Attending Your Grandchild’s Birth
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE?
by Carolynn Bauer Zorn
Are you wondering what you will be doing? You may feel that you will just be in the way or you may think that you will be too uncomfortable to be in the room during delivery.
If you have something to do, a plan for yourself, then I think the birth event will not only be pleasant, but will be memorable. We all need to feel needed and you are very definitely needed. You have a unique place at the birth that no one else can fill as well as you can.
Many grandparents, both grandmothers and grandfathers, are very comfortable being the family historian by taking pictures. If this has been a role you enjoy then by all means consider this as one of your necessary functions at the birth. It is sometimes more comfortable to be behind a camera where no one can see you. Taking photographs is a job that a new father may be glad to give up so he can spend all his time with his wife and baby. If he has to take all the pictures then he isn’t in them; he misses out on much of the birth. You also will be more likely to take “G” rated pictures. Sometimes the expectant father is so excited he takes pictures that his wife won’t let anyone see. They are obviously more comfortable with each others’ naked bodies than you and the rest of the family, so what seems appropriate to them in the emotional arena of childbirth may not be appropriate when viewed by the rest of the family at Sunday dinner.
Whether taking video pictures or snapshots, you should practice! Get all the equipment ready ahead of time and make sure you know how to use it, have extra batteries, etc. The doctor will usually wait for a second, like when the cord is cut, for you to take a picture, but he can’t wait for you to change film. If you have a tripod for the camera, set it up in advance at an appropriate angle (out of the way of the staff) and enjoy the birth too.
Another suggestion for you if you are not filming the birth is to take a tape recorder to record the first cry of your grandchild. Some have recorded the entire labor, but there is often a lot of screaming or swearing going on which your daughter may not want saved for posterity-she would rather forget. Even if your daughter says she doesn’t want pictures because she looks awful, this is one of life’s greatest events and your daughter will be glad to have pictures later. A snapshot doesn’t have to be shown to others if she objects. I put a picture in each of my children’s baby book, showing me leaving the hospital with them. When they got married, I gave them their baby books and they enjoyed seeing all the pictures. No matter how bad or fat I looked then, to them I looked young and happy. I was.
Maybe you might feel more comfortable being a baby-sitter for other children in the family who are invited to the birth, especially if the birth is to take place in a birthing center. This is a natural role for a grandparent and if you are comfortable with it, then that’s what you should do. Even if you are not in the actual room for the birth, you and the other children will be invited in immediately afterward to see the newborn. The old days when no children were allowed to visit in the hospital are gone, thank goodness. This would be a good time to read a book about a child whose mom is having a baby. There are many available in bookstores and libraries. The New Baby by Fred Rogers and Jim Judkis and The Berenstein Bears’ New Baby by Stan Berenstein are two. Be sure the one you purchase is age appropriate for your grandchild.
During labor most women lose their sense of privacy; they may throw off their clothes entirely and not care who is there. You will be able to help monitor the visitors and make sure they are welcome in the birthing area. You may be the only guard at the door to filter guests in accordance with your daughter’s wishes thereby assuring her of privacy and quiet when she wants it. You will know if she is in the shower or having a pelvic exam and can ask visitors to wait in the lounge. Remember, her husband will be busy trying to nurture her and see to her other needs.
You can be the relief coach when your son or son-in-law needs a break, as he will from time to time, if only to eat! He will be hungry even if his wife isn’t. While he is gone, you may be asked to do something your daughter didn’t want to ask him to do. It may be a special massage you used when she was a child. She may enjoy having you comb her hair or do some other comforting or cleaning measures. Maybe a sponge bath or a clean gown would make her happy. No matter how much husbands love their wives, they are still men and sometimes they just don’t get it. Often it takes another woman to understand what will make another woman feel better or what level of hygiene will aid her comfort and relaxation and help her feel good about herself. Perhaps the room has been too noisy or the lights too bright and some quiet reassuring talk and a nap is needed. During football season the T. V. is usually tuned to a game. Dim the lights and turn off the T. V. for awhile.
This would be a good time to use touch therapy. A couple of the most sensitive areas are the fingertips and soles of the feet. You could suggest a foot rub. Or, just lightly stroke her hand. I have found that to be very comforting and very loving. Remember, your touch, your skin is softer than her husbands. Be sure your daughter desires the back rub or massage before you begin and stop when she asks you to without feeling hurt or offended. Like a wounded animal, her personality may change as the level of pain rises.
You can be the “go-for”; securing food, drinks, hot pads and ice, accepting flowers if they arrive, making phone calls which are needed for last minute dog care or child care. You can help your daughter in the bathroom as she struggles with an IV, an open gown and a extended painful stomach. You can help her brush her teeth after several hours of labor that may have included vomiting and maybe get her make-up bag for her after delivery if she feels like freshening up before receiving company. Ask your daughter what you can do for her. Avoid the tendency to take over or “mother too much.” She will probably tell you if you do. Again, don’t be overly sensitive. Her hormones and feelings may be running amok!
