Bringing Siblings To Your Birth
Have you ever considered having your older children come to the birth of their newest baby brother/sister? What is your first reaction when you think about having your children come to your next birth? If your first reaction was, “Never!” you aren’t alone. Many people think children would be scared or scarred for life if they saw their moms (or anyone else for that matter) give birth.
I want to provide an alternative way of looking at bringing children to the birth of their new sibling. Children are curious by nature and most children love babies. Allowing a child to be part of the significant moment of introducing a new family member into the world can be a positive, unforgettable experience.
Penny Simkin, doula and childbirth educator extraordinaire co-authored a book called Birth-Through Children’s Eyes several years ago. I found a copy of it at half-price books when I was pregnant with my third child. I thought it would make a great resource for my birth class lending library. As I read the book, I started talking to my husband about having our oldest child (who had just turned 4) come with us to the birth center to be there for the birth. He was skeptical at first but as I shared from the book he became open to the idea.
In Penny’s book, she did a (small scale) study with some children and compared the experiences of children who had been at their sibling’s birth and those who hadn’t. She had the children draw pictures as a way for them to talk about the new addition to the family. The biggest difference between the two groups is that the children who DID go to the births felt more accepting and less jealous of the new baby than those who did NOT go to the birth. The siblings liked having a role in the birth and being one of the first people to hold the new baby.
All of the moms I know (myself included) who are having additional children ponder and talk about whether or not the other child(ren) will be jealous of the baby and take it out on either the baby or the mommy. Everyone in the family must readjust to the new family layout, that is true, and there are a lot of factors that can make that transition easier. Having family/friend/church support to bring meals, help out with laundry, and some light cleaning can be a relief to any mom. Talking with older siblings about how a new baby is coming and reading books about it together can help too. What if inviting older children to the birth of the new baby was an additional help?
Most people balk at the idea because we bring in our own fears, scary stories, and ideas about birth which makes it hard to see birth the way a child would see it. I mentioned before that children are curious by nature and love learning–and babies. Having them at birth does open up potential conversations about how human reproduction, how babies are made, and where they come from. True, those kind of conversations can make us nervous because we don’t want to say the wrong thing–my perspective is that I want my children to learn those things from me and I am willing to answer their questions. I don’t feel the need to explain everything to them .
I have some suggestions on how to make it work if you do decide to have older children come to the birth of their new sibling. Most of these come from Penny’s book and some other things I have read about it.
1. Have a friend/relative designated to be the child’s helper. Your children should have a good relationship with the helper. This person is there to help the child(ren) with activities, answer questions, and to be supportive to the child. They can watch the child and make sure that he/she is feeling comfortable or provide things to do during the labor (which can be boring to a child). Pushing the baby out is much more exciting! Preparing the child ahead of time so they know that daddy will be helping mommy and won’t be available to help him/her is important.
2. Plan activities ahead of time for the child: Bake a birthday cake or cupcakes and bring it to the birth so the child(ren) can frost and decorate while you labor. Bring books, paper, markers, crayons, play-dough to help pass time. Portable dvd players and movies with a sleeping bag can be a great way to settle down. If you are birthing at home then you can wake the child up shortly before it is time to push. If you are birthing in the hospital you can have the helper bring the child near the end of labor too–especially if it is in the middle of the night.
3. Help prepare the children coming to the birth by reading books about birth, show pictures, and watch some videos together. You tube is a great place to find some birth videos. Explaining to the child that birth can be messy is a good thing. It is good for them to know that they might see blood and that the baby might look kind of slimy when it comes out.
4. Give the child space to decide when he or she wants to be in the room. Forcing the child to be there when he doesn’t want to be will be distressing to him. (This is why you bring in a special helper.) Also if you, as the laboring mom, decide you don’t want the child there then you can tell your helper to take the child to another room.
We did have our oldest come to the birth and decided to have our middle child (who was almost 3) stay home. We made arrangements with some friends to come and sleep at our house should labor happen in the middle of the night so someone would be with him. My mom was our Ewan’s helper. We had asked Ewan if he wanted to come to the birth a few months in advance. He did so we started talking to him about how my mom was going to be his helper and pal at the birth center. We told him about the different things he could do while we waited for the baby to come.
Labor started in the middle of the night and Ewan was very excited about getting to be up. As I was pushing the baby out he saw a little blood and said, “I think I want to go watch a movie upstairs.” So off he went and we got him after the baby was out. We had a few complications (the baby’s shoulders got stuck and it was a little intense) so in the end we decided that it was probably a good thing that he decided to leave. He has had a very strong bond with Graham (the baby) and still talks about being at his birth. He remembers me making funny labor noises in the backseat of the car on the way, he remembers making cupcakes, he remembers holding Graham for the first time. He loved being there. Our middle child took longer to bond with the baby and warm up to him. Some of it may have been his displacement as the baby, or age, but I do wonder if he would have warmed up quicker had he been at the birth. If I could do it all over again I would have the same plan. If we have another baby, I will invite both the older boys to come to the birth for sure. I won’t know about Graham until we are closer to birth day.
So what do you think? Did you go to any of your sibling’s births? Were any of your children at any of your other births?