by invitation only

Who goes in the delivery room-and who stays out


Not so long ago, even husbands were banned from delivery rooms, relegated to waiting areas where they were expected to pace around nervously until their babies were born. But today's new parents often have an entirely different dilemma: deciding how many people to bring in, who they'll be and what they'll do there.

More important than the number of candidates or their roles is their attitudes, says Humm Berreyesa, a doula, childbirth educator and founder of Birthing Support in Sonoma County, Calif. "People need to be able to feel the mother's needs, stay grounded and take cues," she says. That may mean weeding out certain rude or self-centered friends and relatives.

Make sure that people also know what to expect; anyone who feels he or she can't handle the sights and sounds shouldn't be present. Some people are more comfortable if they have a defined role, so you can designate, say, a massage giver, a photographer or someone to just offer you support from a corner.

Many experts believe that kids under 2 shouldn't attend a birth and that children of all ages should attend a birthing class for siblings. If your older kids are going to be present, assign an adult to keep them from getting underfoot and monitor their perception of what's going on.

You're the boss

Whoever you invite must be clear that you'll be calling the shots. "The most important thing to tell people is, 'I may want you to leave at some point,'" Berreyesa says. "If suddenly you don't want somebody there, you need to be able to say that." Above all, draw clear boundaries with persistent parents, siblings or others who feel it's their right to attend. "Don't bring in anybody you have emotional baggage with; you will end up taking care of them," says Berreyesa.

This proved true for Beth G. when, acting against her instincts, she invited her mother-in-law to her baby's birth. "I wanted my husband's sister to be there, but I couldn't invite her without also asking his mom," Beth says. She overcame her reservations by making special instructions: If anything happened to the baby, the husband would go with the child, and the mother-in-law would stay with her.

"She violated my every wish," Beth says. "I had to have a C- section, and when they whisked my baby away, she followed her right out the door. I was left alone on the operating table, shaking and bawling." In retrospect, she says, it's important to question whether your visitor is there to support you or to just see the baby before anyone else does.

To dissuade eager but unwanted spectators, Berreyesa suggests this: Compare having a baby to a honeymoon — they're both basically private, couples-only experiences. You'll spare a lot of feelings.