Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

My Kids Were In The Room When I Gave Birth

I recently had my third child. In many ways, his birth was like my first two: it was unmedicated, it was at home and not in a hospital, it was attended by a Certified Nurse Midwife, and both my mom and my partner were there. But this time, my other children were present while I was in labor. They were also there for the actual birth. And they weren't just physically in the room — they were actively cheering me on and supporting me.

I always knew that I wanted them there. Both of them were interested in learning about pregnancy and birth from the beginning. We referred to this baby as "Chip," and they'd ask about him and when they would get to meet him. Toward the end, they were just as impatient to meet him as I was. In fact, the night Chip was born, my water had already been broken for almost a day. We even kept the kids home from school that day so they wouldn't miss the birth. We had let them decide if they wanted to be there. We discussed what attending the birth would entail, and they knew that eventually a baby would emerge from my vagina. They didn't seem at all nervous about it. In fact, one of the things I loved about including them is that they were so accepting of birth as a natural physiological process.

So that night, when I was tucking in my kids and taking breaks between contractions, I told them that hopefully, tonight would be it. My 6-year-old son said, "Mom, I can't wait to meet him." I chuckled and said no one was as eager as I was. He refused to believe this. In his mind, it wasn't possible to look forward to something more than he was looking forward to meeting Chip.

Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

My three year old daughter had her own reasons for wanting to be there. She was eager to learn more about birth. I watched so many birth videos with her and showed her so many anatomical illustrations. She even played with a baby doll at the midwife's office, which had an umbilical cord and a placenta and even a stuffed pelvis that it just barely fit through. She always wanted to help find the heartbeat.

To me, birth is a chance to celebrate with the whole family. It's a huge rite of passage for the mother, of course, but also for her children. I wanted them to see birth as natural and beautiful, as I see it.

So of course, I included them as much as they wanted to be included. To me, birth is a chance to celebrate with the whole family. It's a huge rite of passage for the mother, of course, but also for her children. I wanted them to see birth as natural and beautiful, as I see it. My midwife was fully on board with this. She herself had included her children in the birth of their siblings.

I was fortunate enough to be raised by a mother who had confidence in her ability to give birth. She didn't see it as a medical emergency, or pregnancy as an illness. My mom taught childbirth education for many years, and her passion had rubbed off on me. I feel like I owe my joyous births, in large part, to her attitude and experiences. I want my children, if they choose one day to have children of their own, to have the great birth experiences I had with all of them. One of the most important ways I could encourage that, is to let them see that it is possible to have a childbirth that is beautiful, natural and not traumatic.

Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

My midwife arrived about 45 minutes before my son was born. I suspected he would be born soon, but my contractions were still far apart (though they were long and intense, and I could feel his head moving lower with each one.) By the time I felt like pushing, it was suddenly urgent to get the kids in the room so they could watch him being born.

Before my kids were in the room, things were pretty intense. I was going through transition, the most intense part of labor that occurs right before the pushing phase. It's when the contractions are strong and long and close together. I was changing positions a lot. I vomited. When I started pushing, I had a moment of not being able to figure out how I wanted to be positioned and I was very flustered.

When they came into the room all bleary-eyed, I was suddenly very calm. I was able to be both a laboring mother, alone in the sensations I was experiencing, and a mother to my older two children.

My husband had to go wake the children up. They were nestled in bed in their matching PJs, and waking them wasn't easy. They'd wanted to be there, so we had told them that likely we would be waking them up in the middle of the night to witness the birth. And while it's difficult to think about anything other than getting the baby out during the pushing phase, I remembered how important it was to me that they be there. I tried to push slowly to give them time.

When they came into the room all bleary-eyed, I was suddenly very calm. I was able to be both a laboring mother, alone in the sensations I was experiencing, and a mother to my older two children.

Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

I smiled, invited them on the bed, and continued my work. My son was a bit squeamish about blood, so we had decided ahead of time that he could sit by my head. My daughter was not daunted at all, and happily sat on a pillow at the foot of the bed. Those moments were so special. My son was a single push away from being born, and I had all of the most important people in my life in the room with me.

Of course, as he emerged, there was blood, and he was "made of goo" as my daughter reported. But no one was worried or panicking. My children didn't have any reason to be afraid, and so they weren't. It was a beautiful moment.

And I think it helped them bond with their new baby brother. They had already been so sweet, talking and singing to him while he was still in utero. (My daughter was convinced my belly button was some sort of microphone into which she should direct her sound.) They felt like they already knew Chip, and after seeing him emerge, there was no doubt in their mind that this new squalling being was the same baby. My daughter happily announced, "He's in our family now!" I'll never forget those first moments. And I cherish the images I have of my daughter looking tired but eager, and of my sweet older son snuggled up by my shoulder and looking on in wonder.

Courtesy of Olivia Hinebaugh

I know a lot of women might not choose to have their other children present at the birth, in part because it's difficult to focus on the task of birthing your baby while caring for the others. In fact, my labor didn't kick into that high gear until my children were asleep. Anecdotally, my midwife says that subsequent children are often born in the middle of the night for this very reason, because only when the mother isn't focused on her children, but on herself, does her body relax enough to go into labor. I'm not sure I would have received them so happily if they had come into the room when I was shaking and vomiting, but I was so glad to have them there at the moment of birth. Their anticipation and their caring truly gave me strength.

My daughter can recall so many of the details of my son's birth, and my oldest son tells me that he is so glad he was one of the first people to meet and to hold his brother. I love being able to talk to them about it. To hear the memories they have of it. And even if they are too little to remember it in a few years, I will always cherish their presence at my son's birth.