Siblings at Birth
By Mariah Boone
Corpus Christi TX USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 3, May-June 2005, pp. 116-117
From the moment we told my eight-year-old daughter, Mimosa, that I was pregnant, she wanted to be at the birth. I was not so keen on the idea. Knowing my little mad scientist girl, I was not worried that such an experience would be unhealthy or disturbing for her, but I did not feel that having her there would be good for me. Giving birth is intense and it takes everything one has. I knew that my energy should be focused entirely on the baby and myself. I thought that Mimosa might be a distraction and interfere with the hard work of labor. I didn't think that I would be able to turn off my need to care for her and thought it would be best to have her stay with a family member during the birth.
Mimosa had other plans, however. She made it quite clear that she was a full member of the family and that she didn't want to be excluded from such a special event. My husband was in favor of having her present, too, so we began to research the possibilities. This process of deciding involved what I refer to as "The Five Ps": preference, personality, permission, preparation, and protector. Families considering a birth experience that includes siblings might want to use "The Five Ps" to help them along the way.
A child should only be present at a birth if she wishes to be. If your child is older, you can ask her how she feels about being at the birth while being careful not to pressure her. A toddler's preferences are more fluid, so you need to be willing to go with the flow and gauge her reactions and willingness to participate from moment to moment during the labor and birth. Your preferences, along with your partner's, also need to be taken into consideration. While some parents wouldn't think of leaving a sibling out of the experience, others might prefer to be alone so they can be more uninhibited. Every family is different.
As I mentioned, my daughter had a strong desire to be at her sister's birth. She was certain and insistent from the beginning. I was skeptical, but decided to at least consider it. After my husband and I did a lot of reading and talking to people who had given birth in the presence of siblings, we were convinced it was important for our family to be together during the birth.
A child's unique personality should always be taken into account when deciding if she will be present at the birth. Some children enjoy learning about how the human body works and thrive in environments where a lot is happening. Other children might see blood, noise, and activity as scary. Think about what interests and frightens your child. Will her personality fit in with your birth plan?
I was confident that my daughter would enjoy watching the birth of her sister. She is not disturbed by nudity, blood, or gore and I knew that she would probably find those aspects of the experience exciting. She is also comfortable with adults, so I wasn't concerned about how she would interact with our birth attendant, the nurses, and other people in the hospital.
Be sure that the presence of a sibling is permitted with the birth attendant or in the birth setting. Most hospitals and birthing centers allow children to attend vaginal deliveries, but they may have guidelines (i.e., someone other than a parent has to be there to watch the child). If your birth attendant or birth setting will not consider allowing your child's presence, remember that, as parents, you always have a choice and can look for an attendant who will be more sensitive to your family's needs.
Another aspect of "permission" is in regard to the parents and child. Even after much preparation and careful consideration of preference and personality, the reality of birth can be much different than imagined. Before the experience, let your child know that it's okay to leave, should she change her mind. Also explain that she might be asked to leave the room during the birth.
In discussing everything beforehand, my family and I didn't feel unnecessary pressure. Mimosa knew that she didn't have to be present if she decided she didn't want to be, and she also understood that she might have to leave the room, if asked.
To help your family have a good experience, preparation is key. Your child should be educated about the birth process and what to expect. Talk about each stage, what can happen, and what you will do in different situations. It will also help if your child can spend time with the birth attendant and in the birth setting. If you're preparing for a home birth, explain how your home will be prepared. Other ways to help your child get ready for the big event include watching videos, reading children's books about birth, and bringing her to prenatal appointments.
Short of attending someone else's birth, Mimosa was as prepared as she could be. Throughout my pregnancy we talked about birth, the events we saw in videos, and the information we read. Gauging my daughter's reactions throughout the process helped my husband and I see how important it was to her to be there.
When a sibling is present during birth, someone whose sole job is to care for her should be there as well. You will be focused on your unborn child and your husband and the birth attendant will be focused on you. The protector—someone the entire family is comfortable with—will occupy your child and take her out of the room as necessary.
We asked my younger sister, who was 15 years old at the time, to be Mimosa's protector. Because my sister lives 500 miles away and would not have been able to attend if I went into labor before school let out for summer, we had backup protectors lined up if we needed them. Luckily, my sister was able to be there. During the labor, she helped Mimosa with crafts, watched movies with her, and took her for walks up and down the hospital hallway.
The Birth of Marigold Carol
As I pushed the baby into the world, my daughter and sister were jumping up and down with excitement. They were as amazed and happy as my husband and I were. No one thought to take any photographs until after the baby was out. Mimosa, always the scientist, got her disposable camera to chronicle the placenta and every bit of blood that she could find. Needless to say, we kept those pictures close to home! Mimosa was thrilled that she got to see her sister born and hold her soon after. We spent a long time just snuggling and bonding as I nursed our new baby, Marigold Carol. It was a sweet time.
Having my daughter present at the birth was a wonderful experience for our family. I'm grateful that she was able to convince us how important it was. Now that I look back, it does not seem that it would have been right to welcome a baby into the world without our entire family present.
I think the best way to describe our experience of having a sibling present during birth can be summed up by Mimosa's statement, which she declared soon after Marigold's birth, "This was the best day of my whole life!" I hope every family that decides to have a sibling present at birth will have the same positive experiences that we did.