My husband and I are expecting our first child in July. My own mother lives across the country and isn't well, but my mother-in-law lives close by and has offered to come stay with us to help out when the baby arrives. I appreciate the offer and think she'll be a big help, but I'm also nervous about her being in my space for an unspecified amount of time during a potentially emotional and difficult time. What should I do?
Giving her a grandchild
B'sha'ah tova! You're very lucky to have a family member willing to help you out during those first days home, and if you're asking whether or not you should accept the offer, the answer is an emphatic yes! While I'm embarrassed to admit it, I've turned into one of those new parents I used to resent who says things like, "Enjoy sleeping now while you can," and "You have no idea what you're in for." However, both of those statements are 100% truth, and having someone around who is 1) less sleep deprived than you and 2) less scared of a new baby than you will make coming home from the hospital better than it might otherwise be.
Still, you can use the next couple of months to set some boundaries so that your addled brain and body won't end up saying something that your more rational self will regret (for example, asking your mother-in-law to move in permanently). Talk with your mother-in-law (or better yet, have your husband talk to her) to determine the length of her stay in advance. While you might wonder how you could possibly know how long you'll want her there (you can't), making a decision in advance and sticking to it will help all of you in the long run. She'll know how much to pack and you'll know how long you can depend on her/how long you have to tolerate her.
My parents stayed for a week after my daughter was born, and I'm pretty sure I stood at the door literally begging them not to leave. My mom said it was time for us to be alone as a family, and that we'd figure things out and that we'd be fine. She was right, of course (she usually is), but it was hard to see them go (and even harder to start doing my own laundry again). Based on my experience, I would use a week as a baseline, and tell your mother-in-law how fortunate you are that she lives nearby and can come back when you need her.
Finally, you describe your expectations for coming home from the hospital as "potentially emotional and difficult." Change that "potentially" to "definitely," and you're on the right track. It's great that you're being realistic about what those first days and weeks are like, but here I am to be one of those parents again: Enjoy them. There is nothing in the world like holding a newborn for hours upon hours every day and gazing at that sweet little face and counting those tiny toes. In addition to letting her help out, be sure to share those joyful hours with your mother-in-law, and when she's holding the baby, take a shower and a nap and be glad she's there to help.