Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Take a Children at Birth Class

I had the privilege of spending time with a family this morning who is due with their fourth baby in a couple of weeks. This particular mom had an epidural with her first 3 babies and has decided that she wants to give birth without medication this go-round. Her and her husband have been taking my class by DVD, but we added a couple of live classes too: Techniques of Relaxation and Children at Birth.

I rarely have the opportunity to teach my Children at Birth class. As you may have noticed, there's not a lot of demand for a class preparing children for witnessing the birth of their sibling!

I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately, knowing that I would be teaching this class. There is something very special about a mom who wants her other children to be present for the birth of her new baby. It becomes the birth of a family, really. With each child the family dynamics change, and inviting older children to be a part of that is so special. Sacred, really. She is placing enormous value on her older children by allowing them this opportunity to be a part of this wonderful, life-changing event.

A few years ago, I had a dear friend who was pregnant with her fourth baby. When she told her children that they were going to have another baby, it was the oldest child that had the hardest time with it. After days of crying and consoling, she finally got to the root of what the real issue was that he was struggling with -- he remembered her going to the hospital and being gone for a long time, someone else taking care of him and the house, and then mom coming home with a baby that took up all her time! And to think, we worry about the younger babies and how they will handle a new sibling! We often think that the older ones have done this before and will be just fine. I've often wondered, if he had been invited to the birth, even after leaving the hospital after the birth, he probably would have been okay with Grandma, or whoever, running the house for a couple of days.

When I was pregnant with our last baby, we had not had any ultrasounds during the pregnancy. We just knew she'd be a boy! Two out of three of our children chose to be present for the birth. Had our only boy not been there, I think it would have been much more devastating that "he" was a "she." He found out with the rest of us. He felt a part of it. He was the first child downstairs the next morning, climbing into bed to snuggle up next to the baby, declaring, "I love her more than anything in the world." I have replayed this over and over in my mind over the years and it always comes back to him being a part of the birth.

I so enjoyed the children I met with today. The oldest was a 10-year-old boy and the younger (invited) child is a 6-year-old girl. The two-year-old will NOT be attending the birth! We talked about the process of labor and their roles and what mom will need from them. We talked about the sounds and facial expressions mom might make. We talked about the placenta, the umbilical cord, vernix, IVs, and monitoring. We watched a video where children are present for the births of their siblings. It's so good to see how these other children are "handling" birth. It's quite different to talk about birth versus actually seeing a birth. In the end, the 6-year-old decided that she may not want to be there. (My one child who chose not to be there was also six at the time.)

It is so important that children be allowed to make that decision. But how wonderful to be invited to a birth. It's an honor, no matter your age or profession, but a very rare opportunity for a sibling.

Thank you, Katie and Nick, for inviting me into your home today to teach your children. It is a special thing you are doing, not only for them, but for yourselves and your family. Make sure everyone records it in their own special way. Good luck and I'll be looking forward to hearing about this wonderful birth.


Isabel (mom of 5) said...

You know, I've given this one a lot of thought. I always worried that I would have trouble concentrating and relaxing with my other kiddos there. I still feel that way. But, we always try to do a lot to incorporate the kids into the pregnancy, and all the kids have been so loving of their baby siblings (no major jealous issues). The oldest is particularly great with babies (had lots of practice I suppose). Anyhow, I'm not sure what the point of my rambling is, just that I think it's so cool when children are at births, it's just not something I was ever quite comfortable with.

Sarah said...

I remember it from both sides: my mom had my last sibling when I was 16 and thought my older sister and I should see, since we'd likely be giving birth ourselves sometime in the near future.

There were 8 of us. So, obviously, most of the time, I remembered NOT being there. In fact, though my mom's labors were relatively short (8 hours each time), it seemed like FOREVER till we heard anything or were able to see our parents or the new baby (some of those births were in the hospital). I remember the time being not so enjoyable, and somewhat aprehensive, lonely and out-of-place.

I can't say that I enjoyed being there more, but I'm glad I got the chance to see a natural birth in person before having my own children. Especially because my mom is so private, I appreciate that she sacrificed some of her comfort for the sake of my sister's and my education.

Being less private with my children, and much more expressive of the events of (and leading up to) birth, I will give my girls the option to be there or not, should we have other children.

