Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Rudeness About My Birth Plan: My stepdaughter Lydia, 13, has asked to be in the delivery room when I give birth to her little sister this January. Lydia has seen a delivery video in a class and is a mature, grounded young woman. My husband, her mom, and I all think this would be a good experience for Lydia. I will be clothed in a loose-fitting gown when I deliver, but Lydia will see my “private parts.” For this reason, Lydia’s inclusion in the delivery horrifies our families and many friends. What’s a polite response to people who express dismay over Lydia seeing me give birth?
A: When everyone lived on a farm, a Lydia would have had her fill of seeing calves and foals being born and probably would have skipped attending the arrival of her sister. Your birth plan is your birth plan and you don’t have to take a poll to get approval from others. Maybe this will be an incredibly gratifying experience for Lydia, who will then become an obstetrician. But I’m concerned that a delivery video is far different from the real thing, and that all of you are being naive about Lydia’s role. No one knows how a birth will go. You could be in a long, painful labor. You might need an emergency C-section. It could be that the reality of watching a live birth is far different from a video and becomes a vertiginous experience for a 13-year-old. She might feel obligated to stay, even if she quickly realizes she’d rather be home binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy. My concern is not that Lydia gets a good look at your privates, but that even the most mature, grounded 13-year-old would be better off meeting her new sibling once the baby is cleaned up and swaddled. It also could be that the medical center nixes a teen attending the birth, which might blessedly make all of this moot.
Q. Hide Booze From MIL?: My mother-in-law is a recovering alcoholic, and she will be staying with us for two weeks for Thanksgiving. Our home has a bar that we keep fully stocked for entertaining, but since my MIL got sober, I have always boxed the booze and put it in my closet when she visits and we don’t drink while she’s with us. This time, my husband (who is annoyed at the length of this visit) is insistent that we shouldn’t have to hide the alcohol in our own house. In his defense, I am not worried about her drinking, but about her being offended and blaming me for not planning appropriately for her visit.
A: Your mother-in-law is not really sober if she can’t stay in a home in which there is liquor. But if her recovery is this fragile, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal to reduce the temptation of available alcohol. I know Thanksgiving is right around the corner, but your husband is right, two weeks is a very long visit. Maybe he can call his mother and explain to her that things are going to get very busy at work after the holiday, and that a week’s visit would work better. It sounds as if whether or not you box up the booze, your husband, at least, is going to need a drink.
Q. Re: 13-year-old in the delivery room: I was 13 and in the delivery room when my baby brother was born. Twenty-seven years later it remains one of the most joyous and positive experiences of my life. I never had any sibling resentment about being “replaced” by a new baby. The delivery (and helping to raise him) was also fabulous birth control because I knew how much work it was.
A: I am astounded that there are any readers who can give firsthand testimony about being a 13-year-old watching the birth of a sibling. So thanks for this endorsement.
Q. Full Enough House: After the economic downturn left my brother and his family destitute, I invited them to stay in my two-bedroom townhouse with me. I gave my brother my older car and I am very proud to say he is close to getting his nursing degree. My problem is my sister-in-law will not stop sighing and whining about having another baby. It is alarming and maddening since the house is already crowded and I am the one who’s picked up the tab for past year. I love my nephews but the thought of a newborn screaming at 3 a.m. makes me grind my teeth. But how can I tell my brother if his wife gets pregnant again, they can move in with our mother in Florida for all I care?
A: You did an incredibly generous thing for your brother’s family, and what good news that he is headed toward being able to start a new and gratifying career. As you know, you cannot dictate another family’s reproductive choices. But you can dictate your own living situation. You can tell your brother that whether they decide to have more children is of course up to them. (You can leave out the part that since they already have multiple children and no income, now is not the time to increase the size of their family.) But you can say that you are at your limit and that you’re just not open to having an infant in the house. Since he’s getting medical training, that should give him a leg up on figuring out an effective method of birth control.
Q. Flustered: A woman in my new neighborhood has extremely disfiguring scars on her face. When I met her I was startled, then flustered. I managed to have a pleasant chat but am left wondering how/where to look at her next time? I tried to keep my gaze leveled and make direct eye contact, smiled, etc. I want to be sensitive, don’t want to avoid her. How do I act normal until I get used to how she looks?
A: I’m sure this woman is used to seeing eyes wander over her scars and seeing the reaction on other people’s faces to her face. You’ve gotten a good look, so there’s nothing more to do but treat her like anyone else because she is like anyone else. You look at people’s faces when you talk to them to read their expressions, so do that with her. If you find yourself staring at her scars, stop. And do not ask her what happened. If you get to know her well enough, she might bring it up. If she doesn’t, you can understand why she chooses not to talk about it.
Q. Neighbors Getting Busy: We live in a townhouse and every weekend hear our neighbors’ bed pounding the wall followed by loud moaning. It’s no secret what they are doing. Any advice how to ask them to keep it down?
