Monday, June 21, 2010

Children at Birth

Something important we had to ask ourselves when pregnant with our 2nd child was whether we'd have our first child (newly 3 years old when baby was "due") present for the birth.  We sat down and discussed it with our midwife who has 8 children of her own and a few grandchildren.  All of them,except the youngest of course, had seen the births of their younger siblings and the experiences had all been positive.  As a midwife, she had also attended countless births with children present.  She talked about how she believes it eases the transition, and made it more real for the children to see that baby was truly part of mommy, not just something they picked up at a store!  It had been my gut instinct to want our whole little family together for it if possible, and it was nice to hear that so many others had positive experiences with it.

I watched a LOT of home and water births online and my daughter was often right there with me, always watching raptly and responding with an "awww, pretty baby!" as soon as the tiny little messes made their way into the world.  I loved how she could see past all the goo and sometimes screaming, and just see the beauty of what was happening.  When we first watched one where the mother was making some intense birthing noises, I explained to her that was because she was working hard. I had her pick up something kind of heavy, and when she made a little grunt, I pointed it out to her.  I said "see, sometimes we make noises when we work hard.  Mommies work VERY hard to get the babies out, so that is why sometimes the noises are loud".  I told her that the blood wasn't the same kind of blood from "owies".  It didn't mean the mommy and baby were hurt.  She told me she knew that already.  How silly of me, lol.  She watched all those videos with me like it was the most normal thing in the world, which it is, but I was surprised at how none of it ever seemed to alarm or confuse her.  I just let her see all the realities of birth in those videos and she just took her cues from me and stayed calm but interested and often even deeply touched.  I wanted her first exposures to birth to be "real", and not Hollywood horror-stories.  

Our plan was to follow her cues and let her be present when/if she was comfortable.  We had a family member who was prepared to come to us when it was time, and be our daughter's "partner" through it all.  She'd be cared for so we could focus, and her partner would be there to answer questions, or take her elsewhere if she wanted to.  She would be free to come in and out as she felt comfortable, unless I ended up needing my space and some quiet time, then she could be taken to the park or to a family member's house.

Unfortunately, some things didn't go as planned.  My premature and prolonged rupture of membranes without contractions, and subsequent decision to birth with my midwife at the center instead of our home threw things off a bit.  Since my labor wasn't starting after my waters broke, we had no idea how long it would take, so our daughter was taken to her aunt's house nearby so she could eat/sleep/play/etc.  It ended up taking a couple of days, and when labor finally started it went too quickly for them to get our daughter out of bed and to the birthing center.  Alas!  We were sad she missed the opportunity, but we went home soon after birth and she got to meet her baby sister when she was still fairly fresh ;-)

I myself missed my baby brother's birth by just a minute!  I was 8 at the time, and my mother had him in just one contraction!  My grandmother and I made it to the door just in time to hear his first cries.  I have yet to be physically present for any birth but my own, but my best friend has invited me to be at hers, so I may finally get the chance soon!  I toss around the idea of being a doula when my children are older, but I suppose I won't know for sure until the time comes.

Anyhoo, I hope that having your older child/ren present for your future births is something you would consider if circumstances allow.  I hope our future generations can grow up understanding birth instead of fearing it as the media and doctors seem to want us to, and knowing the unique experience of seeing how their siblings enter the world.  I think it may also give them a whole new respect for mommy and what she does ;-)

Here are a few stories and photos shared by my readers.  Enjoy and feel free to add your own in the comments section!  

(click photos to enlarge)

"My daughter was born at home in October and my son was there for all of it. It was all a fairly low key affair. I was doing hypnobabies so it was very quiet.  We had a friend come over to hang out with West. I went into labor around 5:30 pm and my son just played as normal until it was time for his bed time, which was around 8 pm. It was weird, normally he can be very clingy to mommy and daddy, but on this day it was like he sensed something profound was happening and gave both me and my husband some space. At 7:50 pm my husband left me in the birthing tub to go help with putting West.... we thought we still had hours to go, as labor had not gotten even remotely hard yet, and John didn't want to miss out of West's bedtime routine. At 8 pm my husband came back to the birth tub and 2 mins later Mabel was born... two very intense non-pushing contractions and bam she was out. Since West wasn't yet asleep we got him out of bed and brought him downstairs to meet his sister just 10 mins after she was born." -Kimberly

