The decision to have a child or children present at birth is an entirely personal one. This article by Dr Hannah Dahlen (midwife) explores the issues surrounding having children present at birth.
Seeing birth through children’s eyes has provided me with some of my fondest moments as a midwife. The wide eyes, the open mouths, the way their little tummies tense in time with their mothers contractions and best of all snuggling into bed together with mum and the new baby. Priceless comments like ‘put it back,’ ‘don’t touch it its mine,’ ‘do it again mum,’ ‘look Daddy, I found it’ and of course, ‘how did it get in there?’ are my favourites.
The decision to have a child or children present at birth is an entirely personal one. I am often asked what is the right age for this to occur? There really is no right age. I have seen two year olds that have loved the experience and seven year olds that have been terrified. How your child will react and whether having them at the birth is appropriate is something you will be able to judge best. Most importantly, you need to be committed to preparing your child for the event.
The most relaxed environment for children to experience birth is at home where they can wander into other rooms and play or sleep whenever they want to. Birth Centres are also relaxed environments for this because of their family centred approach. Delivery Wards can be a little more difficult because of the need to consider other women and the confinement of a room. I have, however, had many children present at births in the hospital environment that have managed very well.
The most important factor in having a child present at birth is that they are well prepared. This involves telling them about the pregnancy early on and being open about it. There will be lots of questions and if you are not comfortable about these then birth will be very confronting for them.
Involving children in the pregnancy helps them to adjust to the concept of a new sibling easier. Taking your child along to some prenatal visits and letting them listen to the baby’s heartbeat and feel your abdomen can help prepare them. If you are having your baby in a Birth Centre or in a Delivery Ward then take the child on a tour so the environment is more familiar to them.
A video of a birth can help prepare children for the process of birth, especially the sounds you will make when in labour. If you videoed or photographed your child’s own birth then you might want to let them see this. The situation will be even more real with you in the staring role! Play acting the birth can also help, as children often understand life better this way.
If your child has never seen you naked before, then having a bath with them can help make this more familiar.
You will need to choose a support person for the child. It needs to be someone you would want at the birth but also someone who gets on well with your child. The last thing you need when in labour is to be worrying about your child or have your partner unable to focus on you. Make sure the support person understands their role will be caring for the child and this may mean missing the birth if the child needs to be taken out of the room at any time. Also they need to be prepared to be on call for you in the last few weeks of pregnancy.
Make sure you don’t put pressure on yourself or the child to be there. Waking children up in the middle of the night (unless they are older and you’ve prearranged this) and forcing them to be present is not ideal. Whilst the labour is progressing make sure the child has plenty of entertainment and distractions. Always let your child know that if they want to leave the birth environment at any time this is okay. Children may feel they are letting you down if you don’t give them permission to leave.
If you want your child to be shielded from things like vaginal examinations then let the midwife know. Most midwives are receptive to children being at a birth and will work hard to reassure the child. If you have chosen a private obstetrician for the birth make sure they are happy to have the child present, as some may refuse
Give the child jobs to do, such as getting drinks and wiping your brow. When the baby is born let them help dress the baby with the midwife. Children love to pick the first outfit the baby will wear as this makes them feel special and able to have control over something.
Some parents like to organise a present to give to the child from the new baby. You can also get the child to draw a picture or make a present for the baby. Many people giving you gifts for the baby tend to slip in a small present for the other child or children to make them feel special. This should be encouraged as it helps to reduce jealousy especially from those closest to the child like the grandparents or favourite aunty.
Worrying how your first child will react to the new member of the family is a very natural process. The best way to minimise jealousy is to involve your first child in looking after the new baby. Having children at the birth of a new sibling can help them feel a part of the baby’s life. Some children become so involved that they actually believe they had a hand in creating the new baby. For some mothers there are feelings of guilt prior to the birth of another child. They feel they are somehow being disloyal to their other child or children, especially the youngest one. Parents can also find it hard to imagine that they could possibly find room in their hearts to love another child as they do the first. Having children at the birth helps make the new baby everyone’s responsibility and enables everyone to share in the joy.
A good book to help children prepare for birth is ‘Hello Baby’ by Jenni Overend & Julie Vivas, ABC books
A kid's perspective of birth . . .
A grammar school teacher from Miami, remembers this Oscar-worthy birth tableau from one of her students...
Well, one day this little girl, Erica, a very bright, very outgoing kid, takes her turn and waddles up to the front of the class with a pillow stuffed under her sweater. She holds up a snapshot of an infant. "This is Luke, my baby brother, and I'm going to tell you about his birthday. First, Mommy and Daddy made him as a symbol of their love, then Daddy put a seed in my mother's stomach, and Luke grew in there. He ate for nine months through an umbrella cord."
She's standing there with her hands on the pillow, and I'm trying not to laugh and wishing I had a video camera rolling. The kids are watching her in amazement. "Then, about two Saturdays ago, my mother starts going, 'Oh, oh, oh!'" Erica puts a hand behind her back and groans. "She walked around the house for, like an hour, "Oh, oh, oh!'" Now the kids' doing this hysterical duck-walk, holding her back and groaning. "My father called the middle wife. She delivers babies, but she doesn't have a sign on the car like the Domino's man. They got my mother to lie down in bed like this." Erica lies down with her back against the wall. "And then, pop! My mother had this bag of water she kept in there in case he got thirsty, and it just blew up and spilled all over the bed, like psshhheew!" The kid has her legs spread and with her little hands is miming water flowing away. It was too much! "Then the middle wife starts going push, push, and breathe, breathe. They start counting, but they never even got past ten. Then, all of a sudden, out comes my brother. He was covered in yucky stuff they said was from the play-centre, so there must be a lot of stuff inside there."
Then Erica stood up, took a big theatrical bow and returned to her seat. I'm sure I applauded the loudest. Ever since then, if it's show-and-tell day, I bring my camcorder - just in case another Erica comes along.