Reason number 8 to homebirth: your other children can be present.
Why on earth would you want children at a birth?
My original post 40 reasons to have a home birth: Some may surprise you listed number 8 as Your other children can be present.
While many people may have an immediate recoil at the thought of children being at a birth there are some valid and important reasons to include children in the birth of a baby into the family.
Depending on your preferences, the children’s needs and circumstances children may be present for part of labour, the whole birth or come in the postnatal period immediately after the baby has been born. Everyone’s experience and needs are different. Every child is different
Here are a few reasons women choose to have their children at a birth.
- Birth is viewed as a family event in which to include children.
- They don’t want to be separated from their older children
- Jealousy may be reduced if the child is part of the process
- Children can be a comfort to a labouring mother
- They are still breastfeeding the older child
- They simply do not have a caregiver available for the older sibling/s
In my experience as a midwife I have found the most suitable environment for children to be present at a birth is at home. They are emotionally safer on their own home, able to wander in and out of rooms they are already familiar with. The rules and policies are all yours to make.
Having children attend a birth in a hospital or birth centre environment can be challenging without the support and judgement of caregivers.
As if preparing for the birth you want with negotiation, birth planning and more isn’t hard enough having a caregiver judge you for wanting your children present at a birth can add undue stress to your birth experience.
I have witnessed women being told they are sick, perverted, cruel and selfish for wanting to provide the opportunity for children to be present at a birth. Organisations can make it so problematic for women to have their children present with rules, policies and attitude that women simply decide it is easier to abandon the idea all together.
Some birth centres and hospitals are children friendly and will have policies and guidelines around roles and responsibilities to have children attend the birth. A child at birth in institutions tends to be a rare exception whereas a child’s presence is much more common at homebirth.
Birthing at home means you are in the control seat and it is your decision who shall and who shall not be present
Children are robust
Children are robust and I have found they do not have the preconceived ideas about birth (and death for that matter) that adults do. When provided with age appropriate facts and prepared well with books, videos and discussions children not only cope with birth they integrate it into their world as a natural life event.
When we hide things from children they make up scenarios and fill gaps in knowledge with their imagination and sometimes misinformation from which we are unable to guide or protect them.
What messages are our children already receiving about birth?
Popular TV shows and movies often portray birth to be noisy, messy, ugly, frightening emergencies. We learn birth usually has a sudden frightening onset, a frantic rush to hospital and usually ends up with life saving surgery.
Frequent news stories portray Paramedics, Taxi drivers and fathers as Hero’s who saved the day “delivering” (do not get me started on that word!) babies in unplanned venues, usually along the roadside or a hospital car park. The real shero, the birthing woman, barely rating a mention herself.
One of the most wonderful parts about being an independent midwife was developing a relationship with a woman and her family. So often an antenatal appointment included children who would eagerly help with my equipment, help measure Mummy’s tummy, listen to the baby’s heartbeat and ensure their own baby dolls had adequate antenatal care too.
As monthly visits became weekly, I would become a known person to these children who knew exactly what a midwife was and their role in society.
Being actively involved in the pregnancy also seems to help prepare them for becoming a sibling.
What aged is it suitable/appropriate for children to witness birth?
I have seen children of many ages at birth, from other babies to teenagers and young adults. A child’s capacity to witness a birth is not to do with age but to do with the preparation. Whatever the age, I hope this goes without saying; a child should not be forced to be present at a birth against their will.
Have a plan
A birthing woman must only ever have one role and that is to birth. Many are happy to attend to distracting tasks in early labour such as baking a cake or folding washing and tending to children. However once labour is full and strong she needs to get into her birthing zone and not be concerned about any other tasks, work emails, household duties or the welfare of others. The birthing woman needs to be protected from predators’, interruptions, logical tasks and thoughts and just BE in labour.
This means there needs to be a plan in place for the care of her other children while she labours and births. She needs her support person and so do the children and this needs to be two different people.
When preparing for birth I ask women to have in place a plan and preferably a plan B too, for a designated caregiver for other children. Someone she is happy to also have in her birthing space if it is likely the children will stay and attend the actual birth.
It is important this caregiver fully understands their role and expectations. They need to be happy to miss the birth themselves if the children want to leave the room or if the birthing woman asks for them to be removed. Furthermore, they also need to be available and on call in the weeks leading up to the birth.
Preparation for the child
There is much you can do to help a child prepare physically and emotionally for birth
- Include them in the antenatal care and checkups.
- Have them meet the caregivers before the birth
- Role play
- Watch videos
- Read books (Hello Baby is my favourite)
- Answer questions honestly with age appropriate information
- Include them in shopping for baby items
- Include them in purchasing or gathering item for the birth.
- Assign them a task, such as ice for mummy, discovering the gender of the baby
My own experience: Or rather my own children’s experience at a birth
At the birth of my third child, Gemma, Stacey aged 7 and Chris aged 5 were both present. The ability to have them there with no negotiation and hassle was a huge advantage to me. Also it ensured that birth was demonstrated by my example not a medical emergency but a normal physiological family event.
I chose not to show them videos thinking perhaps this may provide them a singular view on exactly what to expect and I would probably deviate from this myself. Instead we read books, looked at pictures, role played a little and purchased items together. Basically I integrate preparations into normal daily activities.
In preparing the practical items we gathered the birthing gear into the baby bassinet. This included face clothes, essential oils, music CD’s, mirror, torch, camera. With the addition of each item came the opportunity to explain an aspect of the birth to the children.
The actual birth
My midwife Mary had a 12 month old at the time of Gemma’s birth, who also came along. When Mary arrived her baby, Mairead, was asleep in the car which was parked right outside Stacey’s bedroom window. A little while after Mary arrived; Stacey woke to the sound of a crying baby. She stumbled out to the lounge, with her blonde hair all askew, rubbing her sleepy eyes concerned she had missed the birth. Fortunately it was just Mairaed waking up in the car.
I explained the noises I might make in labour and that Mummy might even swear. Chris took great delight into recounting for me the day after the birth “You said Fucking Shit Mummy!” He repeated the words proudly with his bright eyes wide open and his cheeky dimpled grin flashing. Interestingly, now aged 28 Chris has no recollection of the birth.
My mother was chosen to be the caregiver for Stacey and Chris because she lived close by and was very close to them. Next to my husband she was the closest adult in their lives at the time. I trusted her with them, knew she would do whatever I asked and the children would listen to her. Her brief was to remove the children if she felt they were distressed at all or if I asked her to take them.
Sometime after the birth, she did take the children to her house to tell Grandad the news and to allow me a rest with baby Gemma. Then they came home again totally relaxed having had no undue separation and loving the new baby.
What is your experience?
Have you ever birthed with children resent?
Did you wish you had but never thought it an option?
Have you eve witnessed he amazing grace and unconditional acceptance children demonstrate at a birth?