Monday, June 18, 2012

Siblings At Birth

In my recent pregnancy post I mentioned that the Little-Bugs will be here with us, around the house, while I labor and deliver our new baby. A comment was left about how to prepare children to attend birth, and it's worth a better thought-out response than another comment.

The Why:
I attended my brothers' two homebirths. I was 5 1/2 and rubbing my mom's feet when I watched, totally fascinated, as he crowned. At 9, I was not in the room for my second brother's delivery - he was a surprise breech and the midwife didn't want any additional distractions. Dad called us in as soon as Mom and Baby were stable. Both of the experiences taught me that birth is a healthy and normal process that takes place in the context of family. These lessons I brought with me when I decided to have a homebirth, and they are one of the greatest gifts I have received from my Mom. By being involved in the process, by watching my Mom trusting her body to create this miracle, I never questioned my body's ability to pull off the same miracle (well...not until I was in the thick of contractions with Brother-Bug...but that's a different story).

I want that for my kids. I want them to know and to see that our bodies are amazing, that birth is safe and joyful, if hard. I want Sister-Bug in particular, to learn from me as I learned from my mom that her body can do this if she chooses to be a mother. I want to do my little part to dispell the myths that labor and delivery are inherantly dangerous and medical. I want my children to be empowered in whatever choices they make for their bodies, and I think that watching me birth a baby is a step toward that.

Tandem nursing right after birth.

The other large component to having the kids present is the addition of another person to their pack. The concept of Mama leaving the house pregnant and laboring (which is likely scary to a little person with maybe a vague understanding of what is happening), and then appearing in a hospital room later with a baby... Many kids meeting new siblings are not old enough to make that huge mental jump. "Meeting the Baby" is an important ritual, but I prefer that my kids are involved in the process of supporting me while I bring the Baby out and into the circle of our family.

I'm not a stoic birther - I'm loud. I scream and cuss and thrash and cry. I do what my body needs to do, and Brother-Bug got kind of freaked out for the first couple of contractions I had with Sister-Bug. But he was supported through that and now has only fond memories. I have heard him explaining this process to Sister-Bug.

"Mama will scream and be really loud. If it's too much we leave the room, but she's just working really hard and having a baby hurts her. But it's okay and the midwife is there to help her and then we have our new baby. I'll take care of you..."

See what I mean about empowering my kids through their presence?

Brother-Bug was cuddled up with me and his newborn Sister within 5 minutes of her arrival. He "met" her, but it was just a part of that entire experience for him, and when he woke up the next morning he wasn't surprised that a baby was in my arms because he had witnessed her arrival there.

The How:

In every part of this process that leads to the birth, I try to find a place that the Little-Bugs can be involved.

We read books together, take their advice on names, make plans, talk through the coming months and what will happen as we wait for the baby. We talk about the birth almost daily with Sister-Bug especially. Nothing serious, just passing conversation to keep it fresh in her mind, even though we have a while to wait. As soon as they can feel it move we will play games like "get the baby to kick you in the head". When we pull out the newborn stuff they will help sort, wash, and fold. Even though we don't need any newborn clothes (we have so many that we could clothe twins and still have extras), we will make a trip to the thrift store and they can pick out a couple of things for their baby to wear.  But all of that is easy, and most people do those things. Having kids at an actual birth is something that needs extra thought and resources.

A loving person: Regardless of the age of your child, make sure that some one is available to be their support person. Mama has the Papa and the midwife, maybe there is a doula or a close friend to support the midwife and Papa. Kiddo needs a person to help, explain, cuddle, take out of the room, play with, or anything else that child needs. Select a person who Mama is comfortable with (afterall, labor and birth is about is intimate as it gets) and your kid really enjoys spending time with. Make sure that the two of them get plenty of time before the birth to hang out and establish a strong relationship.

The person you ask needs to undertand and be comfortable that they are not really there to attend the new baby's birth. They are there to lavish attention on the older sibling, whatever that means to that kid. In my mind, the people coming to care for Brother & Sister-Bug are more essential than our midwife. I can be in labor for a while before the midwife shows up, and I think I could even feel okay if I had to deliver a baby without her help, but I don't want to try to lovingly parent and support my kids while doing any of that...and I want Papa-Bug to be able to take care of me knowing the kids have what they need. 

I think this applies even for an older child. Maybe you have a 10 or 12 year old who needs an adult who is willing to come play favorite games while Mama labors. If something goes awry, it's important for the Mama and Papa to know that the older sibling has loving support and care. If Mama and Papa aren't at home, or the sibling is not able to be present in the birth room, it's important for someone with adult communication skills and less emotional attachment to be there and help communicate if necessary. 

Holding Sister-Bug on her first morning with us.

Participation from the First: the Little-Bugs go to all the prenatals. Our excellent midwife teaches them how her tools work and carefully helps them learn to use those tools with her. The kids wander in and out, see my rare internal exam, and hold the various sized fetus models our midwife keeps around for just this purpose. We answer the kids questions and engage them, and in a low pressure way we keep the focus on me. They slowly grow used to their midwife being present mostly for Mama. They see me trust her with my body. She helped me bring both kids into the world and they are familiar with her role in their stories. When she shows up at the labor, she's familiar and already very safe. She's part of their family, and we've all been working together to be ready for our labor day.

A to-do list: Find a list of age-appropriate tasks that your child can do during the birth. I was rubbing my Mom's feet at my brother's birth. I felt so helpful. Brother-Bug brought be a cup of juice with a straw while I was in labor with Sister-Bug. He's looking forward to doing that again. Your list of things to do should be:
*things that are not necessary, in case the prevailing feelings of the older sibling prevent participation.
*some tasks in the birth area and some in other rooms, should the older sibling want space from a very intense situation. 
*within your child's skill level, something they can be successful at (with help from their support person).

Our list of to-do's includes hanging up our family birthday banner, bringing me juice when I need it, drawing a birthday card for the baby, and similar tasks. 

Watch movies: This is currently Sister-Bug's favorite thing to do. I previewed a lot of homebirth movies on YouTube and came up with a couple that she watches over and over. As she watches we talk about what we see happening. Because I know my birth habits (not quiet) I made sure to choose movies that feature some good Mama-screaming. I also looked out for movies with older siblings attending. Do be sure that you pre-watch them - birth can get pretty intense pretty fast!


I cannot express how magical it is to help and support children learn about and become comfortable with the beauty, mess and reality of birth. Afterall, we all were born once...shouldn't we all know what that process is like?

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