Choosing to have your mother attend your birth seems like a relatively benign thing right?
Wrong, really, really wrong.
Your mother’s influence at your birth is so powerful both for the good and the bad that can come from it. It seems like it would be a natural part of human nature. Years ago before we all lived in large cities most of us lived in extended family groups. Your mother would be at your birth as well and many other births in the family. It was a normal part of every day life. Fast forward many years when fear and women’s rights meet with a vengeance. As women were requiring to be seen as full citizens of the USA, meaning we get the right to vote, we also rebel against Eve. Who was she to doom women of all time to painful child birth? Liberated women have a right to pain free childbirth. Enter anesthesia for childbirth.
Mothers were removed from being at their daughters births in almost a single generation as their roles were taken by nurses, doctors, ether and stirrups. Fast forward a few more years. Woops we made a mistake and women still want their mothers at the births of their babies. Let’s let them back in the room. Sounds like a perfect solution the joy of choice in childbirth, natural or medicated, with your mother by your side. Unfortunately it is more often than not like a train wreck. But it is not the grandmothers fault. For the past 80 years nothing but fear and disdain has surrounded childbirth. So when you explain you want an unmedicated birth, to have your baby underwater and maybe even have your baby—gasp—at home what is a grandmother to do. Unfortunately most of the time it is panic. She was never encouraged to listen to her own instincts and intuition in her births or often even with her parenting. How can she be expected to support you while you do the same?
I most often see three different types of grandmothers when it comes to their daughters or daughters in law giving birth at home.
Grandmothers who want nothing to do with the experience.
They don’t want to know or hear anything about birth. From the midwives approach these ones are easy to deal with unless the mother has a burning desire to have her mother there. Then it gets more difficult as the pregnant mom feels abandoned because her mother doesn’t want to be involved in her life changing event.
Grandmothers who want to be there and are super supportive. These are often women who a- either had amazing empowering births that they can’t wait to share with their families or
b-had completely unfulfilling births and want to see and experience how different and normal birth can be. These women are often wonderful helpers to have at a birth IF and I do mean IF their daughters want them there and they can follow directions and respect boundaries. If they are not welcome and can’t respect boundaries it is a recipe for disaster.
Grandmothers who want to be there because they want to protect their daughters. Unfortunately my mother falls into this category. She wants to help me and protect me from anything that could possibly go wrong with my birth. They often bring fear, distrust and belittlement into the birth experience. Not only making it frustrating and difficult for the mother to manage but potentially dangerous as well.
All of these situations have the potential for disaster or success. So much of it has to do with the pregnant woman talking to her mother about her wishes for her birth and her mother’s role there, the pregnant woman discussing her mother’s role at her birth with her midwife, and a hopefully uncomplicated labor. If any of these three things don’t occur, aren’t clear or go astray there is likely to be hurt and frustrated feelings.
As midwives we walk a fine line between support emotionally and support physically and with grandmothers it is easy for this line to get fuzzy. I highly encourage all pregnant mothers who are considering having their mothers at their birth to truly consider what both you and your mother have to gain from the experience. Now it may seem that I am calloused against grandmothers being in attendance and this is not entirely true. It can be a wonderful and bonding experience for the whole family, however this is not always the case. We are a different generation and we screwed up long ago removing our mothers and other support women from our places of birth and now we are reaping the consequences. It will take patience and careful navigating by everyone involved to mesh the natural and seamless beauty of a woman in labor with the support a mother yearns to give. I encourage mothers who wish to be involved with their daughters or daughter in laws births to come to a few prenatals and that will give everyone some time to figure out what situation is best.