Care and Feeding

Do I Have to Share My Birth Plan With My Opinionated In-Laws?

They’re not going to like it.

A pregnant woman holding her belly.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I are expecting our third baby later this summer and are in disagreement about how much of our birth plan to share with our families. We’re planning a home birth (while the pandemic has us extra grateful for our planned care, we’ve been planning to birth at home since we became pregnant) in a state where home birth is a little legally shaky. We have engaged a trained home-birth provider who will cross state lines to support us during labor and delivery and feel confident that this choice is safe and right for our family. While my parents know we plan to birth at home and are supportive, I don’t want to tell my husband’s parents, as they don’t have a history of being supportive of our parenting choices. My husband, however, feels it would be weird to tell them only after the birth. (We have not lied to them; we’ve just let them assume we’ll deliver in the hospital as we have done with our previous kids.) In order to have the calm, peaceful birth I’m hoping for, I feel it’s important to keep my circle of support small and positive and to continue to keep our plans secret from my in-laws, while my husband wants to tell them. As the person who is giving birth, I feel I should get the final word on this. What do you say?

—Keeping My Home Birth Quiet

Dear KMHBQ,

As the person who is giving birth, you absolutely should be able to decide who is going to be in your circle of support and to make sure it’s small and positive—although now that you’ve brought me into it, I will confess to being a little bit nervous on your behalf and ask you to make sure that the trained provider who is crossing state lines for you has a solid plan for hospital transfer in the (unlikely! but possible!) event that anything occurs that necessitates it, that this provider’s (possible? then understandable) concern about being prosecuted for assisting in a home birth in a state in which it isn’t (entirely?) legal would not interfere in any way with such crucial medical decision-making. (I hope you’re not now sorry you asked your question.)

Anyway. Yes: It is your choice of whom to talk to as you ready yourself for this birth. But I’m afraid you don’t get to dictate to your husband what he does or doesn’t communicate to his parents. Even if the only reason he offers you for wanting to tell them is that he feels “weird” about not telling them, this is his decision to make, not yours. He has a relationship with them that is separate from his relationship with you (indeed, he is a person separate from you, and it’s important for married people to keep this in mind—we don’t get to legislate our partners’ relationships with their families; we are in fact not in charge of our partners’ other relationships at all). But this doesn’t mean that you have to engage with them in any way for the duration of your pregnancy if they are not supportive of your birth plan. Let your husband be the one who talks to them.

One final thought here: Let him know, in advance of his breaking the news to them, that you will not take their calls if they cannot be wholly, unreservedly supportive of you. There is a chance that this will give him pause, for he may not want to bear the brunt of their criticism alone and may decide that he doesn’t feel so weird about not telling them after all.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I returned to work from maternity leave for one week before my office closed due to the pandemic. My son begrudgingly took a bottle from my mom during that week. Now, both my husband and I are trying to work from home while caring for a toddler and an infant. For the first month or so, I nursed my son out of convenience; as a result, his ability to take (or interest in taking) a bottle has vanished. Now, at 5 months, he won’t latch to a bottle (we’ve tried multiple), a cup, or even a pacifier. A few times a week I manage to squeeze a few ounces from a bottle into his mouth, but that process can take the better part of an hour (to be clear, this doesn’t upset him; he’s just uninterested). At some point, hopefully, I will return to the office, day care will open, and he will need to take a bottle. (And when I am finally able to leave the house, I’d like the option to!) The bottle is extra work and seems like an exercise in futility. I’m just trying to stay sane while working and parenting full time. Have I missed the developmental mark for getting him to accept a bottle? Any tricks that we are missing? Have I set myself up for being a human pacifier for the duration?

—Pandemic Paci

Dear PP,

Nursing a 5-month-old is not being a human pacifier—let’s start there. Let’s just call this “feeding my baby.” I don’t know any tricks for getting a 5-month-old who isn’t interested in bottles to become interested (or at least willing), but might I gently suggest that for as long as you are at home with him, you continue to nurse him? And that you supplement that nursing with solid food if you haven’t yet (since he’s old enough for that) and concentrate on baby cereal mixed with expressed breast milk so that he gets used to that? And that you also continue to regularly offer him expressed breast milk in a sippy cup? (He’ll probably play with the cup more than he’ll drink from it—and spill more than he drinks—but let him sit in a highchair with the cup and get used to it and make the wonderful discovery himself that if he tips it just right, he can feed himself milk.) If you give him the chance to become accustomed to these other methods of getting the nutrition he needs most—without making a big deal of it, without struggling—then when you do go back to work (or when you leave him for an hour or two with your husband or your mother), there will be other ways for him to be nourished besides bottle feedings. I’d continue to offer a bottle, too—maybe once a day—but without struggling over it. If he keeps batting it away, move on.

