Q: My husband and I have been married for about a year and a half now and have a beautiful three-month-old daughter. I generally got along with his family pretty well before I had our baby, but I noticed when I got pregnant that my in-laws became more and more opinionated and pushy about my husband’s and my decisions regarding the baby and her birth. Case in point, my father-in-law tried to tell me that I shouldn’t get pain meds during birth after I casually mentioned I hadn’t decided yet whether I wanted unmedicated birth or not (I shut that shit down fairly quickly). I took their comments in stride and let them know when I felt they were overstepping, but then something happened when I gave birth to our daughter that I felt was a huge overstep on their part and I’m having a difficult time moving on from it.
About a month before I was due, my father-in-law mentioned that he and his wife were planning on heading straight to the hospital to wait out my labor and that he expected my husband to come out and give him updates about how dilated I was and then come out and tell him when the baby was there. When I told him I wasn’t a hundred percent comfortable with having people waiting in the waiting room and knowing the intimate details of my cervix, he brushed it off by saying that he wouldn’t come in the room, and it’s okay that he knows about how dilated I am because he has multiple kids and grandkids and will understand what it means. When I told him that there would be at least a few hours of bonding with the baby before we’d allow visitors he responded that he wouldn’t even expect to see the baby that same day. The family would just celebrate for a second then go home. After much discussion with my husband about this, my husband and I came to a compromise for his family—they can wait in the waiting area if they’d like so long as they don’t expect to come anywhere near my delivery room (the waiting area and delivery room are on different floors at my hospital). They were also told that most communication would be via text as my husband might not have time to go to a different floor to give updates about the baby. We thought this settled it.
Fast-forward to the baby’s birthday. When the in-laws weren’t satisfied with the amount of updates my husband was sending them, they showed up right outside my labor and delivery door and called for my husband to come out so they could ask him what was going on. They also showed up immediately after I gave birth and was still getting stitched up asking to see the baby and acted hurt when my husband stood his ground and told him that, as initially agreed, we would let them in to see her after a few hours so that we could have bonding time as a new family.
This entire situation has left a very bad taste in my mouth with his family. I feel that they agreed to something they had no intention of following through on just to shut us up before the baby got here. I also feel like it was unbelievably selfish of them to expect my husband to leave his newborn daughter just so that he could let them know in person that the baby was here. I thought I would get over this and be able to move on but I’m at the point where I can barely be in the same room with my in-laws. My husband has moved past this issue, and my inability to get over it is causing some discord in our marriage.
Do you have any advice on how I can forgive and forget so that family gatherings aren’t awkward?
Well, yeah. It makes sense that this bothers you more than it does your husband. In-laws typically do bug us more than they bug our partners. He loves them. He’s used to them. No doubt he’s experienced this same kind of situation with them so often, it’s no longer a big deal. And also, importantly, he wasn’t the one in labor. It’s going to feel intensely personal to the one having a human taken out of her body while some relative-by-marriage tries to elbow his way in the door.
Don’t be irritated that he’s not irritated. (I know that fight well.) Your partner did exactly what he was supposed to in the moment—he stood his ground, he blocked the door, he defended the boundaries you guys established together. And now it’s just not bothering him as much as it bothers you, for totally normal reasons. But on that same token, he can’t fault you for still feeling hurt by this. Now, his job is to validate your feelings, not dismiss them. And your job is to be alright with the fact that he isn’t feeling them. You guys aren’t the enemies here.
Your in-laws are the enemies.
I’m kidding. They sound like perfectly nice, pushy, irritating, run-of-the-mill in-laws. What they did was really invasive and selfish. But if we’re being fair, you probably could’ve predicted this, right? I’m guessing they completely planned on following the rules, weren’t intending to be dishonest. But then push came to pushing, and birth can be sort of uneventful in general, but especially when you’re in a boring waiting room two floors away from the action. They’re getting occasional bland, “Still waiting,” texts (what more is there to say, really?), they’re feeling fidgety and figure, “Oh I’ll just pop down real quick to make sure everything is okay.” I read your story and was incensed! I was outraged! And I also thought, “Well, of course they did.”
So you’ve learned something here. Do not give these people an inch, they’ll take a mile, and then they’ll expect a snack at the end for walking so far. It sucks to have any hurtful situation chalked up to “learning experience!” I know, but once these feelings lose their heat and sting, you’ll feel more empowered to lay firm boundaries, to go with your gut, to not be pressured into a compromise.
And these feelings will lose a lot of their intensity. You’re three months postpartum, which could mean a whole lot of factors are coming into play here. Not only did this situation just happen, it’s all fresh, but you’re simultaneously dealing with adjusting to the new baby, perhaps some sleeplessness, probably some hormones that are still leveling off, maybe even a smidge of baby blues. These things won’t make it any easier to handle some justified resentment. So don’t push yourself.
Birth is a big moment, and as the women who experience all of the scary bits and the bodily bits and the emotional bits, we can have some specific expectations. There’s a bit of a cult of birth right now (did you pick a birth playlist?!), but also it’s a long-awaited beginning, and we can have very real hopes for how this grand first step will unfold. (We’re a wedding website; we completely get this.) If things don’t go as you envisioned during your labor, it can be really, really hard to let that go. Untangle if you’re just annoyed with your in-laws because in-laws be annoying, or if you have some intense birth disappointment you’re grappling with (maybe even apart from the family burst-in, maybe whatever other things were outside of your control).
For now, seethe silently. Don’t take it out on your partner. Don’t you (or him!) push yourself to get over it if you’re just not there yet. Give yourself some time. The sting of the emotions will pass, but hopefully the lesson learned will not.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)