Hospital Visitor Etiquette, Visitor Perspective Edition
I know you’ve covered this topic before, especially in response to expectant moms looking for advice about visitors during labor and delivery. I’m writing from the perspective of the visitor, and would really value your opinion.
I’ll try to keep it brief: My brother’s wife will be delivering their first child any day now, and I’m wondering what the proper etiquette is for visiting the hospital in any situation when a loved one is in labor. A bit of background (if it matters)… I have a great relationship with my brother, even though we don’t talk that often. My SIL is a lovely lady and we get along well, but again, not super close. (I sometimes get the feeling from her that she sees our side of the family as being a bunch of morons that she has to put up with. Also, she rarely comes to family events.)
Anyway, my family members are all the type to be so excited about someone giving birth that they run to the hospital the moment they hear the news. I think their mentality is: if a relative is in labor, they can go to the hospital any time they want, invited or not. Because of course! They’re the family, why would they need to be invited?!
After reading your column, the logical side of me says the new mother will let people know if and when she wants visitors. On the other hand, though, I don’t know if my brother and his wife would call anyway. Maybe they assume people will just show up? I worry — if they don’t call at all and then I don’t go the hospital to visit them, will they think I don’t care? Or if I do go to the hospital (or ask them if I can come), will they think I’m too pushy? I also worry about being the only family member not hanging out in the waiting room, even if I’m staying away as a point of etiquette. And…let’s be honest, it kinda makes me sad when I think about not being included in such a major life event. Or should I just reel in all the crazy and stop thinking about it?
Thank you in advance,
Pick up the phone right now and call your brother. Or shoot him a quick email/text if that’s typically the best way to reach him. Say something like, “Hey, just wanted to find out what you and SIL’s preferences are for visitors at the hospital. I’d absolutely love to come by when/if you guys are comfortable with it, but don’t want to intrude. Let me know! So excited!”
And…yeah. That’s really it. You ask, they (hopefully) tell you, you abide by their wishes. And even if 500 other family members decide to descend upon the waiting room like a pack of wild animals, you stick to whatever your brother tells you they prefer. Trust me, they’ll notice and they’ll appreciate it and your respect will likely elevate you to special in-law status — you’re not just another moron she has to put up with, you’re now the only one who understands privacy and boundaries AND that the hospital isn’t like the world’s worst Internet comment section, with relatives all trying to scream FIRST!!1!! over a newborn who is basically not going to do a single interesting thing for several more weeks.
The fact that they haven’t explicitly communicated their wishes to everybody suggests that they either 1) are aware and okay with your family’s tendency to stage an Occupy Waiting Room for every birth, and you’ll be welcome to join in with everybody else, or 2) are planning to not tell anybody ahead of time and will spread the news in their own time. If it’s option two, your pre-labor call/text/email should still be fine, since you’re going to phrase it carefully and not just up and invite yourself — while you would love to be there (HINT: PLZ CALL ME I’M ONE OF THE GOOD ONES), you understand that it’s completely up to them and you will respect their privacy no matter what.
There’s also the chance that her views/wishes on visitors will change, by the way. I was ALL ABOUT inviting people to the hospital before having my first baby (NOT during labor, but after I was in my room), only to end up with an emergency c-section and loopy and not nearly as sociable as I’d been expecting. I wanted immediate family only, and only in very short bursts. I had some friends come and mostly felt guilty at how lame and boring and short the visit must have been for them, since I was so tired and the baby never woke up.
With my second, I was much more excited to have visitors, mostly because I wanted a break in the monotony that comes with a multi-day hospital stay. With my third, I was all about visitors for the first day or two, then they removed my IV and I felt like crap and lack of sleep at nights crept up on me and I had to sadly tell a few friends who were slated to visit that I just wasn’t up to it, after all. As far as I know, everyone understood completely and we arranged for them to come visit us at home ASAP.
So there’s the etiquette, I guess, in a nutshell. It’s perfectly okay to ask, particularly if you frame it as simply wanting to respect their wishes and not to intrude. Respect what they tell you, and don’t take it too personally if they aren’t ready to commit to visitors or decide to change the policy after the birth, depending on how your SIL is feeling. If they tell you it’s cool for you to visit beforehand, then you hear it through the family grapevine that the baby has arrived, you can probably still assume your invite stands and stop by. Plan to keep your visit short, and watch for signs that you’re overstaying your welcome (nurses coming in for checks, your SIL yawning or falling silent, your brother seems stressed out/not himself) and then give your congrats and goodbyes and give them some space.
And if they do say they prefer no hospital visitors, that’s really okay too and nothing personal. Hospital visits are overrated, if you ask me, and you’ll get a much better auntie experience if you visit them at home, once they’ve settled in a little. The baby will still be tiny and brand-new but there will be more to talk about and BELIEVE ME, their sofa is going to be a way more comfortable place for snuggles than the average hospital chair.
But you won’t know until you ask, so stop reading this nonsense already and go! Ask! Before that baby gets here! Hurry!Published June 23, 2014. Last updated April 9, 2017.