And I’d try one other thing (this is something I’ve mentioned before in this column, but I am always glad to mention it again because it is one of my favorite baby hacks, and it worked very well for me when my daughter was your son’s age): fill popsicle molds with expressed milk. Keep a freezer full of them. Sit him in his highchair and hand it to him. Most babies this age and older find this irresistible, and it’s a perfectly legitimate way to get milk into them.

Meanwhile, if you possibly can, try to enjoy the closeness and calm that nursing a baby can provide, for both baby and mother. If you can find a way to reframe this as a respite from your busy life, rather than a frustrating interruption from it, it may even be helpful to you during this crazy time.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have been together for over 10 years, married for three, and parents for just under nine months. We are both highly educated, inquisitive, and passionate people. We are also both incredibly stubborn and principled know-it-alls. This results in many of our conversations turning into discussions or debates in which we both advocate for why our perspective or stance is correct. It is never angry or hateful. It is often silly. We very rarely get upset (maybe impassioned or occasionally heated, but this rarely carries over once the discussion is finished).

In my (biased) opinion, it’s generally healthy debate and discourse that, at worst, includes some teasing or eye-rolling, but never yelling, disrespect, or hurt feelings. In fact, I’d argue that this practice has helped us when we’ve sat down to discuss heavy topics, because we’ve had plenty of experience debating. But my mother-in-law is always making comments about our “fighting,” and one of our close friends used to roll their eyes about how often we “argued” (they’ve since accepted or gotten used to it), and I can completely understand why it may not be very fun to be around. We’re not overtly physically affectionate people (in general and also with each other), so I’m starting to wonder about the effect our dynamic as a couple will have on our daughter. Are we setting a bad example for her of what marriage looks like? Do we need to avoid this style of communication in her presence? And if so, how do we do that?

—Mom and Dad Aren’t Fighting

Dear MaDAF,

You and your husband love each other, you have matching communication styles, and you seem to have plenty to talk about. I think you’re lucky, and I think your daughter is lucky to have you for her parents. If it’s never angry or hateful, she will pick up on that—children are very clever that way (they are also clever at picking up on anger and hate when parents are treating each other with what appears to be politeness—or when they don’t communicate at all). Debate away! And next time your mother-in-law comments on your “fighting,” maybe your husband could give her his best completely baffled look and say, “What on earth are you talking about? We never fight.” And if she wants to debate with him on the meaning of the word fight, he could practice his debating skills on her for a chance.

But seriously, it’s rude to make comments about someone else’s relationship. This is nobody’s business but your own. And if you have friends who find you and your husband not fun to be around, I’d find new friends. It doesn’t sound like you and your husband have the slightest idea how—or the desire—to be different than you are when you’re together. I say—and this may be the first time I have ever invoked this phrase—you do you.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 9-year-old girl and 10-year-old boy. My boy can be a little needy when stressed, and this neediness has ramped up due to recent events. He wants either a hug or something he calls a pinkie winkie, where you hook your pinkie finger into his for a couple of seconds. For whatever reason it works for him, and he will often ask for several a day. I’m working from home so don’t mind because it’s often easier to just grasp his pinkie than to completely stop work for a long hug (although I do often give hugs).

The problem is that he asks his sister for pinkie winkies, too, and they drive my girl insane. She doesn’t want to do them, and she tells her brother several times a day to leave her alone. I think some of it is that’s she too busy (in her mind) to be bothered and that she finds it just annoying. I think he finds genuine reassurance in this contact and can’t understand why she won’t participate. But I do suspect that sometimes he asks her just to aggravate her.

I’m torn because I want him to learn that when a girl says no to touching, she means it, and you cannot keep asking over and over again. I don’t want to make her give the pinkie winkie because I don’t want her to learn the lesson that she should feel guilty about saying no to something. But at the same time I want my son to feel reassured because I know he is stressed and scared now. And I want her to be kinder to her brother. I’ve tried to set a limit on the number of pinkie winkie requests in a day, but he won’t stick to it. Any advice?

—Can’t We All Just Get Along

Dear CWAJGA,

He can ask as often as he wants (or needs) to; she can say no every time. It’s not your 9-year-old daughter’s job to reassure your 10-year-old son—it’s yours. There are plenty of other things she can do to express kindness, and I would encourage those: suggest games they can play together and projects they can undertake. Do not insist that she participate in a ritual that makes her uncomfortable (for any reason, even if that reason is “just” that she finds it annoying). Meanwhile, you might gently work with your son on finding some self-soothing rituals, even as you continue to hug him and link pinkies with him when he asks.

—Michelle

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