Thursday, September 15, 2011

For Grandparents

Becoming a grandparent is such an exciting event. And whether this is your first grandchild, or a new one of many, it's a big change in the life of a family. We are expecting our 10th grandchild in January, and I really couldn't be happier. Ginger Lily .. I can't wait to see her, to hold her. My husband and I have already bought her a couple of tiny outfits. Something "Gingery"

I have heard that the swahili word for grandchild means "mine of mine". I don't know if that's true, but I love it. My grandchildren all feel like "mine of mine".

But, as grandparents,it's not about us! We acknowledge that our experience is certainly secondary to the experience of the expectant mom and dad. This is definitely another one of those times as a parent that we must adjust and get used to a new role!

I often wonder whether expectant grandparents are aware of just how they impact the experiences of their adult children. It might surprise them to know that as a midwife, much of the discussion about how the pregnancy is going and how the couple is feeling about the pregnancy and upcoming birth, is actually spent talking about influence of the grandparents .I'm absolutely certain that what the expectant grandparents intend,is to contribute to the experience in a positive way. And quite often, that's exactly what they are doing. But too often, and without negative intentions, the grandparents can inadvertently contribute to stress in the lives of their expectant daughters and sons.

So, from the perspective of your daughter's midwife, here are some thoughts about how to use this time to create a stronger and more pleasant bond.

First, let's just think about it. What, really, do our adult children want? I think they want the same things that we wanted from our parents. Respect for our own wisdom and independence. Acceptance. And maybe a little space to create our own lives the way we want to live them :-) right? And if, as parents, we have done our jobs well, we can step aside with confidence that our adult children will make good choices. And they have the right to learn, just as we did when we first became parents.

My first words of advice are to be positive. For generations a large part of our identity as women has been based on our birth stories. So , if your birth stories are positive and empowering - share. That's good. That's powerful! If your birth stories are negative and might introduce fear, why not find a way to turn that around? There are so many ways to instill positive images- tell her that her body is strong and beautiful. That she was made to give birth. That today's women are so fortunate to have choices. And how about this one -- that you support her decisions. That this is her baby and you believe in her ability to birth the baby in the way that's best for her and her family. That you believe in her ability to make appropriate decisions as she raises her children.

If she's planning a homebirth or a waterbirth, and you have doubts about that- do some research before you share opinions or judgement. would be a good starting point. And know that you may remain a bit uncomfortable with the idea until the baby is safe in it's mother's arms. That's normal and it's okay. In our generation we were raised to put our faith in the medical community, and those feelings don't change over night. But in the end, you will feel better about your relationship when you have supported your daughter.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, for many expectant grandmothers, seeing our daughters claim their power can be extremely healing. I have had grandmothers and great grandmothers come in to appointments with their daughters and talk to me about their births. I have had many older women say that this is the first time they have ever talked about their own birth experiences. Often times the pregnant mama enjoys this intimate sharing of the feminine experience. And she finds that a lot can be learned from her elders. But it's Very important to remember that this is about Her. She is the one we are focused on. What a wonderful thing, to be able to remember our stories and have a time to process the similarities and the differences in our lives compared to our daughters lives! If you find yourself triggered to relive your experiences during these incredible rites of passage, you might wish to do journaling, art work maybe even get a womens group together and talk. Let your daughter lead the way in regards to how much she really wants to focus on what your pregnancies and births were like. As I said earlier, this can form a more powerful bond if she is interested in and excited to hear about your birth experiences. But if she feels that the energy is shifting and it's becoming more about you, that can be annoying to her.

In this day and age of career women, and easy travel, often times families are far removed from one another in regards to distance. A young pregnant woman might find that her suport group is shifting, as much of her social network has probably been around work or school, and maybe she doesn't have a lot of close friends with babies. Becoming a mother can be isolating. It's a time when a new mom might need extra support from her mother.

If you are planning to travel some distance to be available for the new family, it will be great, but can pose challenges. You may need to arrange to take time off work; you may want to purchase plane tickets in advance. These things are hard to plan! Keep in mind that the typical first time mother gives birth a few days after the designated "due date". And remember when you were pregnant? If an expectant mom is given more than one due date, they typically like to focus the earlier one. That can prove to increase stress and put a twist in your travel plans. There is a 6 week window during which time the baby could arrive! If your time is limited, keep an open mind. If you want to be there for the birth a good attitude and good luck will help! Know that you might be there to visit your daughter in the full bloom of pregnancy, or see the baby after the birth. Letting go of expectations will decrease stress for all involved, and that will increase the probability that her body will function normally in the the time that's best for the baby.

If you are visiting toward the end of the pregnancy, here are some tips to facilitate an easy care free visit and a timely birth:
Plan some fun activities together- Don't just sit and wait for labor! Some good ideas include short day trips, take in a movie- but get her an isle seat. You might want to do something like give her a gift certificate for a nice massage then go to lunch together. The idea is to do things together that will keep her comfortable and relaxed. Enjoy time together. She should not feel like a ticking time bomb. If your visit will be more than a few days, you might also consider a night ot two in a motel. That will support her normal rhythyms and her body's receptivity to the hormones that get labor started.

And during your visit, remember the power of your words. Make sure that you avoid statements that put pressure on her - even if you think you are joking around or teasing. With the whole family anxiously anticipating the arrival of the baby,you'll definitely be talking about the blessed event. But make that just a part of your discussions.

After the baby comes you can sit down and release a big sigh of satisfaction. For a minute! :-) Try to get some rest during the course of her labor so that you can be better able to help when she's exhausted after giving birth. You'll want your priority to be taking care of your own "baby" so that she can take care of hers. If that means a little baby rocking while she rests or takes a shower or bath, I'll bet that can be arranged. Otherwise just supporting her bonding is the best thing you can do for her. Most grandparents are more than happy to do a little cooking ( or picking up take out!) and taking care of some basic household duties so that she can recover. I know I don't even need to mention that. Also, tired new parents might need some reminders to take care of mom's recovery needs. It won't hurt if you familiarize yourself with postpartum care instructions.

Most importantly, enjoy your bond with your new little family member. Babies are very aware and the memory of that love early on will set the stage for a fun relationship in the years to come!!