One thing that I think is a good compromise between the two is to let them be around for most of the labor. That has been how my last 2 births have gone, and I think it really helps with adjusting when children don't have to be separated and wondering for many hours or even days. (One of the fabulous things about home birth--go upstairs and have a baby!)

At the very least, I want the trauma to be lessened, and the participation to be as much as they'd like. My oldest daughter (4 1/2) reproached me months ago for not letting her be there this last time, but I have a feeling that my MIL (who is NOT comfortable w/birth) discouraged or talked her out of any interest she may have had in joining us in our room while Haley was being born. Kinda sad if that was the case. If we have another, I'll make sure Ruby knows she can stick to her guns and come right in if she'd like.

Christina Pond said...

Donna, I was curious what you think about a 2 1/2 year old attending a birth?

Do you think it has more to do with their level of maturity and preparing them, like watching birth videos, reading books, talking about Momma making "noises" to help her, etc....

What age do YOU personally feel is the best to introduce to witnessing a birth?

Anonymous said...

My entire family (most literally - aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings) were present for my birth. And without a doubt they all said it was one of the highlights of their life. My sister, who is 9 years my elder, says it was second only to the birth of her own child. When I had my 2nd daughter, my first was only 18 months old. But, if there are children in my future, and my daughters are older, I'd ask them if they want to come.

Donna Ryan said...

Thanks for your comments. This is often an uncomfortable topic for people to discuss. In class, there is often a lot of snickering and it's obvious that this is something they had never considered before, and may never consider.

Christina, it really depends on the child. A lot of children will be scared. You are not able to help them and really NEED them to be quiet. They are not able to understand that this event is about what mom is doing. They are totally wrapped up in themselves, as you know! Even with my most mature child, I don't think think either of us (me or her) would have gotten much out of having her at the birth. I want my children to remember it, but at that age, they just won't.

Sarah had mentioned the value of having them witness and be around for labor, but I probably disagree. It is really weird for a kid to see their mom fine for a few minutes and then in la-la land for the next minute. They can't see anything happening when that happens and it freaks a lot of kids out. Moms need privacy, dark, and a quiet atmosphere while they are in labor. That is often unattainable with your kids around. On the other hand, if they come in for the birth, they are there for the most exciting part and mom was able to peacefully do her work.

Ultimately, this is up to each family and their situation. All kids are different, as we know, and will handle different things at different ages. I think that around age 4 is when parents can seriously consider having siblings at birth and the benefits can be weighed.

Sarah said...

I have the completely opposite take, Donna!

It was pretty disconcerting for me at 16 to see my mom giving birth. I really had to work hard to not freak out seeing her in that state of pushing and not being able to do anything to help. But in the hours preceeding, it was not scary to see her dealing with contractions. I actually really liked that part.

But I imagine you're talking more about younger children. I have two reasons for my different perspective there:

1) I think it's good for my girls to see normal, non-dramatic labor, even from a young age. It may be the only birth they'll ever witness before giving birth themselves, and I want them to know it can be different than they'll hear and see everywhere else. My behavior isn't terribly altered during contractions, and by the time birth day arrives, they are very used to seeing me having contractions (not that they would necessarily notice). Niether of the girls have become disturbed by my contractions so far, and we all enjoy being together as a family for birth day.

My other reason has to do with how I labor prodromally:

2) Since birth day is not the only time when regular, close, long and strong contractions are present, it is impractical for me to retreat, be quiet and dark at the onset of contractions.

For the last two births, there was a question most of the day as to if labor would turn into birth or peter out like it had numerous times before.

If I made it a point to retreat, stay dark and quiet for all bouts of long, strong, close-together contractions, I would be getting a babysitter every few days for weeks (and even months) before birth day. Not knowing when labor will turn into birth, retreating is not a viable option for me. By the time we know for certain today is birth day, we are HAVING the baby.

By way of analogy, I see the other side akin to throwing someone into deep water, instead of letting them wade in from the shallow end. My thought is that exposing a child *only* to the birth, without the build-up of witnessing labor, would probably freak them out even more than already likely (and I do think it is likely--it's pretty intense there at the end!).

But you're right. Every woman/family should do what is the best fit for her/them. And as we have just shown, that can look very different for different families and situations.

Kristin said...

