My husband and I chose to have a home waterbirth for our second child, Dara. At the time, his big sister, Leyla, was three and a half. She was present for the whole labor and birth.
Actually, not the whole thing. Hours of mom slumped over a yoga ball, eyes closed, breathing deeply was clearly boring. Leyla thought it was much more fun to play with Grandma in her own bedroom. She came and went.
When she wandered back in to see me, however, Leyla took an interest. She asked questions and put her arms around me. At the actual birth, there she was, sitting on Daddy’s knee by the edge of the birth pool, within touching distance, watching her intently focused and empowered Mum – mooing like an amphibious cow – performing the greatest of miracles and human achievements. Moments later she was sitting with her hand on her brother’s head as the whole family floated serenely in an extremely rare lifetime moment of profound nurturing and ‘spiritual’ bonding.
We are so grateful that Leyla shared in our family experience of birthing Dara.
The birth is something we often speak to Leyla about. Six months later, her memory of the events is crystal clear. I suspect it may be a core memory. A deeply positive one.
I am not suggesting that everyone must include older siblings at a birth. Only you will intuitively know whether it is right for you and your family.
What is a clear, however, is that you should only share your birth experience with children if you are prepared for it – by that, I mean your labor.
I am a very strong advocate of preparing and practicing for birth. Just like a marathon, if we don’t prepare physically, mentally and emotionally, there is a much greater risk that we crash out and don’t achieve the outcome we want.
I won’t go into the best ways to do that right here, but if you are interested, then spend an hour researching hypnobirthing. We did it and I swear by it. (In a nutshell, it involves breathing exercises, visualizations, intimate knowledge of our body during the different stages of labor and intentional use of language.) I felt confident and enthusiastic going into our home birth. This translated into me being calm and controlled during my labor. It was altogether positive. I strongly advocate older siblings being present in this type of birth.
On the other hand, without preparation and practice, it is more likely that we go into labor fearful and unsure. This may lead to the experience being anguished, uncontrolled and scary. Not one you’d want siblings to be present at.
Naturally, there is always a chance that you are prepared and still, something happens and your plan goes out the window – it sometimes happens. However, in these circumstances, a trusted adult birthing companion can ensure that little ones are looked after and their experience is always safeguarded. A dedicated carer for each kid also means that they are fully looked after as they come and go.
Make sure the kids are prepared
It’s important that you prepare your kids too. This processes can be fun and light hearted though. There are some great resources and ideas for preparing older siblings who will be there at the birth.
Okay, so now we’re prepared….
5 reasons it’s great to have older siblings at the birth
1) Siblings instantly bond and are less jealous
I’ve not been able to find any scientific studies on this, but it is our experience. Leyla got to see her brother come into the world, tiny and vulnerable. She joined us in cocooning him in arms, blankets and love. Since then, she has never been jealous of her younger brother, at all. She has only ever been caring and tender towards him (though sometimes well intended but over excited cuddles can turn into throttles.)
2) Siblings feel included
It was such a lovely experience for us having Leyla there. She asked questions, gently stroked me and even helped Daddy to put up the pool. It felt thoroughly natural and appropriate to have her included the experience with the rest of us.
Also, siblings probably want to be there. Just ask.
3) Girls more likely to have positive births in the future
I believe that by seeing mom modeling an empowered and positive birth, young girls will form the core belief that this is the way birth is meant to be. They will be more likely to have a positive birth experience themselves.
4) Children share in the most incredible of life experiences
Speaking for myself, thus far in life, my two births have been the top two incredible, profound and life changing experiences. My husband describes them in the same way. We hope that Leyla will look back and cherish them too.
5) It provides a profound and powerful lesson
Being present at the birth of their younger brother or sister, a sibling gets to see first hand where babies come from. It’s a deep, experiential lesson in reality, humanity and life science. It opens up an awareness and appreciation of mom, our bodies and the natural processes that govern life.
There is no rule to say you ought to include older siblings at the birth. But neither is there a rule to say they shouldn’t be there. It’s nothing to be squeamish about and certainly shouldn’t be taboo. Far from it. If you are intentional and prepared for your birth, and especially if you are opting for a homebirth, then allowing older siblings to be present at the birth is entirely appropriate and can help to create a magical experience; one your whole family will cherish for the rest of their lives.