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The Postpartum Guest List

Nov16

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Hi Amy,

I worry about writing this because I’m afraid it will show a part of me that isn’t as welcoming as I’d like. Maybe I just need to suck it up.

My husband and I are expecting our first baby in March. We live in the northern part of the country, and are a good 12 hours from most family members. When the baby comes, we’re anticipating having each grandma come in turn for a visit. I know both of them will be wonderful and helpful.

My husband’s brother lives with his mom.  He is mentally disabled. It’s not an incredibly severe disability.  If you sent five minutes with him, you’d just think that something was a little off. Emotionally and mentally, he’s between six and eight years old. He’s a good guy and loves kids, but can be a little tough to handle. He does not do well when his routine is disrupted. His main activities are watching TV and playing video games. He also has some other health problems, some as side effects of being on various medications since he was a teen and others as a result of little activity and not the best diet. My husband loves his brother, but also finds him stressful to be around, and feels an inordinate amount of guilt for feeling that way.

I’d like to keep the post-baby visits, especially because they are likely to last a week or more, as stress-free as possible. I worry that my brother-in-law will be bored, as he won’t be able to help much with a newborn and isn’t able (or always willing) to do other things like laundry or cook. He’d probably be all right spending a week on our couch playing video games or playing online, but we don’t have a video game system, and our internet service is pretty pitiful. I don’t want to have to be a sleep-deprived IT department. At the same time, I’d like for his mom to have some uninterrupted time to bond with the new grandchild (she spends most family trips caring for him, since the trips often trigger health issues/exhaustion in him). I’d also like to minimize my husband’s stress. BIL loves to take pictures, but has had some boundary issues with the camera in the past, so I will likely have to nurse behind a locked door while they’re here. Finally, our house is pretty small, and since it will be full-on mud and ice season when the baby comes, the chance to take a walk for a break just won’t be there.

I feel like life post-baby would be easier if BIL stayed with his sister (something he’s done in the past and enjoys), but I’m worried about bringing it up.  I don’t want to reject my brother-in-law.  I just want things to be as easy as possible when the baby comes, and there’s plenty of time for them to bond once we know what we’re doing as parents. I haven’t brought this up with my husband because his feelings about his brother are conflicted enough. It’s only a week or so, maybe it’s not worth bringing up.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Thanks for all the advice you give,
J

For the record, I think your concerns are perfectly valid and reasonable. And not at all selfish. Realistic, maybe, but not selfish. I mean, go back and reread the bulk of your concerns — they’re mostly about him, and the fact that you’re worried the visit will leave him bored and out-of-sorts when his routine is disrupted, and that your MIL will spend the bulk of the visit caring for him at the expense of her time with her grandchild. That’s not at all what I consider “rejecting” a disabled relative. That’s just the pragmatic reality of living with a disabled relative. I really don’t see anything guilt-worthy about recognizing that this visit might not be the best thing for anybody involved. INCLUDING your brother-in-law.

Look, those early newborn visits are…fraught, even under the best of circumstances. You’re tired, you’re emotional, you’re hormonal and may feel like your body just got hit by a truck. I really have NO PROBLEM with a brand-new mom getting a weighted vote in how she wants those visits to go — who and when and for how long. Go a little momzilla, if you have to. And believe me, it’s better to figure that stuff out NOW, when you are capable of thoughtful, balanced discussion about any potential hurt-feelings land mines. Rather than, say, four weeks postpartum when you’re calling your husband from inside a closet hissing at him to get his mother out of your house already because this open-ended visit business is KILLING YOU.

Not. That that happened. To me. Or anything.

Cough.

By all means, bring this up with your husband. It would be one thing if there was no other workable solution (i.e. if BIL doesn’t come, then MIL can’t either). But there’s another option! He can stay with his sister, which sounds like something he’d enjoy more than sitting around Internet-less on your couch. And then MIL gets a break from being his caretaker and can enjoy a few days to truly bond with her grandchild. I really fail to see how merely suggesting this would make you the bad guy.

I mean, I understand your husband’s conflicted feelings about his brother and the guilt and all that. Ohhhh lordy, do I understand. I don’t talk about this on the Internet much — or at all, really — but I have a mentally-ill/disabled older brother. He lives in a group setting a few states away. I don’t see him much, at all, thanks to various other family drama surrounding him AND the fact that yeah, it’s really hard on everybody to have him travel for holidays or events. Especially him. Someone had to make the call over whether or not he should come to our father’s funeral, and ultimately decided it was best for him to skip it. And despite how awful that looks typed out, it was the right decision, for everybody. (We made sure he visited a few days before our dad passed, though.)

So believe me, I completely get where you’re all coming from re: guilt and fear that you’re letting your own nerves/comfort level take precedence over his right to be included as an equal member of the family. But let’s say instead of a disabled adult, your MIL had a late-in-life baby who was now only six or seven years old. Who also needed his routine and lots of entertainment and something more than a spot on a couch for a week. And who probably wasn’t going to be too jazzed about spending a week away from everything he loves while staring at an underwhelming lump of bread dough that poops and cries. But who really enjoyed visiting his older sister’s house! You’d probably make the same suggestion. Your BIL is a wonderful guy who has limitations and difficulties with certain things. You do him more of a disservice to pretend that he doesn’t.

