Monday, October 26, 2009

Forming Opinions of Birth

I remember one morning, when I was three and a half, sitting on the end of my mom’s bed with my two-year-old sister. I had a flashlight, and every so often I would turn it on and use the light to peer at the little tunnel from which Daddy said that our baby brother was about to be born. I confess that I don’t actually remember watching his birth (although I know I did), but I remember the excitement of being there.
For various reasons I missed the next two siblings’ births, but at ten and a half I was wakened early one morning by my brother (the one I’d seen born) bursting into my room with the words “mom’s dilated to a six!” I remember that birth much more clearly, as well as the ones that followed two and five years later.

Birth is part of life, and I find it sad that in our culture it is so often hushed up or hidden. There is nothing dirty or shameful about birth. There should not be anything scary about it…and yet most women go into their first labor with little but screaming media renditions and horror stories to guide their expectations. How much more confident would we women be if we had been present for several births prior to doing it ourselves? How much more quickly would older siblings connect with the new addition if they witnessed the birth and even got to participate in things like cutting the cord or announcing the sex? (Wolf cut Bear's cord, and has requested to do so for this baby too.)
I know a number of women who invite their teen or pre-teen daughters to attend the birth of a younger sibling, presumably with the rationale that said daughter is nearing her own childbearing, but I wouldn't dream of limiting attendance to just daughters or only those over a certain age. In my experience it is the smaller children who actually show the most interest, and why not take advantage of their impressionable age to let them form their first opinions of what birth is? Imagine the impact we might have on our culture's concept of birth if little children of both sexes grew up comfortable with birthing! Imagine if not only the future mothers, but also the future fathers, and the future doctors, midwives, and nurses all had witnessed a birth (or several) prior to adulthood.

Some women have told me that they think their children would be upset at the sight of mommy in pain, or would be distressed by “all the blood.” I suppose every child is different, and perhaps some would not do so well at a birth…but my tenderhearted Wolf showed nothing but excitement when he watched Bear’s birth, and both boys have informed me in no uncertain terms that they want to see this baby be born.
Obviously I would not force a child to be present if they didn’t want to be...but I hope to always keep the option open for my children. I do take the time to explain the physical process of birth (the baby is in mommy's uterus, the uterus will start squeezing to get the baby out, the baby will come down and out through a tunnel called the birth canal). Depending on the age of the child, we might look at diagrams or photos in books to enhance their understanding.
I also try to help them understand some of what will happen (mommy will be working hard, so she might make weird noises or be loud because she's working. She might be tired and sore and won't be able to hold you or play with you while the baby is coming. There might be some blood but it's ok because nobody is hurt it just goes with the placenta...)
I also show them some birth videos--yes, graphic show-it-all videos. I preview them first of course, but I think it's healthy for them to see that one woman might just hummmm and another might scream and holler and it's ok either way. I think if they see it on film first it helps them be comfortable with whatever may happen in real life.
Finally, I arrange for a "kids' doula" or babysitter...It's not truly a babysitter, because I'm not sending the kids away to be babysat. It is someone that they feel comfortable with and that I feel comfortable with, who can attend to their needs (food, sleep, play, etc) during my labor, answer their questions, take them out if they feel uncomfortable, and make sure they able to see as much as they want to see.

So, I'm curious what you think. Did you ever get to witness a birth before you were there as the parent? Would you invite your children to witness their sibling(s) birth(s)? What sorts of preparatory measures would you utilize?

Incidentally, lest anyone think that this sibling-attendance thing is limited to homebirths, or birth center births, it's not. Bear was born in a hospital. Being in a hospital or other such facility makes it all the more important that there is someone specifically designated to supervise the siblings, but they can still attend the birth.


Niki said...

I think that it makes total sense. I wish that I had birthed at home and let my children be apart of the experience. I have never been blessed to watch a birth but I am hopefull that there is still time in my life to do that! Good luck and go with your gut!

Jennie Yri said...

I haven't actually given birth, but I really appreciated my sister letting me be there for the birth of her second child. I had vague ideas of what I wanted for birth before then, but being there with her, I realized in much more detail and more concretely.

It was such a special experience for me too. When I do give birth, I would want my other children to be there, just to partake in that special moment.

sara said...

I've done pretty much the same to prepare my kids. With my first homebirth my mom came to watch my almost 4 year old. With my second homebirth my oldest stayed asleep and my younger one was 2.5 at the time. She woke up and wasn't upset about anything (I was VERY calm and comfortable for that birth) BUT she wanted to get in the pool and she got upset when we wouldn't let her. We ended up calling my parents and they came and watched videos with her. My oldest didn't want to see the birth. With my third they were all bugging me really bad LOL. I had kind of wanted them to be there but it was just too much even when they were trying to be quiet. It was the 4th of July though so I sent them with my parents to the fireworks. With my recent birth my oldest didn't want to see it. My others did sometimes. My 4 year old did NOT like the placenta. My 2 year old was awake and with me the whole time. He was great until the end and then he started to get upset because I was making a lot of noise. Even though we practiced he was worried. We had a UC but a friend came to photograph and got there just a few minutes before the baby was born. I asked her to grab my oldest daughter to come be with Elliot but the baby was born before she got in there. I think I decided I don't like the kids in there with me. It's just one more thing I'm conscious of and I really like to just get lost and snuggle up with my husband. This could turn into a whole post because there are a lot of variables and reasons in here for me LOL.

