Siblings at Birth: The Beauty and the Bummer
By Lauren McClain
A midwife I work with all but regrets inviting her children to the birth of their sibling. She says all they remember is that she pooped. When the birth comes up, they speak of nothing else.
It’s possible that you invite your big kids into your sacred birth cave and for years they talk only about the bodily fluids. Never mind that there’s a tiny person coming out of your body—look at all the blood!
Just like it’s possible that, when he is asked what it was like to be at the birth of his daughter, your husband will say, “Gross.”
This is a powerful, formative time for you. Invite people only if it doesn’t bother you that the uninitiated and unenlightened birth day hangers around may only have vivid memories of your butt hole.
It’s important to be the one who chooses who is there. You want to be surrounded by loving, competent attention. No birth worker is going to be scared or scarred by normal birth sounds, sights, or smells. The experience of others can’t be easily predicted.
Of course, few children will be scared or scarred either. This is part of the reason we invite children to births and let them really see us breastfeed. If you experience it as a normal part of life as a child, it seems normal forever. Birth and breastfeeding are normal!
Even if the intimate memories aren’t exactly the kind of intimate you were hoping for, they’ll remember. Melissa had her 5 and 3 year old boys at her third birth. When they talk about the experience they say, “Mom, you remember when Axel came out of your butt?!” followed by long-lasting fits of giggles and other memories of the day. To them, birth is very normal.
Still, they may be helpful, or not. So you need to weigh the benefits and the hassles. Here’s what a few experienced moms said about bringing their kids on board.
Like many, Liana found her toddler’s presence helpful. “My oldest was 21 months when our second was born and he was completely unfazed by the whole experience. I loved hearing his little voice chatting away with my best friend (his “aunt”) while I was in transition.”
Regina says, “[My six year-old] ended up getting bored and rolling around on the birth ball. It seemed to slow labor and we sent her back to bed. We woke her back up once I started pushing. My advice is not to have too many expectations and be prepared to alter the plan. I found that I wanted the kids out after the first few minutes so that my husband and I could have that first hour to admire the baby alone. It surprised me how annoyed and protective I got at the toddler when they were all over the baby.”
Melissa–whose kids remind her about when the baby came out her butt—also thought it was worth it to have them there. “While they were a little discombobulated, due to being awake at 5am, they handled everything very well. My oldest grabbed his camera and took some great pics. The 3 yr old said “It’s okay, Mommy. You’ll be okay.” They both had a chance to love on me and their new brother before getting tucked back in bed.”
There are a few things you can do to help ensure siblings at birth works for everyone.
Prepare them for the sights and sounds. Even if you do, they may be surprised about how loud you are or the blood, or the way you can’t really interact with them in the usual way.
Use possessive terms to talk about the baby. If siblings think of the unborn baby as “my baby” or “my sister” or “my friend” it’s more likely that their first encounters will be pleasant. Sophie Fletcher, whose Pathways 57 article gives great advice on siblings at birth, mentions the real possibility that a sibling’s initial reaction to their baby may influence their relationship for at least the first year, if not forever.
Be flexible and unattached to the outcome. Like Regina said, they may be bored or annoying or fixated on your butt. It may not be the right place or right time for them. They may also hold your hand and nuzzle you and fix your labor stall.
Call a designated person they love. Siblings need a doula, too! Anyone under 10 or 12 should have someone there to be with and bounce things off of. Young children, especially, need someone to parent them, explain, and take them away if they or mom needs that.
Pack a bag. A bag of activities, extra clothes, snacks, etc. is invaluable for their down time. It’s even a good idea for a home birth because you never know if big brother or sister will need to spend some time at a friend or family member’s house during a long birth or postpartum recovery.
Lauren is a childbirth educator (Birth Boot Camp) and the author of the Breech Baby Handbook. She owns Better Birth Graphics, a shop full of practical, intuitive birth media for professionals. Her work has been published in Mothering, Holistic Parenting Magazine, Birth Issues, True Birth, Mama Birth, and elsewhere. She lives in Maryland with her family of five.