So talk to your husband. I am confident you are capable of having a calm, rational discussion with him — if you weren’t, I’d imagine your letter would have an INCREDIBLY different tone, one of me me me instead of “am I a terrible person for even thinking this?” (NO. NO YOU ARE NOT.) Keep the conversation focused on BIL and his needs, and…I don’t know, tell your husband that Some Chick From The Internet says he has nothing to feel guilty about. Early postpartum family visits can be wonderful and helpful and joyful…and they can also be stressful and migraine-inducing, if not approached realistically and honestly (i.e. Grandma thinks she’s coming to be entertained 24/7, or something). Have your husband then make the suggestion to his mom, perhaps with a proposed later date for a second visit that includes his brother, when your baby is a little older and you guys have found your rhythm and stuff.

If for some reason, your MIL says no (or your SIL does), THEN I would work on resigning myself to it and making the best of it. Start looking on Craigslist for a used video game console, or find out if your MIL can have one shipped (I’m guessing he may have more than one system, if he’s a hardcore gamer?). Assign any and all tech support duties to your husband. Buy a nursing cover so you can feel comfortable staying out with everybody, even if he is taking pictures. (For the record, I have a zillion photos of me breastfeeding my newborns. Though none taken by a brother-in-law. But if he’s kind of innocent to the whole thing…eh. At this point my entire family has probably seen mah boobs in action at one time or another.) (But I still understand your desire for privacy that early, so don’t think I’m telling you that concern is invalid or selfish.) (PARENTHESES!)

But make the suggestion already, or at least have a discussion about the possibility before plane tickets are booked.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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12 Responses to “The Postpartum Guest List”

  1. Kimm Nov 16 at 1:39 pm Reply Reply

    Great advice! Please talk to your husband, then MIL about this. I so wish I had put my foot down and had not told my parents when we were being induced, because I wanted a few days of recovery time before I had to be cheerful and careful of everything I said around my mother, who I love but who drives me crazy, even when I am not in pain or sleep-deprived. They got here 3 hours after baby was born and stayed 4 days which was a lifetime then. You and your new family deserve to have the least amount of avoidable stress possible during those first weeks, it’s hard enough getting used to everything.

  2. Olivia Nov 16 at 1:49 pm Reply Reply

    You may also want to consider pushing the visits back a couple of weeks after the baby is born, if possible. My mother and step-dad arrived 4 days after my first was born and while I loved them being there, I was in such a state of hormones and pain and learning to breastfeed that it was not the funnest visit. Plus, the baby just slept the whole damn time. It became this big deal that, “OMG her eyes are open! Quick, get the camera!” This time around, I’m going to book their flights for at least two weeks out so hopefully I will be feeling better and we can all enjoy each other’s company more.

  3. Sally Nov 16 at 2:10 pm Reply Reply

    My main rule regarding visits with babies who were less than six weeks or so was simple, but fixed a lot of potential issues.  You are welcome to come see the babies (I had twins), but if you are sleeping in my house, you will help with night wakings.  I did not want to worry about waking anyone while dealing with midnight feedings, and this fixed that.  But it also fixed having people in my house who were more visiting than helping and made it clear that if you want to come during that time, your main priority is being helpful.
    I mention this because I also have a mentally handicapped brother, and this rule made it clear that he wasn’t allowed during that time, but also didn’t ban him specifically. (also excluded – father, father in law, much younger sisters, college-aged sister in law). 

  4. Amy Nov 16 at 2:30 pm Reply Reply

    Just a thought, but it might be nice to have a plan to introduce the BIL or include him in some family event later at a more appropriate time. 

  5. lesley Nov 16 at 3:06 pm Reply Reply

    Everyone has great advice. I think something to remember is that when you are sleep-deprived, filled with hormones, trying to figure out this little person, etc., everything is magnified. So if a family visit otherwise would be just slightly stressful or maybe not the most enjoyable thing in the world, it will be that much more stressful and not enjoyable when you have a newborn. You should NOT be expected to play hostess and make everyone else comfortable while YOU have just given birth and are trying to take care of a new life. When we had our first child, the only person that stayed in my house was my mother and my MIL, at separate times, because they were the only ones I knew would be helpful and that I wouldn’t worry about making sure my house was presentable. I know you are trying to be accommodating, and that’s great. You definitely don’t want to burn bridges or hurt feelings. But if there is ever a time when you CAN be a little selfish and kindly request what is best for you and your family, now is it. And I’d just like to echo the other commenters who said that just a few weeks can make all the difference. You’ll have things a bit more under control (including breastfeeding), and things won’t be quite so harried. My husband and I didn’t have any in-home help for the first couple weeks, just visits during the day, and we were fine. In fact, it was nice to just chill with our kiddo after the door stopped revolving for the day. Good luck, and most importantly, CONGRATULATIONS!