Anyway - movies were the best way to make the kids comfortable with birth. We started with animal movies and then on to people. Now whenever I play a video my boys run over and say - are they having a baby?!

Another thing that helps is giving them a job. My 2 year old brought me drinks with this last birth :)

natalie said...

I definitely want my daughters present at sibling births, depending on their comfort level. Not sure about boys- not that I think that it is inappropriate, just not sure I would be comfortable with it.

I was never at a birth before my own. I appreciated all the birth stories in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, as well as all the great natural birth videos on YouTube, though!

Katie said...

I never saw a birth myself but would absolutely have my kids watch their siblings' births. I'm not sure how to get the younger siblings exposed to birth, but at least the older ones have been.

Mommy Bee said...

I should mention--yes, my siblings' births were at home. But Bear's birth was not--and yes a sibling was still able to attend a hospital birth. It's not something that is limited per se by location.

Mallory said...

I have never witnessed a birth before. I really would love it, I think. I hope that my kids will all want to be there when siblings are born. My husband isn't sure about little boys being there, but I like how you have made it an option. I think I will present it that way: they can be there if they want, but the don't have to be. I like how you use the term "kid's doula". Love it! I don't know if I would have them watch videos, or if I would just explain things and use educational books.

Stacy said...

My girls were 7 and 5 last year when I had their little brother at home. At first I was hesitant to have them there for all the reasons you mentioned. But as time went on, I thought how silly it would be to deprive them of the opportunity to see that birth is normal!

My five year old went to all the prenantal visits, and knew all about birth. She asked to watch birth videos, and we talked about it all the time. She was the first to wake up when I was in transistion and not being very quiet. She just came in, snuggled in with my mom and I wasn't aware of her again until after Max was born. Someone went and woke up my oldest daughter right before Max was born, but again, i wasn't aware that she was there until after.

The moments that we spent togther as a family after the birth are very precious memories. My middle daughter was begging to hold him while my midwife was still resecutating him!

I am so glad my girls have had a chance to see that birth is normal. They proudly tell anyone who will listen that they got to see their baby brother be born. My oldest wrote a story about it in 2nd grade, and I overheard my middle daughter tell a friend, "Some babies are born in the hospital, some babies are born at home, and some babies are born in the car!" (Because she was!)

Destiny said...

I got to watch my cousin being born when I was about 10. I thought it was the most awesome thing I had ever seen. I'm hoping to have my girls, who will be 7, 5,and 2, present at this birth. I just need to find someone other than my husband who can be there.

Kaylie said...

I don't think I would, just because I know my kids, and they would get bored and demanding, making it difficult for me to focus. But kudos to you for making it work!

Nicole D said...

I had my eldest two (then 3 and 6) at their brother's birth 3 years ago. It was hospital (after transfer from home for what I thought was ineffective labor), but still beautiful and the kids did wonderfully!

Nicawest said...

I am planning my 3rd homebirth and this time I really feel like I want my kids to experience it. I didn't have anything against them attending before. It's just that they were sleeping every time. At least 3 out of the 4 kids have expressed a desire to witness this one. I'm all for the experience, but I sometimes wonder how they will be. I think that they could end up annoying me while I am laboring. I know that probably sounds bad, but I like to be alone in labor. They may sleep through it again. I don't have anyone that I can have here for them and it looks like it will end up being another unassisted. We'll have to see how it goes.
I don't know how it is where you are, but I am hearing that hospitals are not allowing kids anywhere near L&D even to visit a new sibling. My sister just had a baby in Albuquerque and her 4 kids had to wait until she was home from the hospital to meet their new sibling. Where I am, I'm hearing that people aren't allowed to be in waiting rooms unless they have a real reason to be waiting (as in- for a procedure). They can't be just hanging out. So, at least right with the h1n1 scare, it might not be possible for siblings to attend a birth in all hospitals. :(

~Aimee~ said...

I watched my younger brother's birth, four days before my 6th birthday. I remember running down the hallway and coming into the hospital room just as he crowned and was born. My sister was also there, but only 3 1/2, so she doesn't remember it. It was an exciting event to be apart of. Likewise, when I gave birth to my baby boy at his grandparents' home earlier this summer, my 2 1/2 year old daughter was in attendance. It was early in the morning, and she had spent the night there, so was sound asleep when I arrived, in transition. But my roaring woke her up and my sister brought her in. She didn't seem to react too much, because she had just woken up, but I am glad she was there. It will be something special she and her brother will have, even if they don't remember it.

For any future births, I would love both my kids to be there for their younger sibling's arrival. I didn't do too much to prepare my daughter, but I will do more next time. I remember my mom reading me books with great pictures about the development and birth of a baby. It was fascinating and as such, I have always been pretty comfortable with babies, pregnancy and birth.

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