For the birth of my 3rd child, my oldest 2 children (6 and 3.5) were there. We prepped them throughout the pregnancy (I too teach childbirth classes) and it turned out to be magnificent. Each child had their own "role"... The oldest was to be the first to hold him after mom & dad and was "in charge of blankets" (he fetched them warm from the dryer and made sure they were ready when needed) and my daughter asked months before to cut the cord (with the midwife's help)since she had recently mastered scissors! She was actually the first to see that we had a boy and we have her on video announcing it and saying how cute he was. My oldest went on a 5 minute diatribe about what the cord looked like and how it was different than what he imagined.

During labor they were helpful, fetching water and snacks, getting facecloths, staying quiet when needed, changing the music for me, kisses, pouring water over my back in the tub. We let them choose and had grandparents and friends lined up to take them away if they changed their mind even in the middle of the process. Even though I wanted them there I was a little nervous since our assigned kid-tender turned out to be out of town when I went into labor, but they were awesome! It was a very magical night for the entire family and I can't imagine having done it any other way. If we have another one, they will definitely be in attendance again as they were the best little doulas I could have asked for! (OK - dh was awesome too, but we expected that!)

eulogos said...

I had kids at several of my births. Once I started having babies at home I never made an issue of whether they were there or not. If they were asleep, we didn't wake them up. If they were awake, they saw me labor, mostly going about their business of playing and doing chores but being around where I was some of the time, and they came to see the birth. At one point when my bedroom had French doors, and I was having a difficult time, they watched through the French doors so I had some space; then when the baby was being born they all came in and circled around behind my husband as he caught. Even the year and a half year old was there, with an older child's arm around him. At that age they don't really seem to notice much of the labor. They do notice when a baby has emerged, however. And within a couple of minutes of the birth I had one arm around the baby and one arm around the toddler.
I am not very vocal during labor, so there isn't much in the way of frightening noises.
Families just have to handle these things the way that fits their family expectations, values, ways of relating, etc etc. There is no one right way.
My daughters were very glad when they had their babies to have seen births first. One of my daughters had a baby at 16, and she went through a 24 hour unmedicated labor with absolute calm confidence, while a girl of the same age in the next room hollered and freaked out, clearly terrified as well as in pain. That daughter has now had 5 unmedicated births.
At one of them, I was the support person for my youngest child and her oldest child-I think they were 10 and 8 at the time, and they both stood right at the foot of the bed and watched the birth. Neither of them appeared at all upset, just interested. I do think having been at births has been valuable to my daughters.

Susan Peterson

eulogos said...

I had children at some of my births. When I was home, I never deliberately excluded them. I did at one point ask them to go on the other side of some french doors (with glass windows) so they were a few feet from me, but I had some space. I think that was during transition and while I was struggling with a "lip" of cervix that hurt when I pushed but just wouldn't disappear (at least that is what I presume from having had the same sensation with another labor when I did have someone examining me). It was advent, and they were singing "Soon and very soon, we shall see the baby...!" Very encouraging. Once I decided to push through the pain, and I knew the baby was about to be born, I invited them in, and they stood just behind my husband and watched. My ten year old son took pictures.
The youngest was just under two. But I guess she felt secure in among her siblings.

On the other hand, if I gave birth in the middle of the night and they were sleeping, we didn't make a point of waking them up.

My older girls wound up seeing several births each and have both given birth themselves now completely naturally and without any medication. One has had five births with no pain medication, IV, and no tear and four of them were in the hospital, the first when she was 16. The nurses were amazed at her; she had a 24 hour labor and was calm the entire time. The other has had two midwife attended births in a freestanding birth center. Both have said that they didn't fear labor as they had seen me go through it calmly and seen babies emerge without difficulty. I actually think it is better for them to see birth before the teen years. My oldest daughter actually opted out of being in the room when my ninth was born when she was fourteen. She later said "I was being an idiot and pretending I didn't want to be there." I think there wind up being issues with their developing sexuality, and also with separation from parents, that are very confusing in the early teen years, at least. But younger kids just take the whole thing in their stride, in my experience.
(I am not noisy, though. It just isn't my style. Despite how much I write on blogs!)
Susan Peterson

eulogos said...

Oh, I am sorry. I see I came here at some previous time and told the same story. Well, forgive me. We old folks get repetitive, you know.
Susan Peterson