Mother-In Law As My Birth Partner? Not In A Million Pregnancies!

20/10/2014 13:20 | Updated 20 May 2015

mother in law

According to one utterly baffling poll, one in five women would like their mother in law as a birth partner. Whaaaaat? Personally, I'd rather give birth up a tree with no pain relief and an audience of squirrels than have the MIL anywhere near my birth canal.

I can just imagine it: she'd be there with a bottle of vinegar (her answer for everything) telling me - and the midwife - just what to do and how they did it in 'her day.'

Before the cord was even cut, she'd be wrestling my seconds-old infant from my sweat drenched arms in a characteristic display of ''I'll show you how it's done.''

Harsh? Well, maybe. But it was bad enough when she came AFTER the birth. The idea of her even being in the same country for the delivery, is enough to put me off ever having sex again.

Fortunately, she wasn't in the same country, as she lives in her native Italy (that's right - chuck a few cultural differences into the mix, too).

The first seven days of motherhood were the happiest of my life. Despite the pain and exhaustion from a difficult birth, I lapped up my longed-for new baby with a love I'd never experienced.

Then on the eighth day, she arrived.

"Permesso?" (the Italian for 'can I come in?') she screeches, in her exhaust-pipe-scraping-tarmac voice.

My partner's mother, or Nonna, as she was to be known from that moment on, has only one volume: ear splitting. And she believes in repeating everything at least once.


If not, twice.


Discarding her suitcase, she made a beeline for my newborn son, threw her hands in the air with typical Italian gusto, then swiped him from my arms. Taken aback at her forthrightness, I tried to put it down it to excitement. He was after all her first grandchild, son and heir of her own beloved son.

Yet as she clutched my precious baby to her chest, my heart pounded. "Why doesn't she give him back now?" I thought, panic rising, as it hit me that Nonna had no intention of giving him back for the next seven days.

And so followed one of the worst weeks of my life. As she clung to my son, like a lioness guarding a cub, I felt like I was nothing more than a uterus which had borne her a grandson.

''You sleep, I'll look after him,'' she ordered.

It was the last thing I wanted. He was still so tiny, so new, I just wanted to soak him up. I was the one who should be bonding with him, not her. I should have stood my ground.

Instead, I went upstairs and wept. I felt robbed, violated, marginalised. And afterwards, so angry with myself. Why did I let her trample all over my needs and instincts as a new mum, not to mention the needs of my baby?

Looking back, I can't believe I was so weak, so unassertive. I can only put it down to the haze of hormones, sleep deprivation and the shock at having a domineering stranger (I barely knew her) barge into my life.

She was constantly hurling advice on everything from feeding to sleeping. She even told me to give him camomile tea. I ignored her, pretending not to understand.

Breastfeeding became my only solace, the only time my baby was all mine. Even then, she'd stand so close that I felt inhibited and self-conscious. She'd even tell me what foods to eat and avoid – despite never having breastfed her own children.

Another time she unexpectedly yanked up my top, revealing my ruinous postnatal belly. ''Che pancia!'' she exclaimed ('what a stomach!') I felt utterly violated and degraded. How dare she!

It was the longest week of my life and I counted down the days until she was on a Ryanair flight back home. Yet the battles didn't end there. Her far-too-frequent visits were a source of bitter resentment and stress - not to mention the rows with my partner.

I had to justify everything I did: not putting salt in my children's food, not letting them 'sweat out' a fever, not letting them run around barefoot - a scandalous offence in Italy, where colds are apparently caused by floors, not viruses, and not letting them eat biscuits and cake for breakfast (a seemingly acceptable food choice in Italy).

I'd always been fiercely independent and self-sufficient - why should motherhood be different? I didn't need someone telling me how to do the most important job of my life - especially someone whose opinions were so different to my own.

When my second and third children were born, I felt stronger and more in control. I insisted Nonna didn't visit for the first two months, giving us a chance to bond and get settled. My partner agreed. His acknowledgement of the hurt she'd caused was a vital part of the healing.

Only then could I see that however insanely insensitive Nonna had been in the past, this was due to our echoingly vast cultural differences, rather than malice. In Italy, when a child is born, so it seems, is a grandmother.

As my children grow, I no longer dread her visits. Juggling work and family is hard, so I appreciate the help rather than resent it - it is, after all, the only help I get. If she wants to clean I let her get on with it, without feeling undermined. And I've relaxed about her giving the kids treats (though ideally not for breakfast).

More importantly, she loves her grandchildren and they love her. She brought up her own three children single-handedly as she was widowed when the youngest was just a baby. I can't imagine how tough that must have been, so I don't begrudge her wanting to enjoy her grandchildren.

We've reached a ceasefire. Yet if I was to have another baby, I still wouldn't want her around for the birth anymore than I would for the conception.

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