It wasn't an easy birth by any means. My sister was posterior, or sunny-side-up. The labor was long & hard but I had a job. I was freshly 11 years old & the idea of being needed in such an important moment was literally life changing. My job was to pour the water on my mothers back while she labored on her hands and knees in the birth tub. When she powerfully roared her baby into the world, I realized my mother was the fiercest person I would ever know.
The course of my life changed that day.
Here I am, a doula, childbirth educator, & counting down the months until my midwifery apprenticeship starts. I can trace the current path of my life to the moment my sister was born.
For that reason alone I strongly support having siblings at births.
However, the choice to have your other children present at your birth is a big one. Please, consider the following seven things before making your choice to have siblings at the birth.
1) Consider YOUR kids.
Consider their ages, specific needs or sensitivities, temperament, and level of interest. If my mother would have tried to leave me behind, I possibly would have snuck into her car and popped out at the birth center. I was DYING to be involved. Talk to your children and ask them if they want to be there. Remember, birth is a very intense experience to witness. If you child asks to not be there, respect that and don't take it personally.
Consider the specific personalities of your kids. Maybe the idea of having your older child there is calming and your toddler present makes your heart race. A birth space needs to be calm & quiet. So, consider if the behavioral expectations you have of your child are fair.
2) Have a designated sitter.
This was the most common suggestion from women who loved having their other children present at the birth & a common regret of those who did not enjoy it. I am NOT talking about your birth support people. So, when considering who will help with your littles, do not count your birth coach, your doula, or your midwife as possibilities. They already have their plates full ensuring you are well cared for. Get another set of hands on deck & be very clear of their responsibilities. We can't have you worrying about the toddler when you need to be focusing on relaxing & bringing your new baby earthside.
3) Create a separate space.
Be it your separate birth space or the separate children's space, create a place that keeps those two things apart, should you need that suddenly. Our advice is to create a fun space, far from your birthing space in the home or birth center. If you're having a hospital birth, ask where the family waiting room is and have a bag of quiet activities ready. Have quiet but engaging activities your designated sitter can use to keep the kids entertained. Sticker books, coloring, puppets, movies, books, puzzles, Legos (depending on age) are all great options.
Often times, if a mother becomes overwhelmed with the other children she has at the birth, it happens quickly. Having that space prepared beforehand can speed that transition, if it is needed.
4) Have an exit plan. Not for you, for them. Even if you have a designated sitter & separate space, sometimes they just need to go. Maybe your spunky toddler can't get over the fact mommy is down on their level and on all fours. Maybe your older child is overwhelmed, afraid, or just plain bored. Have an exit plan in mind. Grandparents or friend's houses can be a great option. Plan this ahead and be sure they know the kiddos may be dropped off at any time. You may never need it, but it is nice to have the plan in place. One less thing to worry about!
5) Give older kids a job.
Every job is important when it comes to labor support. Have the 6 year old hold the hose while the tub fills. Have older kids filling water bottles or grabbing snacks. Even toddlers can pour water onto mommy's back. Keeping kids engaged and participating reduces the chance they can get into distractions. So, talk to them before labor begins about things they may be asked to do. They may want to practice or learn more so they can help you their best when the time comes.
6) Prepare them.
If your child is old enough for you to consider having them at your birth, they're old enough to watch birth videos. Be sure they're entirely aware of what they're choosing to be part of. Talk to them. Read books & answer questions. This will both ensure they are able to make an informed choice about being at the birth, but also reduce any fear or anxiety about the experience. Bring them with you to a prenatal appointment or two so they can meet your care providers & ask them any questions!
7) Be flexible. Remember, your birth will go the way it will. So, plan as best you can and be prepared to be flexible. At my last two births I had wanted my older kids to be there and they SO wanted to be there as well. However, precipitous births can make that tough. My last two labors were 2.5 hours & 2 hours, respectively. My oldest was in the car, en route from Grandma's when his brother was born. My youngest came too fast for us to wake the boys up. They may have not been able to witness the birth, but they were woken moments after she came. Maybe you wanted them there but they were intimidated by your birth song (aka moaning). Just be understanding, flexible, & consider these seven points!
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