Recently, photos of a 12-year-old girl assisting in the delivery of her baby brother went viral. The photos were moving, but the comments were mixed. Should this child have been present at her brother’s birth? Was this a beautiful experience to witness or was it too mature of a situation for a young girl? What if she was traumatized by what she saw in the delivery room?
While it’s atypical in our culture to see children attending births, let alone participating in them, we don’t believe that (normal) birth is traumatizing. In fact, we believe that birth is a natural, normal part of our life cycle, therefore we think it’s wonderful for children to see it.
Witnessing birth, as is quite common in other parts of the world where out of hospital deliveries are more standard, helps to break the cycle of fear surrounding it. A child who has been around birth their whole life will, witnessing siblings or cousins or other family members being born, won’t have as much mystery surrounding birth when they grow up and head into their own deliveries. For American women, many experience birth for the very first time on the day they deliver their first baby, which means that often, there’s a lot of fear about the unknown. But we believe that when children experience normal birth, that can change that- one delivery at a time.
When deciding whether or not to have children present at the birth of your new baby, there are some important components to consider.
First of all, think about your ideal birthing atmosphere and whether it makes sense for your children to be there. It’s your birth, therefore you have the power to make informed decisions. If something is telling you that you’d prefer at atmosphere with or without your children to give birth in, listen to that gut feeling. Because having only the people you desire to be present at your birth is an important factor and can affect the overall mood in the birthing room. As long as the mother is comfortable and actually wants the child or children to be there, then there is nothing concerning about their presence. However if it is not in the mother’s birthing plan, the child’s presence could create unnecessary tension for both the mother and child.
If you decide you do want your child or children present, make sure they are participating in other aspects of your pregnancy aside from simply showing up at the birth. Have conversations about what the delivery may look like, sound like, and what is actually going on. You can watch videos of peaceful, beautiful births, or even animal births beforehand, so that your children can see that birth is normal. Explain that while they may hear noises or even notice your discomfort, that it simply means you are working very hard because birth is hard work, but it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong or scary.
Another necessary component of having children attend your birth is to make sure there are other adults there to tend to the children. You cannot parent and labor at the same time. Even if your children are generally calm, you don’t want to have to shift your focus to meet their needs while you’re in labor. Explain to your children in advance who their go-to person is during that time because even though you want them to be there to share in the experience, you won’t be able to meet their needs. In the very rare case of an emergency, the designated person being able to step in and remove the children from the situation is also a necessary precaution to make sure they don’t absorb the stress of a more high-anxiety situation. Even those these situations are quite rare, and most births will happen on their own and in their own time, having that preparation in place is a very good idea.
Finally, in addition to preparing your child feels comfortable and is prepared for the delivery, you also want to make sure other people around the laboring mother are, as well. If everyone in the room is demonstrating calm, patient behavior, it’s likely that the children will feel the vibe and feel calm, as well. If there is someone in the room who is very nervous or anxious about the birth, it may frighten the child. So make sure that everyone in the birthing room is on the same page about what to expect and what behavior is most helpful to relay that calm, peaceful birthing vibe.
In the end, you birth belongs to you and who have in the room is an important decision, but there is no right or wrong answer. Some women feel strongly that they want other children to see and experience their siblings coming into the world. Others would prefer them to wait outside and come in after the baby is born or even once the baby is clean and wrapped in a blanket. Whatever you choose, make sure it is what you want and what will give you the most comfort and joy on your delivery day.