Once upon a time, before the first birth plan was drafted or parents learned their unborn children's gender, laboring women were attended by nurses and delivered by doctors while nervous dads paced the hospital's halls. The rooms were sterile, the patients flat on their backs, and photos of this secretive, life-altering event were forbidden.
Fathers began showing up in the delivery room in the 1980s, and by the late 1990s, childbirth had morphed from a private medical procedure into a spectator sport complete with music, professional birth coaches, and personal videos to commemorate the occasion.
Since pregnant women are now the guests of honor at their own personal delivery parties, it's good to know a few basic rules of etiquette before your water breaks at midnight and you're too excited to think straight!
The Guest List
If you've become addicted to childbirth shows on television, you may have the misguided idea everyone you've ever met, from Uncle Eddie to the postman, is allowed in the hospital delivery room. While an eager crowd of onlookers makes for great TV, it can also make for an unruly mob of gawkers getting in the way of the professionals trying to help deliver your newborn. That's why most hospitals only allow two or three well-mannered support persons in the room during a routine vaginal delivery.
If you desire a larger audience, you may prefer the more relaxed environment of a birth center such as The Birth and Women's Center in Dallas, Texas, where mothers are attended by certified midwives in a homelike setting and there are no limits to the number of people who can take part in the celebration.
The Kiddie Conundrum
"Children under 12 years of age are discouraged unless they are a sibling to the newborn," recommends Sandy Smith, labor and delivery nurse manager at Centennial Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.
While your young cousin may beg to attend the birth, remember that it's a long and often boring process that can tax the attention span of the heartiest kid. Childbirth is also a messy and dramatic event that can scare even a grown-up, much less a kiddo. And though you may want to share the miracle of birth with your younger children, keep in mind that kids see the world through self-centered eyes and will have little empathy for your delicate situation. The last thing you need when you're nine centimeters dilated is to have your toddler beg you to refill his sippy cup or demand that you take him to the potty. Even if Daddy wrangles the little ones, that distracts his focus from you during your time of need.
If you think the children in your life would prefer watching you give birth to cooling their heels at home and watching SpongeBob reruns, make sure you've got a friend or family member who's willing to attend to their needs and escort them into the hallway if necessary.