Leaving my 18 month old during labor with new baby

I am 35 weeks pregnant and a stay-at-home mom to my 18-month old Max. I am stressed about leaving Max with his Grandma when I go into labor because he gets hysterical around her. Max and I are rarely apart. I have been trying to leave him for short and long trips (5 minutes - 2 hours). I've been trying to leave him everyday for even a few minutes with the same neighbor, whom he loves when I am with him, and other people as well (all of whom he sees on a regular basis). However, nobody can get him to calm down. I'm worried that when I go into labor, he will cry for countless hours. I also worry because a screaming, crying toddler can try anyone's patience. Unfortunately, it's not an option for us to bring him with to the hospital. What can I do?

Tara

Tara-
First, I hear your worries about Max, and I understand them. I felt the same way, and my son was older. It is, of course, possible for your husband to stay with Max, rather than leaving him with anyone. But we also know that it will matter to have him with you during labor, as studies show that labor advances faster when women have support from a loved one.

So I also want to reassure you. It may be that Max will have a hard time during your absence from him. I understand how upsetting that is for you to contemplate. But your close relationship with Max until now has given him a strong foundation, and of course you will be there for him after the baby is born as well. It may be hard for Max while you are in labor, but he will recover and he will be ok.

Knowing that Max is strong enough to weather this storm, we still want to minimize the upset he has to endure. My recommendation would be for you to pick the person who will take care of Max while you are having the baby, and start working with that person to prepare Max. Leave him with that person as often as possible, for short and longer periods of time. Not other people. That will just traumatize him. The goal is not to help him get used to separation, because that is not how 18 month olds work. The goal is to help him build a relationship with this person, whoever it will be, so that person can calm him during your absence. The only thing that will help him cope with your absence is the presence of someone he trusts. Your goal is to help that person to learn to calm Max. It's ok if Max cries. What matters is that he has someone to comfort him while he cries, who won't just leave him to cry himself to sleep. Kids can make it through anything if they have someone to give them love and empathy.

You should also start preparing Max by talking about how you will go to the hospital to have the baby and he will go to (the neighbor? grandma?) but you will come to pick him up and take him home soon. You should stress that you ALWAYS come back to him.

I recommend making a book for him.
Page 1: The words: Mommy LOVES Max. Picture of you and Max.
Page 2: Mommy is having a baby. Mommy goes to the hospital to have the baby. Picture of pregnant Mommy, maybe outside the hospital.
Page 3: Max goes to stay with ________ while Mommy has the baby.
Picture of Max and ______, looking happy. You can add pages here of them doing fun things together.
Page 4: Max misses Mommy but _____ loves Max and tells him that Mommy will be home soon.
Picture of Max being held by ______.
page 5: Mommy comes back! Mommy always comes back!
Picture: Mommy hugging Max.

Max probably doesn't have a lot of words yet, but he does understand a lot. Reading a book like this that you make for him will be helpful to him. You could also start to give him other "help" in the form of stuffed animals, bottles, etc that he's attached to, and let the person who will take care of him during your labor start to use those comfort objects to help him when he's upset.

I also urge you to check out the info on this site on "Preparing your child for the new baby," in the pregnancy section.

You still have a little time before your labor. Hopefully these suggestions will help you prepare Max a little. But again, I want to reassure you that Max will weather this -- even if, heaven forbid, he cries himself to sleep. Your love and attention before and after will make all the difference in the world to his being able to handle this challenge.

Blessings to you and your family.
Dr. Laura

Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

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