Siblings At Birth

Compiled by Sheryl Wright using internet resources

I thought it would be good to include in the magazine an article on having older siblings at a homebirth, especially as with the homebirth option many parents today are considering or planning this, but I was unable to find a specific article, just a lot of references, so I decided I’d have just have to put them all together and write one myself…..

Things to consider: Firstly the most important thing to consider is the willingness / desire of the child to attend.  It is also very important to acknowledge the child’s rights to decide at any time that they don’t want to see the birth. Some children are very excited about it beforehand, and change their mind at the time, and vice versa. It could be traumatic to make a child watch a birth that they don’t want to.  Secondly how do you feel about having your children there?   It’s important that this is your decision and others do not convince you that this would be a good idea. Some women just can’t imagine not having them there to share such a special event, whereas others do not want the distraction of having them (or anyone else) present.   Be prepared to play it by ear and be open to changing your mind.

Some advantages are that watching the birth of a sibling is a great bonding experience for siblings and can help reduce rivalry – and its wonderful early sex education for kids, hard evidence that birth happens or should happen in the context of a loving family.  Many women find that having children there “grounds them” and gives them something else to thing about during labour.

Some other points to consider are:

If labour begins at night do you want to wake them?  With younger children it may be best to not wake them until well into labour.

If a transfer to hospital becomes necessary, do you want the kids to accompany you?  Some children may be frightened by the change of location, huge weird beeping machines, procedures (eg episiotomy), unfamiliar hospital staffs and the concern they can sense.  Make sure they are prepared for this, or if they are not going to come, make sure there is someone to stay with them and answer any concerns they have and to make sure they do not feel deserted.

Preparation:

Once the decision has been made to include them the next step is to make sure they are fully prepared.  Here is a list of ideas:

  • start with Mum & Dad talking a lot about “when the baby comes out”,
  • read age appropriate books with parents and be open about any questions they have
  • look at birth photos and talk about the process
  • watch birth videos
  • practise making “labour noises”.  Strange noises seem to be one of the biggies that bother’s kids – even the bigger ones!  It can be done in a fun and humorous way so when the time comes the noises are not unfamiliar.
  • draw pictures of mummy pregnant and of the baby being born
  • get into a pushing position and make “pushing noises” together  – explain that mum will be doing hard work and it might sound like she’s in pain (and will be in pain) but it’s a good pain”
  • talk about the “good blood” that they will see
  • movie’s or even real life experiences of people working really hard at something are invaluable for kids as they prepare for birth eg Olympic competition, marathons, weight lifting, etc. showing people who are working hard, red in the face sweating, grunting or yelling with exertion and happy to be doing it!
  • involve them in antenatal appointments – let them build up a trusting relationship with your midwife and ask the midwife to let them listen to the babies heart, show them the different “baby parts” by feeling your belly, allowing them to touch and see all the items in her birth bag etc.
  • play with someone else’s newborn so they are expecting a baby not an instant playmate
  • try role playing eg imagine pushing a refrigerator across the kitchen – what does your face look like? what sounds do you make? – this is letting them know that mum’s pushing noises are just the sound of hard work.
  • use age appropriate terms eg something like “Mummy might moan ‘”to call the baby to come out”
  • explain that mum won’t be able to help anyone else, and Grandma (or whomever) will be there just for the child.
  • remember young children interpret events they observe according to the interpretations of the other people around them. If other people are very calm, they’ll assume that this is a safe, calm event. Most young children are not “grossed out” by mud, poop or blood.

Remember the senses:

  • Sight: what birth looks like, what the baby will look like, what the placenta looks like, what white vernix is etc.
  • Sound: the loud sounds that mummy might make, the crying of the newborn etc
  • Smell: remembering mummy might not like a particular food smell while in labour, the smell of amniotic fluid, baby etc
  • Touch: practise comforting touches, massage etc or maybe Mummy won’t want to be touched at all etc.
  • Taste: what Mum might like to eat or drink while in labour etc.

Caregiver for the Child:

It is important to have a Caregiver for EACH child so that the birthing mothers support people are not distracted or involved in caring for the child’s needs.  Choose your support person carefully – they must be fully supportive of your choice and not easily freaked out – kids will pick up the moods and negative energy of those around them.  If no one in your family is suitable remember there are many aspiring childbirth educators, midwives etc who are very eager for the opportunity to observe ANY homebirth.  Also another woman considering the homebirth option may see this as a wonderful opportunity to see first hand what it ’s all about.

