In this country, where most births happen at hospitals with rules about who can be in the birthing suite or operating room, it's not typical to have a child attend a sibling's birth. And in a culture that is uncomfortable talking to children about bodies and reproduction, it can be difficult to even imagine showing a child, especially a small child, the full reality of birth. Hell, some full-grown adults have a difficult time stomaching labor and delivery.
But Emmett, 3, was there to watch his sibling enter the world. In fact, with his new preschool scissor skills, he helped cut the cord. (For the record, his Papa was too squeamish to cut the cord himself.)
My family and friends were surprised, skeptical, and even critical of my plan to let Emmett attend the birth of his sibling. But I stood by it, regardless of the raised eyebrows and condescending tones, and I'm so glad I did. And while my decision was just the result of a gut feeling, the consistent questioning from friends and family forced me to consider my choice on a deeper level. So, with that in mind, here are some reasons why I wanted my oldest to attend the birth of his sibling:
Because My Son Never Would've Forgiven Me If He Missed It
Throughout my pregnancy, Emmett came with me to almost all of my midwife and doctor appointments. It started out as a matter of convenience and scheduling — it was easier to bring him than to arrange childcare for each appointment. But then he started to get fascinated with pregnancy, babies, and birth. By the time he turned 3, I had a budding junior obstetrician on my hands.
We read every "Mommy has a baby in her tummy" picture book, as well as the much more inclusive and accurate version, What Makes a Baby? When we read all of them, he made us request extra ones from other libraries. And when those didn't answer all his questions, he wanted the teen "about your body" books. And when those didn't have enough details about pregnancy, he made me check him out an honest-to-goodness medical textbook. He loved my midwife. He loved my obstetrician. Once, when I was about seven months along, I went to a doctor's visit by myself (I forget why) and when I mentioned something about it over dinner and he realized that I'd been to the doctor without him, he shed actual tears.
So, when it came time to make plans for the birth, it was pretty obvious that we needed to include him. My partner and I explained to him what it would be like — there's another set of picture books for that — answered his questions, and gave him as much information as we could so that he could decide, for himself, if he wanted to be there.
He chose to be there.
Because I Had A Home Birth
I had a planned home birth assisted by a midwife, so the logistics of having Emmett at the birth were much, much easier than they would have been if I had given birth in a hospital setting. I knew ahead of time who my midwife and her assistants would be, so I didn't have to worry that I'd end up with a doctor who wasn't comfortable with a child around. At home, I could have as many support people as I wanted to help me... and to help him. Emmett could be nearby and be comfortable while he waited, instead of sitting in a hospital waiting room for hours on end. I didn't have to worry about bringing his preschool germs around other pregnant people and their vulnerable infants. I had control over the environment.
Giving birth at home isn't a requirement for having a child attend a birth, but, for me, it made it a lot easier.
Because I Had Family Support
I am fortunate and grateful that I had chosen family and biological family attending my birth. There were plenty of people to support me and to support Emmett. In the throes of labor, I wasn't going to be able to be the emotional support that Emmett might need. My partner wanted to be supporting me, not taking care of the kiddo (for which I am very thankful). One of the best recommendations that I got from my midwife was to have a person who was dedicated to taking care of Emmett. That way he could come in when he (and I) wanted, he could leave when he needed, and he would be supported all the way through.
So, when I went into labor at 9 p.m., my mom took Emmett to sleep in my housemate/bestie's spare room. And when it was time for the baby to be born, my mom woke up Emmett and carried him into my room, just in time to see his brother enter the world.
Because My Midwife Helped Facilitate My Son's Presence
My birth went fast — a little under four hours, start to finish — which anyone who has ever given birth before can tell you is incredibly quick.
Because everything progressed so rapidly, I wouldn't have known when to bring Emmett in so that he didn't miss anything. At some point, in between my screams, my mom asked my midwife, "If we want to have Emmett here for the birth, when should we go get him?"
My midwife looked right at her and said, "Now."
If she hadn't had the expertise to predict how the birth would progress, and if she hadn't been with me the whole time to see how things were going, Emmett would have slept through it all.
Because My Son Was Prepared
Remember all those books I talked about? We read those because Emmett was interested, but we also read them because I wanted him to have the option to be at the birth. I knew that if he did choose to be there when his sibling was born he would need to be prepared. Births are messy. Births are loud. Births are unpredictable. Births can be scary or unsettling or overwhelming for a full-grown adult, let alone a preschooler.
So we talked about it, and in language he could understand. My midwife lent us a couple of great picture books about home births with siblings present, including Runa's Birth and Welcome With Love. These, and a carefully-curated selection of birth videos online, helped my son get an idea of what the birth might be like.
Because I Wanted To See The Look On My Son's Face
Obviously I didn't know until how amazing and beautiful my son's expression of wonder and joy would be when he saw his brother get born before that moment happened. He could have been scared, or grossed out by the blood, or just plain puzzled. But he was awestruck.
Opening up the possibility of him experiencing that wonder was one of the main "gut level" reasons I wanted him there. There are so few chances in most people's life to see something as incredible as birth. I wanted him to have the chance.
Because My Son Is A Boy
I want my son to grow up to be a person who understands and respects all women's bodies, and that means teaching him about women's bodies. Even, and especially, the gross, bloody, extreme, miraculous, ineffable things that these bodies can do. Like childbirth.