A: Keep it down, indeed. As I’ve written before, I once lived below a couple in a long-distance relationship who only saw each other on weekends. They would spend the entire 48 hours going at it, loudly. Really loudly. I came to resent being held prisoner in my apartment, forced to spend hours with a glass against the wall, listening to every bang and moan. People are entitled to make love in their homes. When you’re hearing people make love, that might even prompt you to do the same (you mention you’re a “we”). If the banging and moaning is always very late at night and it means you are not able to get any sleep, then you could leave a note explaining the walls are thin, and maybe their bed needs to be pulled away from the wall. But if this is just normal lovemaking at a reasonable hour, you’re just going to have to get a sound machine, earplugs, or better yet, get inspired.
Q. Re: Rudeness About My Birth Plan: For the LW who wants to have her stepdaughter around when giving birth, good for you! I saw my cousin’s birth at 14. It was considered a sensible step for a growing teenage girl to witness. Because I’ve seen live birth I’m more aware of the “elbow grease” that goes into children and babies. It wasn’t traumatic for me and has influenced, in good ways, how I see birth and its ramifications. I was able to make better informed decisions about my future and my body.
A: OK, I hadn’t realized this was a thing and that teens even attend the births of cousins. Since it is a thing, let’s hear from someone who says, “I wish I’d gone to the Parcheesi tournament instead.”
Q. Re: Birth Plan: Just want to weigh in that I agree with you completely that births are unpredictable and you don’t know what your stepdaughter is signing up to witness. I ended up having a long hard labor and the last thing I would have wanted was to worry about the emotional well-being of a teen who, even if savvy and grounded, may be upset to witness the more painful moments (and excessive vomiting). I wouldn’t want to worry about anyone else’s experience at the time I was trying to give birth.
A: Thanks for this alternate perspective. If the family goes ahead, there has to be Plan B allowing Lydia to escape if the Technicolor drama gets to be too much.
Q. Bathroom Screen Time: I work in a very strictly run call center. Shift start and end times, breaks, and even when we’re allowed to go to the restroom are all highly regulated. Since we handle credit card and other confidential information, we are not allowed to use cellphones on the floor. The other day while taking one of my bathroom breaks, I took out my phone and responded to a text message while “doing my business.” When I returned to my station, a supervisor greeted me with a write-up in hand. Apparently, the supervisor had seen me using my phone through the cracks of the stall door. I feel like my privacy has been violated, but I don’t know if I can fight this since we have a strict no-cellphone policy while we’re at work. What are my legal options, if any, if they were to use this to terminate me one day?
A: Let this be a reminder to treat the people at call centers with respect. They are not disembodied automatons, they are real people working under highly stressful conditions. While what your supervisor did sounds awful, I would need a ruling from an employment law specialist about this. However, I don’t think you should do anything. You sound like a good, reliable employee. Turnover where you work must be enormous. I hope that on your breaks you are able to leave the floor, so that if you do want to return a text, you have the opportunity to do so. But don’t fret over something that may never amount to anything.
Q. Re: Birth Plan: I was 12 when my sister was born and I was in the room with my mom when she was giving birth. I sat on a couch to the side, out of the way. It’s not like I was down in there checking her out next to her OB-GYN. I walked by her once and “saw” but it was not traumatizing and it was cool to be right there when my baby sister was born. I think it’s a fine plan. (My mom had an epidural so she wasn’t screaming in pain or anything.)
A: Obviously, I have missed the memo that every teen and tween should attend their baby sibling’s birth. Glad to hear so many happy accounts.
Q. Is It Bad to Ask About Painful History?: My grandparents survived the Holocaust (both are Jewish). I am very curious about their experiences and only know a few stories from the time. I don’t know whether it would be appropriate to ask, though. They both lost a lot during the war and I can imagine that talking about such a terrifying, awful time would be really hard on them. I want to keep this kind of family history alive, but I really don’t want to upset them! Am I over-thinking this? Should I ask or stay mum?
A: We are heading toward a time when we will lose the last people who were witness to one of the most systematic crimes against humanity. That your grandparents have apparently chosen not to speak about what they experienced could be because it is simply too painful for them to revisit those days. It also could be that they felt they don’t want to burden their happy, American family with their memories. So first speak to your parents and other family members about this. Have your grandparents talked about what happened or have they made clear they don’t want to talk about it? In any case, sometimes, at the end of life people find themselves, almost unbidden, traveling back to their youth. It could be that even if they have long been silent, they might be moved to give testimony to the horrors they lived through. I suggest you contact the Holocaust Museum. They have an Office of Survivor Affairs, and they might like to know about your grandparents, and they would also be able to give you advice on proceeding. I hope that you do become a catalyst for your grandparents to be able to memorialize their experiences for future generations.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Have a great week. Talk to you next Monday.
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