Friday, July 15, 2011

Including siblings at the birth

In the years that I've been serving women at birth, some of my favorite birthing experiences are the ones that include siblings. Early in my career, it was much more common- if the baby had older siblings, it went without saying- they would be at the birth.
Well, that was in the 70s and times have changed. People have different ideas regarding what is best for the laboring mamma, what is best for baby and what is best for the family. But if you have older children, I would encourage you to think about including them at the birth.
When children are included in the experience of pregnancy, and birth, I believe that it validates and empowers their position in the family. It sends the message that they are important enough to you that you want them with you during life's biggest events. When you share the experience together, it reinforces the roles you play as parents and solidifies the family bond in a powerful way. And the children seem to immediately feel that connection with the baby. I believe that decreases problems with jealousy and sibling conflicts.
On the other hand, some parents worry that the older child may be traumatized , and no one wants that.
While many children express a desire to be involved and to witness the birth, others are simply not interested. They're just not into it, and that special time away with a friend or relative instead is the treat they prefer. Like the rest of us, children bring their individual personalities into the equation. Some get excited and blissed at the mention of the baby's coming. Some kids seem to act as if they're getting a brain scar just talking about it, and to others, believe it or not, it's boring. So we need to look at each child individually.
Many moms feel that experiencing a natural childbirth is enough of a challenge on it's own and they don't want to be distracted by the needs of their older child ,or to feel that they should control their expressions of the labor experience. These are valid concerns and need to be examined and weighed as you make your choice. Sometimes including children is just not the best option for you.
If you do want to consider this option, but you are unsure of whether it would be a positive experience for your child, you can get a feel by watching their reactions when you talk about the upcoming birth, or talk to them about their own birth.What do they express- what do they have to say about it?
What about the age of the child? Many parents express concern that their child is too young to prepare. I actually believe these very young children know more than we think. They often do very well and act as if they knew it all along.Older kids and teenagers may feel awkward. Too much information, Mom and Dad! Others feel that their maturity lends to a wonderful bonding and learning experience.
Check out some births on youtube. For starters I would recommend hypnobirths and waterbirths. You can google the hypnobirth channel and you can pretty much be guaranteed that you will find gentle peaceful births there. If she wants to watch more, that's a good indication that she might do well at your birth. If she gets up and walk away or expresses fear or disgust - that's your sign.
If you do decide to include your child, there are few ways to prepare to make it go better. Let them know what the process is like. Mom will have sensations or pain in her belly and that's normal. Older kids will want a more detailed explanation. For young kids, keep it simple. The sensations come and go away. Mom will need you to stay kind of quiet and still. Then it feels like going to the bathroom. Mom might say funny things. If your child(ren) are small, you can tell them mom might make sounds like animals. Sometimes it sounds like a cow, or a bear or a tiger. They can practice those sounds with you. Older kids may want a job to do, such as cold cloths for mom's face or giving mom a drink. Small kids can hold a flashlight or guaze square. Sometimes they like to help us with the newborn exam, or help Dad to cut the umbilical cord.
One busy little boy held the flashlight at a water birth. After mom and baby were tucked into bed, he would kiss the baby, then go back, shine the light into the pool, and demand, "More Baby!!"
Be sure you explain that there will be blood, and that the placenta will come out and that babies cry. Let them know blood doesn't mean that mom got hurt. I like to explain to little children that since baby can't eat food in there, the blood coming through the umbilical cord is what keeps baby healthy. That, and the placenta , will come out when baby doesn't need it anymore.So when they see baby with some blood on him it's almost the same thing as when they're eating pizza or spaghetti and get sauce on their hands and face.Except that it comes from what will be baby's belly button and not missing his mouth!
If you do decide to have your child with you at the birth, I would recommend that you consider having someone at the house specifically to see to your older child's needs. Someone the child enjoys and feels safe with. She or he can be sure your child is fed and entertained and sleeps if the labor is long. She can offer reassurance and support, and if you should end up needing to go to the hospital, this is the person who can stay home with your child, or bring him or her to you, as needed.
At the birth, know that your child will look to the adults present- he will be aware of the looks on our faces. If mom is making noises and everyone's face is showing joy and anticipation, this is all that's needed to remind him or her that all is well.
If just as the baby is born, your older child starts to cry, don't assume he's traumatized. Look around the room; is anyone else teary-eyed? As one little girl said, "No, I'm not sad! I'm crying because I love you Mommy!! I love you Daddy!"
No matter whether you decide to share this experience with the older siblings, or to arrange another alternative, be sure to communicate that their position in the family is as strong as it always has been. Your love will be stronger than ever as your family starts on this new beginning.

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