Would You Let Your Children Be Present When You Give Birth?
By Clara Wiggins
Preparing for a home birth is mostly a case of practicalities: which room will you chose to have the baby in?
Is there space for a blow-up birthing pool?
How will you know when to call the midwife?
But for those parents who already have one or more children, there is another thing to consider – should you allow siblings in the delivery room?
Louisa Macphail, who lives in Bath, planned a home birth with her third son Ru – although in the end he was born in a hospital.
She decided she didn’t want children present at the birth because she wanted “privacy and an intimate experience”.
But she also felt her older children needed to be prepared for what happened in labour in case “they wanted to be there, or if they had ended up being there for any reason”.
Louisa, who is a trained antenatal teacher with the NCT, believes it is healthy for children to understand birth from a young age – and so she taught her then 8-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter the mechanics of how a baby is born.
This included using her teaching aid pelvis to show them how the baby works its way down the birth canal and why certain positions are better to help progress. But she also wanted them to understand how she might behave during labour.
“We watched a YouTube video of a woman giving birth,” said Louisa. “It showed that no-one was panicking, and that the woman was getting a lot of support. But it also showed that she was making a lot of noise – and this was completely normal.”
Because Louisa eventually had her third baby in hospital, neither of her older children were present at the birth in the end.
But Catherine Henderson, from Swindon, not only had her older children at the birth of their sibling – they even drew pictures of what was happening.
Catherine’s home birth wasn’t “strictly speaking, planned” as she had had complications with her earlier births. Despite this, she was keen to give birth at home although her husband wasn’t.
And so when she went into labour three weeks early it still wasn’t agreed exactly where she would have her baby.
But as things progressed, she decided to simply stay at home –and as it was her fourth baby, labour was quick.
Her son ended up being born just twenty minutes after the midwives arrived.
Catherine and her husband had already decided that if the baby was born at home they would keep their other children at home too – “We don’t have family locally and three children is a lot to ask someone to take on,” she said.
So when her older children came downstairs while she was in the first stage of labour, they were allowed to stay.
“We’ve got an open plan lounge and the kids sat on the dining room table and were drawing pictures of me on all fours,” she said.
“Once we got into the realms of the head coming out they drew that too! They had no qualms about it at all, they were absolutely fascinated”
Catherine, who still has the pictures her children drew that day, said that one of the things at the forefront of her mind was that although she was never a “screamer” she wanted to keep calm for the children.
“Them being there really helped me focus on my breathing,” she said. “t made me feel calmer knowing where they were, knowing they were safe.
It was lovely. I would 100% do it again and 100% recommend it to other mums. My children still talk about it”.
Another mum who didn’t regret having her children present at the birth of their sibling was childbirth educator Donna Ryan.
In fact, so sure was Donna of her decision that she set up a special siblings class for others who might think of doing the same thing.
American Donna, who is the founder of Texas-based Birthcamp Bootcamp, said to prepare her then eight and four-year old children for the birth of their sibling they watched videos from her previous births.
This allowed them to hear what she sounded like and what sort of facial expressions she made during labour.
During the birth itself, each child was given a role and had family and friends to support them.
“In my childbirth classes, I usually mention what a special experience it was,” she said. “There is rarely a dry eye in the room, so it opens people up to receiving new information about something they likely haven’t considered beforehand.”
Donna’s older children are now young adults and both are, apparently, “pretty nonchalant” about birth – including putting others straight about the realities of what actually happens in a delivery room.
But her experience has helped inspire the special childbirth class geared towards children to help prepare them for the birth of their sibling. She hopes it will help counter-balance some of the way they see birth portrayed.
“Birth in the media is fast, dangerous, and the dads are always yelled at,” she said. “I understand it makes for a better and more entertaining show, but it really does do a disservice to the public.
Labour is often slow and uneventful – but unexpected when all you have ever seen is precipitous birth in the media. It plants doubts in the couple’s minds about whether their birth is normal”.
Whether you chose to have your older child or children present at the birth of their sibling is of course a very personal decision and one only you and your partner can make.
But even if you don’t want them there but plan to birth at home, it may be worth preparing them just in case you go into labour early or your childcare arrangements fall through.
You don’t have to go so far as to provide them with pens and paper to draw pictures of your contractions, but at least showing them videos of what a labouring woman sounds like should help reassure them that everything is totally normal.