  6. LMN Nov 16 at 3:48 pm Reply Reply

    My BIL sounds so very much like your BIL, except mine is 12. When I had my third baby last year, my mom was already in town for the birth and stayed for close to a week after to care for my older kids. Then, when she was leaving, and my mother in law was coming to take over (yes–I have both an awesome mother and MIL who totally dealt with everything so I could rest with my baby), she had to bring my 12 year old BIL, as well as my 20 year old BIL who isn’t mentally handicapped, but just kind of generally clueless. I said no to the 20 year old BIL (who didn’t HAVE to come, he just wanted to), because I felt like it was going to be too much, but he came anyway. So. For a whole week, my 900 sq ft apartment had 8 people in it. The limited seating space in the tiny living room was always occupied by my brothers-in-law playing video games, watching TV and movies, etc. I pretty much stayed in bed a lot. Which was okay, but I wanted to be in my living room socializing as well. I just didn’t have anywhere to sit, and I got sick of Wii Sports Resort music pretty quickly. All that being said, say something. You’re not being selfish. I don’t think I was being selfish either. I didn’t want everyone to be bored, and I wanted to be able to rest and breathe in my own house. Have BIL come when you’ve had a chance to heal a bit and get your bearings with being a mom. Since it is your first baby, you don’t know how you’re going to feel about visitors, you don’t know how you’ll feel after the birth, etc.

    And, if all else fails, and your BIL does come, ask if they can bring their own video game system. That’s what my BIL does when he comes, and it makes the visit happier and easier for everyone involved.

  7. JenVegas Nov 16 at 4:02 pm Reply Reply

    I agree with everyone else here in that this is in no-way selfish. However if there was going to be 1  time in your whoooole life to be a little bit selfish about visitors I’d say that time is right after a baby is born. Just, you know, throwing that out there. Plenty of time for plenty of visits a month later, two months later…Hey, if they wait 6 months the kid is going to be way more interesting anyway.

  8. zapela Nov 16 at 4:36 pm Reply Reply

    Great advice from everyone here! Are you or your husband close enough with your SIL that you can discuss this with her first? Maybe she could preemptively invite your BIL to stay with her during your mom’s trip…fun for him, and you avoid any uncomfortable discussions? Especially if she already has kids, she should totally understand your position and want to help…Good luck and congrats!!

  9. Corinne Nov 16 at 8:19 pm Reply Reply

    I agree with Amy except on one point. If your BIL coming along is non-negotiable, I would just cancel the immediate postpartum visit with MIL also. Not as a punishment, but out of consideration for you. You are not going to want to have to nurse behind closed doors. You are not going to want to have to worry about guests in your home. Anyone coming to visit immediately postpartum is there to work, not to visit. You and your husband need to bond with your baby, and you need to recover and let your milk come in. None of those things will happen very well if you’re stressed and uncomfortable. Have them come visit later when you are recovered and are a bit more in the swing of things.

  10. SarahB Nov 17 at 4:25 am Reply Reply

    I agree with some of the others who say that if MIL has to bring BIL, it should be later–at least six weeks after the birth, so you have a chance to recover. The baby might be smiling by then anyway–fun for all! Consider having them stay at a hotel and/or having your husband take time off work when they’re there, so you are not 24-7 hosting.

  11. MR Nov 17 at 4:53 pm Reply Reply

    I agree with Amy, OP, you are definitely NOT selfish. You are very much thinking of your BIL and your MIL here. My very first thought was: call your SIL! Obviously, that depends on your relationship with her, but if you are close, simply call her up and say you are concerned how you are going to keep BIL happy and allow MIL some bonding time with baby. Say that you know he has stayed with her before and wondered if that might be a possibility here? That way, SIL could simply offer “Mom, I heard you are going to be helping Jane and Steve after the baby is born. Why don’t I take Bob that week? He and I will have fun and keep his routine, and you can have a visit with your new grandbaby.” and she doesn’t even have to add that it will probably give mom a much needed break too. Every caretaker needs a break here or there. This would eliminate the whole guilty feelings of your husband, and possibly MIL, and gets straight to the point. After all, even if you talk to your husband and MIL, you don’t know yet if your SIL is willing. So, to straight to her and ask. It may be the best baby gift you get. Congratulations on your baby in advance! I hope you have a wonderful birth and postpartum experience!

  12. Leanne Nov 18 at 9:14 pm Reply Reply

    I think you are not at all selfish. Your MIL should be understanding. She has had kids to. Postpartem days are totally stressful, the last thing you need is more stress. If your stressed then baby gets stressed , thats the way it is. If baby is stressed then baby won’t feed properly, sleep properly etc.Then you will get more stressed. It isn’t worth it!! Your BIL has already visited his sister and had a good time, so a visit with her would be pretty easy in compared to you. It is totally OK to love your BIL, that doesn’t mean that you put your needs on a shelf. I had an Uncle that had Down’s syndrom. We tried to have him over with new relatives around. It didn’t work well at all, he would be jelous of my Dad’s time , and he would get very upset,to the point where my Dad would have to take him home. The entire thing just wasn’t worth it. And it left him upset for days. Congrats BTW

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