The Postpartum Guest List
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,
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.
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
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