Preparing a Sibling to Participate in a Birth
One of the biggest reasons we chose to have a home birth is because we wanted to make the transition into a family of four as easy as possible on Nora. I didn’t want to just disappear for two days to the hospital and then bring a baby home. I wanted Nora to have the option of participating in this wonderful family transition, both because I thought it might help her to feel more connected to her sibling and because I thought she might enjoy and grow from the experience.
While discussing what her participation might look like, we realized how important it would be for her to be comfortable in the environment and with the persons present at the birth. There was just no way that she could fully be comfortable in a hospital or in the presence of nurses and other attendants that she did not know. Additionally, in three and a half years, I have spent just one night away from Nora; when planning the birth, one of the things I most wanted to minimize was time away from her. After careful consideration it became apparent that a home birth was not just the best choice for me and Peach, but also the best choice for Nora.
I knew from the very beginning that I wanted Nora to be able to participate in the birth if she chose to participate, so a major part of our baby preparations was making sure she knew what to expect about the day. I thought that others might be interested in hearing what we did to prepare Nora for Zara’s birth, so this post is a little run down of what we did to prepare our three year old for childbirth. I’d imagine that other families might do things differently from what we did, especially if their children are different ages, but here is what worked for us:
From the very beginning, we talked a lot about birth. Nora knew that “my tummy would get bigger and bigger and bigger, and then the baby would come out of my vagina.” We are firm believers in using the correct anatomical names for body parts and so we explained what would happen using the correct terms. At this age, it never occurred to Nora to ask how the baby got in my tummy, so we didn’t have to worry about answering any more, err, complicated questions. She just took it at face value and that was that. (I will say that knowing this information led to a few funny moments when she relayed it to an unsuspecting great-grandmother over Skype.)
Besides talking about birth, we read many times over two different books about birth, How You Were Born and Welcomed With Love (which is now sold with the title Hello, Baby), and I also made Nora a birth doll inspired by the awesome MamAmor dolls.
I liked How You Were Born because it talks more about how the baby grows and includes some in utero photographs.
It includes more detailed information such as the fetus starting as a tiny cell and dividing, the purpose of the umbilical cord, and drawings of a baby being born. It also didn’t hurt that it allowed for home birth: though the images did not show a home birth, it did include a sentence about the midwife coming to your house if “you were born at home.” And lastly, it includes an image of a baby breastfeeding. Though Nora already knew quite a bit about breastfeeding, I avoided any books at the library that did not include it in the discussion of birth.
Welcomed With Love is a fictional story about a home birth told from the perspective of an older sibling. It has some great illustrations depicting birth as it actually is and talks about things that a sibling might see or hear. This book would be great to read to any sibling who is going to be present, but it is especially invaluable if you are planning a home birth.
We watched many, many birth videos. I always previewed them first and tried to select ones that would be similar to our birth plans (home births, water births, and preferably births with siblings present). YouTube is a great resource for birth videos. Because these videos are not the most accurate depictions of birth to a three year old (since they are shortened, edited and often include music, etc), in the final weeks, we also borrowed a video called Birth: A Family Experience from our midwife. The video was very, very eighties, but it has a three year old big sister present and isn’t edited to be artistic in the same way that the videos available on YouTube are; it also includes camera angles actually showing the baby coming out and the actual sounds of a relatively vocal mother, all of which were useful, I think, in Nora developing the best understanding of what she might witness during the birth.
The last thing that we did to prepare Nora for the birth is make sure she was comfortable with everyone who would be present. Nora attended all of my prenatal appointments, during which she was able to spend time getting to know our midwife, Sybille, which was very important given her more reserved nature. She also had a few opportunities to meet our photographer ahead of time and we made sure to have someone present at the birth whose only job was playing with, caring for, and supporting Nora.
I’m so glad that we were able to have Nora present for her sister’s birth and that she was so clearly excited about the entire experience. Even in the final moments when I was pushing and making some noise, she wasn’t at all freaked out or upset, which I credit to all the talking, book reading, and video watching we did ahead of time. I love that Zara’s birth was truly a family experience and that Nora will always have her memories of that wonderful day.
Fantastic post, Amber! We’ve been discussing this and have found it challenging to figure out how we want Mr. T to be a part of the birth when we know/ have a trust relationship with so few people in Georgia. I really appreciated you sharing what you guys did to prepare. It gave me some good insight and was fodder for valuable conversation between John and I. On a side note, somewhere between when we talked last in September and now, I have lost your phone number (ack!) You’ve been on my mind a lot and I was going to call you tonight until I discovered that said phone number had disappeared (Oh the mysteries of technology)! When are able to, could you please give me a call? I’m due this Saturday, so I’d love to talk with you 🙂
This is so great! I’m going to go add those books to my amazon wish list : )