However the Caregiver must be committed to staying or leaving – whatever the child expresses a desire to do. So if you think they might try to influence your child to stay so they can see the birth, choose someone else.  Make sure the children have plenty of time before the birth to become comfortable with the Caregiver and that the Caregiver knows all of the child’s routines and preferences and where things in your house are.

Keeping Kids occupied During the Birth:

Especially with smaller children it’s important to have plenty for the child to do, as they really don’t understand why birth takes so long. Here are some suggestions:

  • Give the child a disposable camera – in addition to giving them something to do with their hands, it will give everyone some nice photos, and maybe their own personal photo album of the birth, which should enhance the bonding even further!  Also, cameras can have the effect of distancing the photographer from the immediacy of the event, so this would provide them with a way of remaining present while reducing the intensity if it’s getting to be too much.
  • Have the child prepare a backpack etc filled with snacks and a cassette player with headphones, book etc.  Have them pack their favourite pillow and sleeping bag if they want to “camp out”
  • During labour have them bake and decorated a birthday cake to eat after the birth or maybe colour some pictures for the baby.

Roles in the Birth:

Allow each child to participate at its own comfort level.  Maybe assign their own special “birth helper” job  eg announcing the sex, cutting the cord, helping weigh and measure the baby, cutting the birthday cake, announcing the new arrival to everyone who arrives after the birth or making some announcement phone calls etc.

Some Personal Accounts:

  • My daughters were 5yrs4mos and 3yrs1mo when their brother was born. My mother and grandmother were there for the kids.  My 5 year old was totally into it, rubbing my back and breathing with me. After the birth she said, with wonder in her voice, Oh Mummy, congratulations! That was so great. My 3 year old mostly remembered that after the baby was born she got a Popsicle!
  • My daughter was just turned 5 when she came to the birth of our third daughter. She was very “experienced” at seeing birth because she had watched ALL of the birth movies that I previewed during my pregnancy. She told me that she would not be scared and that if I screamed too loud that she would just cover her ears! We made sure that Lauren had a lot of things to do ie. sticker book etc. in case it was a long haul. Well, the baby was born after only 35min. Right after the baby was born, Lauren exclaimed, “I didn’t even have to cover my ears!” And, to show how normal birth is and the fact that children recognise this, as they were delivering the placenta, Lauren rushed over to me exclaiming, “Mum, LOOK! Look at my STICKER BOOK!!!!” Lauren is soon to be six now and still is talking fondly about “being there” when her sister was born. In fact she will still give anyone a play by play account of the birth if they give her a chance!
  • A friend of mine told me about a birth where young siblings were present and the Mum made very, very loud noises during the labour. Afterwards, the Dad asked the 2-year-old whether she was frightened during the birth. The 2-year-old responded that she had never been frightened because the midwives kept saying, “You’re doing great. Everything looks good.” Sometimes we forget how much little ones depend on adults to interpret their experience for them. There are things that scare adults that won’t scare a two-year-old who feels safe because all the adults are acting calm.

My Own Experience:

I asked Dylan (5yrs) what happened when Celina was born (he was 4 ½ at the time) and this is what he told me:

“Granny made Shaun and me scrambled eggs for dinner.  There was a pool there too but we didn’t get the baby born in it though cause we didn’t want to that day.  Rose helped us to get the baby Celina out of our tummy. Mummy pushed her out of her tummy so hard and I went outside with Grandad looking at things and then Grandma came and said Celina is born so we went inside and saw her and she screamed and screamed and I had a cuddle with her and that was good and it was a girl and then me and Shaun went to bed and then the other people had dinner.  In the morning we woke up and I came into my Mum’s room and I said “where is Celina” and Mummy said she is in her bassinette so I went there very very quietly and I saw her fast asleep and she was very tiny not like she is now. “

I asked Shaun who was just 2 at the time and he started to tell me about something that happened yesterday :-)

Article originally appeared in the newsletter of the Waikato Home Birth Association, November 1999. Republished with permission.

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