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How Do I Tell My Pregnant Sister No Newborns Allowed?

She's due five days before the wedding

Q: We have been talking about getting married for months, so my family knew it was coming. We just announced our engagement, with a wedding date nine months out. My sister’s response was, “We’re trying to get pregnant, so depending on what happens, I may not be able to be there. I don’t want you to be disappointed, so please don’t count on us being there.” My brothers are in the wedding, and I thought my sister would be too, so the response was a bit surprising and hurtful. Well, it turns out she is currently pregnant but hadn’t told anyone—and her due date is five days before our wedding. We already signed contracts, so the date cannot be changed. Is it terrible of me not to want my sister at my wedding, with a brand new baby? I know she will not allow anyone else to watch the baby, and I feel a newborn will be a huge stressor for me and distraction at our wedding. After the ceremony, we are having a plated dinner with all twenty to thirty guests sitting at one long table. I feel there is no way a baby would not be an interruption and distraction. I suspect my sister feels the same way, which is likely why she warned me not to expect her. However, my family will likely pressure her to come or talk about the wedding to the point that she feels left out. I want her to be happy and focus on her… and I also don’t want a newborn at our wedding. How do I approach this with my sister and my brothers (and sisters-in-law), so that they understand our boundaries (no newborns at the wedding), and also don’t make her feel left out?

—Anonymous

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A: Dear Anonymous,

Telling her, “No newborns at the wedding,” will make her feel left out. There’s no way around that. So I wouldn’t do it.

I’d start by reconsidering the wedding date. You mention contracts, and I know they’re all locked in place, but there’s often more wiggle room than you realize. Most vendors will try to work with you when you’re in a tough spot; they just build those contracts to protect themselves against a worst-case scenario. So ask them. Maybe they can shift you to a more convenient time.

If that’s not a possibility, keep your original date, invite your sister (with emphatically no pressure), and let her know that if the baby’s here by then, she should bring it along.

Yes. I hear your concerns about disruption and distraction; I’m not ignoring those. But you have two most likely scenarios, and neither of them involves a newborn at the dinner table. Birth is wildly unpredictable, with an assortment of possibilities too numerous to list here. But, it’s most likely that your sister won’t have that baby yet, and you’ll just have one swollen and uncomfortable wedding guest. And if she does have the baby before the wedding, she won’t want to leave her house at all, let alone for an event that’ll require a fancy dress and supportwear. (I was a bridesmaid five weeks after giving birth and felt like I deserved a medal. I can’t fathom five days after giving birth.)

And if she does have the baby and she does want to come to the wedding even still, all postpartum and tired and sore and recovering as she likely will be? She will have that baby with her. Whether she’s breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, helicopter parent or chill. A five-day-old baby will be with its mama. I can tell you about most likely scenarios, but I can’t tell you that no woman is capable of a wedding just after giving birth. Females are strong as hell. So, say she is postpartum by a handful of days and feels trapped in the house, is anxious to be around loved ones, is looking forward to showing her baby off? Pull up a comfortable chair for her and get ready to snuggle a wee wrinkly dumpling. Because this isn’t about having kids or no kids at a wedding (in general, both of those choices are fine). This is really about your sister, a person you love.

Because, I want you to understand something about having a brand-new baby. It is isolating and scary and relentless. Maybe it sounds ridiculous, but one of my larger fears when I was first pregnant was that I’d suddenly be excluded from everything, just by nature of the logistics of caring for a small, needy person. And then the baby came, and those first few days and weeks confirmed my worst fears. I was trapped. My healing body was unfamiliar and uncooperative. The baby was attached to me at all times. I felt totally alone. Luckily, yeah, it soon subsides and life goes back to normal. Those small needy babies become less needy, more easily entertained by a rattly thing while you have a mimosa. But the important thing is that I didn’t know that at the time. Assuming your sister does have the baby on schedule, and assuming the relentlessness of early newborn days strikes her in that same isolating way, your choice to tell her, “No babies allowed,” will just confirm her worst fears.

Invite your sister. Let her know the baby is welcome, but there’s no pressure for either her or the baby to come if the timing is weird. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that even though there are zillions of ways this birth may work out, it’s pretty unlikely a days-old baby will be at your wedding. But mostly just focus on shifting the way you’re thinking about it all. In the middle of planning, it can be easy to think of a wedding as a bundle of logistics to organize and control. But behind those logistics are people you care about. Buried deep among them are ideals you’d like to embody. Choose to have a wedding that’s about being unified and supportive as families shift and stretch. That embraces other women even when they’re at their most bruised,  swollen, and vulnerable. Do all that, even if it means a baby is crying during the toasts.

—Liz Moorhead

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