When I was pregnant for the second time and not wanting the same experience as the first, I began searching for more information and alternative options regarding birth. We brought midwife, Terri Payne, CNM, on as our doula and she asked where I would like to birth and if our son, Terryn, would be present. Her question became an informed decision.
As we gained awareness around our choices, several questions arose:
Would Terryn be ‘allowed’ by the hospital?
How would he respond to the birth?
What if we ended up “needing” all of the intervention we had the first time?
Who would be responsible for him other than Kyle (my husband)?
What would our family think?
Our instinct to protect children from witnessing the intensity of birth is a reflection of our own lens that birth is something to be feared. Not wanting to leave your child ‘behind’ in order to birth another may be an instinct that your child being involved will be a beautiful transition for your family. We began to navigate our way through these questions starting with reading Hands of Love: Seven Steps to the Miracle of Birth by Dr. Carol Phillips. This book was so confirming and I was certain I wanted Terryn there. Terryn (2 at the time) agreed that he would like to come see the baby be born.
The first time we had one of our children at birth, myself, Kyle, Terri (Doula), Laura (Midwife), the lovely nurses, Terryn, and Kirsten (my sister in-law and Terryn’s support person) were present. Terryn was comfortable being himself and got so comfortable that, as labor intensified, he began bouncing the birthing ball around the room. I felt distracted and uncomfortable when the ball would hit me or the bed during a contraction, so I asked that Kirsten take him to play. As I entered transition and things really intensified, I asked that they return. Terryn sat quietly on my husband’s lap above my right shoulder as I brought Canon earthside in the tub. Terryn was instantly in love. The only time he felt afraid or cried was when Canon was taken to be washed and measured.
In choosing this (and in future instances), we put some steps into place in order to assure that Terryn was prepared for what he would likely experience. These are the same steps we used with subsequent decisions and they worked well for our family.
Top five tips on preparing your older child for birth:
Watch an array of birth videos together: hospital, birth center, and home birth videos.
Change your verbiage around birth. Use words to let your child know that this would be hard work, mom will make a lot of sounds, there will be a lot of fluids, etc., without a fearful tone or words, just facts.
Call body parts as they are. Baby is in mom’s uterus, the baby will be born via mom’s vagina, amniotic fluid, mucus, etc. Normalize birth and body conversation.
Have a support person(s) for you child(ren). This person is ideally someone that is comfortable letting letting them be themselves and confident in making decisions with the child while parents are present.
It is also worth noting that this is someone that the birthing parent is extremely comfortable having at the birth as well.
Ask your child(ren) if they would like to be involved. Involving children in decision making is often overlooked and undervalued.
Including the next generation in birth is a powerful experience that dismantles the belief that birth is fearful. Terryn has now attended three births, and each of our sons have attended the births of their younger brothers. When I recently asked him, now 11 years old, how he felt about being at his brothers’ births his response was: “It was really cool to see my brothers be born. I was surprised at how much blood is in birth but it was still cool.”
Birth is normal to them. Seeing their mom birth is normal to them. Teaching our sons respect and awe for the power of the female body is extremely important to us.
Erica Boland, DC