Five great ways to keep the whole family connected to the pregnancy By Russel Lissau
Photos by Frank Pinc / Chicago Parent
Ann Sakalys, her husband, Paul, and their son, Jake, await their newest family member and stay connected to Paul's mother and step-father, Arvin and Rita Karas, and Ann's parents, Rita and Bruce Watson. Haley, their dog, is ready too..
One of the challenges my wife and I encountered when she became pregnant with our first child was how to keep our many relatives involved in the pregnancy without going bonkers. Everyone had good intentions, of course, but the frequent requests for medical updates, the inquiries about possible names and the constant current of unsolicited advice heightened our already-elevated tension levels. To complicate matters, my parents live 1,400 miles away and were disappointed about not participating firsthand in traditional grandparent-to-be activities such as shopping for maternity clothes, equipping the nursery or planning the baby shower. We definitely had some moments, but we fought urges to temporarily disconnect our telephones or move into a hotel under assumed names. Instead, my wife and I thought up several good ways to involve everyone in our experience. Give these tips a try if you're facing similarly stressful circumstances. They're more fun than dealing with the phone company--and considerably cheaper than a nine-month hotel stay. Triumph through technology Modern technology is a wonderful thing, and you should exploit it however you can during your pregnancy. With personal computers, digital or 35-mm cameras, scanners and video equipment, there are plenty of ways to use high-tech gear to your advantage during this time. If you use e-mail at home or work, try writing a weekly (or biweekly or monthly, depending on how much time you want to dedicate) newsletter to let people know how you're feeling, how you look, what the doctor says, how the nursery is coming along or whatever else you want to say. Create an electronic distribution list so you can easily send bulletins to everyone at once. We even mailed photocopies of ultrasound photos to relatives across the country. If you are lucky enough to get videocassettes of your ultrasound examinations, these can be easily copied and distributed as well. "This is a wonderful way to involve your family, especially when parents live out of state," says Dr. Julie Snow, an obstetrician-gynecologist with Women's Health Specialists at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, who gave birth to her first baby last year. "My parents live in Connecticut, and we sent them copies of the video. They thought it was just amazing." Videotapes or still photographs of the nursery being equipped, baby showers and other baby-related activities could be treasured keepsakes, too. If you've got the know-how, consider creating a personal Web site that would offer these movies and photos for all to see. Get crafty Just about everyone's got a hobby of some sort. My mom's is knitting. So we asked her to share her talent with us by crafting things for our baby. She knitted beautiful sweaters, hats, mittens and booties in colors that would have been appropriate for a boy or a girl. One of my wife's uncles enjoys carpentry; he built our daughter a beautiful rocking horse. If you have artistically minded relatives--or even some who just think they are--use their pastimes to your advantage and ask them to create something for your soon-to-be-expanding family. Does your brother paint or draw? Ask for a picture for the baby's room. Does your grandmother enjoy needlepoint? Subtly suggest that a baby-related sampler would look great in the den. Does your aunt enjoy reading? Send her some children's books and blank audiotapes, and invite her to record herself reading aloud so the baby can become familiar with her voice. Everyone has advice Are you sick of hearing unsolicited advice about pregnancy and babies from everyone you know--and plenty of people you don't? Turn the pestering into a positive practice by deliberately soliciting advice from certain people. Ask them to type their tips about morning sickness, natural childbirth, colic and other topics on single sheets of paper, and then stuff the sheets into envelopes that identify the source and subject covered. Soon you'll have a stack of homemade pamphlets that will rival the free brochures you can find at your doctor's office. They may not be as scientifically reliable as those slick leaflets, but real-life experience from someone who's been in your shoes can be just as valuable. Climb a tree "So," the all-too-frequent question started, "have you picked names yet?" In fact, we started thinking about what to name our baby shortly after my wife became pregnant. (Well, to be totally honest, we thought about it even before we tried having a baby.) Whether a boy or a girl was on the way, we knew we wanted to honor our maternal grandfathers. Superstitious first-time parents that we were, we didn't want anyone else to know that right away and dodged the question as gracefully as we could whenever it arose. Unfortunately, people kept asking. If you're in the same quandary, ask your relatives to team up on a family tree. Thanks in part to the Internet and special computer software, genealogy is all the rage today, and you can capitalize on this trend by encouraging your loved ones to research your ancestors. Family trees are a wonderful way to teach your children, once they're old enough, about where they came from, and the resulting reports could yield some terrific possibilities for names. "A parent will pull a name from an aunt or an uncle and give it to a child," says Dorothy Dolph, a member of the Lake County Genealogical Society, which is based in Mundelein's Fremont Public Library. "And it's a great way to bond with aunts and uncles and cousins." Photos--they've got photos One of my favorite presents from our baby shower didn't come from our gift registry. It was a thick album my mother made for us--and for our baby--of my childhood, starting from infancy. Each page showed a different period in my life and various memorable events, from birthday parties to graduation ceremonies. Hand-written captions topped off a truly one-of-a-kind present. Ask your parents to fashion similar albums. If they're anything like my folks, they've got boxes of dusty, yellowing photographs they'll be happy to share. They'll have fun putting the albums together, and you'll have a blast reviewing the pictures. And one day, you can all share those memories with your children and let them know what kind of kid you used to be.
Russell Lissau is the father of one child and a staff writer for the Daily Herald. His work also has appeared in Chicago magazine, North Shore and The Advocate.