By: Gloria Miles
There's probably nothing sweeter than a newborn photo aside from a sibling holding their newborn for the first time. The excitement of a new baby, the awe of what just happened, and the bonding that occurs whether a few minutes or a few days after the birth.
When I was pregnant with Thalia, my boys were 7 and 9 years old. They were so excited and were hoping for a sister. How lucky they were that she ended up being a girl! Initially, they both wanted to attend the labor and delivery. I was okay with that decision. Little by little, however, they changed their minds. First, my oldest decided he wanted to be invited into the room when "all the hard stuff" was over. And my second eventually decided he'd play video games until I started pushing. Knowing that I do best with very few people in the room and knowing that lots of noise bothered me, I decided against having them there. What also cinched the deal was that I had weeks of prodromal labor before the birth of Thalia. In essence, we were given a few "practice" labor trials with them in attendance and I found that they really did not like seeing me uncomfortable. More than that, they would try to "help" and I found it almost intolerable. I would assure them I was okay and go hide so they wouldn't see me until after the contractions would stop. The day (well, night) of the birth, my oldest was invited to a sleep over and my second was picked up by the babysitter after I told him I was in labor. The very next morning, they both arrived and were pleasantly surprised.
What was initially planned was not at all what happened. So how do you decide whether to let your little ones attend or not?
Things to Consider:
Will you be delivering in a hospital, birth center, or home? Obviously a home birth means that you are 100% in charge with who can attend, but hospitals and birth centers may be a bit more strict. Ask your provider about the policies. How many people can attend? Are there age limits? Sometimes staff can be a bit wary of very young children. Other times there can be limits of how many people there may be in the room at any given time.
2. Number of People in the Room
The number of people in the room when someone is laboring can affect her very much! Most women do best with minimal participants. I even know a few people who say that every person adds an extra hour to the labor. How high will the body count be within that room when children are added?
Going off of point number 2, how well do you do with extra people? Will you do well having your children in the room with you? Will you worry about them when transition comes around? Will you worry about what they will think or feel when they see you in discomfort or pushing? Conversely, perhaps having them around you will make you feel like all your loved ones are safe and accounted for. Do you feel energized when the room energy is high?
4. Your Children
Their age and maturity level are both things to consider. The most important part is: Do they want to be included?
A two-year-old will act a lot differently than a 12-year-old. Consider how they normally act when you are in pain, uncomfortable, or need time alone.
The exciting part of labor is the "pushing" part. Other than that, the rest is--to be quite frank--boring. Will your child (or children) want to watch TV or play games while you are laboring?
Do they want to be a part of the labor process? How will they do in a 4 hour or labor or a 20 hour labor? Will they likely nap during? What if a nap is skipped (for your smaller children)? What about snacks and other meals? What if they change their mind about attending after labor has already started? Do they have a place they can "escape" to?
Even if you are planning a home birth, things can go way off plan. Suppose you are transferred to a hospital? Or, suppose a cesarean is deemed necessary some time during your labor? Do you have a back up plan for the children? It is highly recommended to have a babysitter who is ready for a phone call saying that child care is needed, even at 2 in the morning.
In a home birth, having someone who can stay with the children in the event of a transfer is important. This may or may not be their other parent. However, keep in mind, that if you want your partner with you during a transfer, they cannot be the caregiver of the children during labor. Remember that midwives, doulas (unless otherwise asked and agreed to), nurses, doctors, and other attendants cannot keep an eye on your little ones.
6. Caregiver for the Children
Aside from the small possibility of a transfer or emergency, children should have a caregiver present whose sole job is caring for them. First, should your child change his or her mind about attending, now they have someone who can either bring them to a different part of the house or who can take them home. Second, this person is the one who can deal with any potty breaks, food, or drinks your child may need or want.
Having a dedicated caregiver for your child or children ensures that you will not have a support person (like your partner or doula) deciding between helping your child or assisting you. It allows everyone to be able to focus on their job and to feel calm.
Ultimately, the decision is between you and your children (with the caveat that a hospital may not allow children under a certain age or may ban children altogether). There is no right or wrong way to birth. It is just important that you feel safe, loved, and respected.
For my family, it turned out that sleepovers while I was laboring was the best thing. They didn't feel they missed anything, because they were able to see me after I was comfortable in bed and their sister was just a few hours old. They do not regret deciding against attending. I also felt calmer being with just my partner, my midwife, and her assistant. It was much more intimate for me and I didn't have to worry about them, either.
However, I have attended births where siblings attended and it was beautiful. Brothers were able to cut cords, sisters were able to dress and weigh the newborn. In every way they were invited to participate, there was excitement.
Like anything else with labor and birth, having plans and back ups are important. I hope this helps you choose the best fit for your family! Did you have your children present at the birth? How was the experience? Any tips you would recommend for others who want their children present? Comment below!
Gloria Miles is a Navy veteran and mother of 4. She wears many hats as a doula, Certified Aromatherapist, and student. She is currently working towards obtaining a Bachelor's in Healthcare Management, with an end goal of becoming a Certified Nurse-Midwife. When she is not blogging or hanging out with her family, she enjoys reading, knitting, hiking, and mud runs.