Adapted from a recent online discussion.
My husband’s sister is expecting her first child in the next few months. My parents-in-law are over the moon about this, and it also seems like this is really important to her husband.
The thing is, I’m 98 percent sure she doesn’t want and never has wanted children. I was really surprised to hear the news. She has seemed really ambivalent throughout the pregnancy, and is acting a bit depressed and isolated now.
I worry that when the baby comes the disconnect will only be greater. New motherhood is isolating and exhausting, her husband works crazy long hours, and her mother can be a bit overwhelming.
My husband and I aren’t very close to her, but I worry about her. Any suggestions on how to support her in those difficult early days?
At this point, your best move is to put yourself in a position to see what kind of support she might need. Start checking in with her in a regular but non-invasive way. You live close, it sounds like? Since you notice how she’s acting? If that’s true, then you can invite her to something, or offer to help. Make the offers specific, though: “I’m running to the store, can I do some shopping for you?” Even plant the idea that you’re available for unburdenings, if you see an appropriate opening. “If you ever need to vent, I’m here.”
Re: Pregnant Sister-in-Law
I was the same way when pregnant. I was indifferent about babies and the idea was conceptual to me. When the baby came, it took a bit to warm up to my new life, but I did, and love my baby — now teenager — fiercely.
Does that always happen with every mother? No, but it’s a strong possibility she’ll embrace the baby once it’s actually here.
— The Same Way
If neither one of you were close to her before, why start now? Serious question. I’ve never been comfortable receiving overtures from people I’m not close to or who never made the effort. I assume they want something from me as everyone seems to want something from this sister-in-law: closeness, a baby, enthusiasm, etc. Maybe you should examine why you and your husband weren’t close to her to begin with before you start acting like her best friend.
— Not Comfortable
Hm. Easy to get lulled into the logic of this at the expense of more compassionate possibilities: That “Supportive” doesn’t “want something” from the new mom, but instead has awakened to the fact that the new mom might need her, or that both would be richer for a stronger connection. Or that maybe the sister-in-law’s friends are letting her down right now. Or it happens that maybe the ethos of leaving people to their own stuff is fine as an option but not as a default. Or that showing she cares is a lovely, low-key gesture that her sister-in-law, or others — this applies widely — can choose either to receive or politely decline, at which point “Supportive” takes no for an answer and steps back. Or that cynicism may explain some things but applying it to everything is an admission of spiritual defeat.
So, yeah. Maybe there were reasons they aren’t close, but maybe those reasons have changed.