"My daughter was 25 months old when my son was born at home. We wanted her to see him come out because both my husband and I thought it must be strange for kids for siblings just to appear one day. We prepared by watching every baby show on TLC (so she knows all about c-sections now too) and homebirth on YouTube. She now says "Baby come!" when she hears the sounds of a laboring woman on TV. I wanted to make sure my moans and screams wouldn't scare her--that she would associate it with happiness.
I knew I wouldn't be able to handle her being around during labor though, so we planned for my parents to be in charge of her for those hours. Luckily, I ended up laboring from midnight to 7am, so she slept the entire time. When the head was (finally) visible, we called for my parents to bring her in. I like a party for the actual birth! They held her as she watched me push him out. We still dealt with jealousy, but she knew we couldn't put him back!"  -Aimee,

"My then 3 year old was present for his little brother's birth in August '09. It was great. We had talked a lot about how I was going to probably holler and that he baby would come out of my hoo hoo and that he was welcome to be there but if he didn't want to he could go somewhere with Grandma or Grandpa (I gave birth at their house) in the end, my water broke at 5 am ish, so he was woken up by the commotion and he was just super excited about being woken up in the middle of the night. He hung around for most of it, I guess for a little bit he watched cartoons with grandpa in the next room, but I remember him being there through the thick of it and only once did he look a little concerned - I smiled and told him it was OK I was just yelling 'cause it made me feel better, and he smiled and was totally relieved. He was there as Boone came out. I think it went great. He isn't too freaked out by that kind of stuff though, I can see how other kids might be more sensitive and upset by the whole thing. I think just playing it by ear and having somebody available to take them away from it if they want to get away is the best way to go. "
-Dylan Branson

"My son was four when my daughter was born.  I decided to have a water birth at home with my daughter, so this obviously meant my son would be there.  We prepared him for what he would see by talking to him about birth, explaining all the noises mommies make when they are in labor and giving birth and just what to expect in general.  He also attended all of the prenatal visits with our midwife and she always included him.  Also, we showed him a lot of water birth videos so he could see for himself what was going to happen.  It was very important to us that he think of everything as normal and natural, and not fear mommy was sick or something was wrong.  I went into labor around 2:00 in the morning, my doula got there around 3:00 am and my midwife around 4 am.  I'm guessing my son probably woke up somewhere around 6 am and he just watched quietly as the process unfolded.  He sat at the side of the tub and wasn't scared and knew he would be greeting his baby sister soon.  My daughter was born at 8:24 am and he was right there to greet her along with my husband.  It was very nice to have our entire family immediately there, going through that process together, and I do feel it caused a deeper bond between them.  After she was born my son always referred to her as "my baby."  The other benefit of this?  Since my son has seen, from a very early age, normal birth not treated like a sickness or something to be ashamed of he looks at it as a natural part of every day life.  He can tell you many things about pregnancy and birth that a good percentage of adult males could not.  If he ever grows up to get married and / or have a baby, he will already be informed and won't be one of those guys going, "Ewww, this is gross!! What if I pass out?  Yuck, is that amniotic fluid?"  In my career, working in labor and delivery, I deal with men like that all the time and am always grateful some poor woman will never have to put up with that from my son!"  -Tatum


PegHead said...

Great post, as usual!!

Ashley said...

I have to comment on this! Its amazing. I love it when older siblings get to be involved with the birth of their new brother or sister. We prepped our 2yr old daughter to high heaven. Hoping that it would ease the possible pain of a new baby. Well.. It turns out I had little interest being around anyone while I was in labor and when the time came and her baby sister came out she had NO INTEREST what so ever. And for a couple of days paid her no attention. 7 weeks later she loves her sister to death and has no issues with the new baby. I like to think that just having her in the same apartment just feet away from where I gave birth made the transition easier for her.

Thank you for your post.

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