The Hospital / Midwives Know
It’s a good idea to let the midwives know if you feel family turning up unexpectedly is going to be a problem or if you don’t want any visitors. They often deal with these situations and you can even have your partner remind them when you arrive in the delivery suite to be sure.
Create your own sign to stick on the door of your room — something simple, but to the effect of, ‘strictly no visitors please.’ This may not only fend off visitors, but remind the midwives that you don’t want any either. Include your preference for no visitors in your birth plan, but make sure the staff working on the day of your labour either read your birth plan or are aware of your request.
It's a difficult thing to say no to those who you love. But once your gorgeous little bundle has arrived, it wont be long until it's all forgotten. If your friend or family member is unable to move past it, remember, it's their stuff, not yours. You're well within your right to say no, and don't owe anyone the right to be present at birth – because you will never forget the day you gave birth, how you felt and how it turned out.