You will be around to help make decisions if her husband needs help. You need to support your son-in-law if he has a difficult decision to make. Obviously this is easier if he consults you before he makes the decision, but if he doesn’t, you must try to understand that he is doing the best he can. One of the most difficult aspects of being present is knowing that your daughter’s medical care is entirely in the hands of her husband. You are no longer responsible for her in the eyes of the law or by the hospital staff. It will be hard to see your daughter in pain and not be able to make it go away. It will be hard to be silent if her husband makes a medical decision on her behalf with which you disagree, but you must gently give suggestions and get along with everyone. If you don’t, they will ask you to leave. You have to believe that the hospital staff or midwife is doing what needs to be done and that they all have your daughter’s best interests in mind. If you have met your daughter’s doctor beforehand, you should be able to trust him with the suggestions he makes. If you have established a good relationship with the nurses, they will usually support you. During the birth of my stillborn grandson, Joseph, there was a last minute change and the delivery was moved to a surgical room instead of the LDR. I was told I could not stay for the birth. The attending nurse, who had seen that I was helpful in comforting my daughter and unfazed by blood and the birth process, stood up for me; I was allowed in. I will forever be in her debt. Not only did my daughter need me, I was able to recount the events to her later. She was so drugged at the time she didn’t remember much. Her husband’s concentration was totally on her to the exclusion of much that was happening in the room. The first moments I shared with my grandson, helping to weigh and measure him, left a memory that will forever be in my heart, even while he is gone.
In contrast, during my daughter’s first delivery, the nurse asked me to leave midway through labor and although my daughter requested my presence several times, the nurse never came to get me. The next time I saw my daughter, she was being wheeled out for a C-Section. If you are in the waiting room and think you have been forgotten, ask to speak to your daughter or her husband.
The best thing you can do to make this coordination of care work smoothly is to have done some reading and self-preparation by knowing the language the doctor, midwife and your daughter and son-in-law are speaking. The middle of labor is not the time for them to explain everything to you. You and your daughter should have talked; if she shared her birth plan with you, you know her desires. If you went on the hospital tour, you know your way around and you know the hospital protocol.
You can help the labor coach “time” contractions using the large clock with a second hand that is in every room. You time a contraction from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. Your daughter’s contractions should be about five minutes apart when she arrives at the hospital and lasting one minute each. So if you start timing one at 10:10 p.m. upon her signal then the next one would start at 10:15 p.m. She would have a rest between 10:11 p.m.(after the contraction ended) and 10:15 p.m.(when the next contraction begins).
Whatever role you assume, make it a supporting one. You cannot be the star today because there already is one and it is your daughter. The co-star is her husband/coach. Defer to him rather than compete with him. During delivery stay back and give him the front row seat. By necessity, if you are taking pictures, you will have to step back in order to focus. Assume he is doing it right and don’t try to show him how. I know it sounds easy now, but in the excitement you may forget. When your son leaves the room for a break, by all means sit close to your daughter until he returns, whereupon you should relinquish your seat. There are plenty of things for you to do that he may not be really excited about doing, so just remind him you are there to help, and encourage him to ask.
One word of caution: don’t be a burden to your daughter. You need to be fed, rested, and in good spirits, and you must come prepared with personal necessities such as your own medications, eye glasses, and so forth. She should not have to take care of you or see to your needs on this, one of the most important days of her life. In fact, she may be unable to do so.
If you choose not to attend the birth you can help watch other grandchildren. In the waiting room you can watch for other family members and keep them up to date. You can make phone calls that are needed. You can make sure your son-in-law or son gets food to eat by bringing it to him or relieving him in the delivery area for awhile.(Remind him to watch what he eats so his breath is fresh when he leans up close to his wife during labor. Bad breath can make a laboring woman nauseous.)
And again, you can help your son-in-law make decisions if an emergency arises. If there is a crisis, he may be unable to figure out what to do immediately and you will be a great help by providing an attentive ear as he considers the possibilities.
Regardless of whether you are in the room during the actual moment of birth, or down the hall, your caring enough to be at the hospital trying to help, and being there to see your grandchild immediately after his birth, will be the first brick in the foundation of grandparenthood.
From Attending Your Grandchild’s Birth by Carolynn Bauer Zorn. Copyright © 2000 by Carolynn Bauer Zorn. Excerpted by arrangement with Carolynn Bauer Zorn and 1stBooks Library, the International Online Library. $13.45. Available in local bookstores or click here.