Today I bumbed into a client whose births I attended a few years ago. Karen happened to be driving past the gate as I stepped out of my Cape Town home. Seven years ago in Cape Town, Karen birthed Teano, her firstborn son, in hospital and was home a few hours later. Second time around, Karen gave birth to Lorenzo at home and it was so quick I arrived just in time to join the family before the birth. And the memories of this birth and the close bonding and attachment between the two brothers brought up the subject of siblings at birth.
There are definitely various things to consider when approaching the idea of siblings at birth:
The Birthing Mother
Personally I think the birthing mother has the first call on whether her other children should be present at the birth of her next or not. Every mother is different. If one takes a look at mammalian animal birthing behaviours, the “pack” mother type for example, from a pack of wolves, lions, or cheetahs, will seek a protected bush in the undercover (privacy) away from the pack, to birth her cubs. A “herd” Mammal i.e. an elephant, buck or buffalo will wait till a serene moment and be surrounded by her best friends, the group matriarch, her other female offspring and beyond that the rest of the herd.
I think some women are ‘pack’ mothers and others are ‘herd’ mothers. Some women like absolute privacy and others like to be surrounded by family and friends and how a mother feels during labour and birth plays a big role in how well the birth proceeds. Many women will NOT wish their other children to be present and other women will feel good about having their other children with them at the actual birth. A mother’s wishes should always be supported and respected.
It is important to consider the age, personality and desire of a sibling to attend when allowing their presence at birth. Is the sibling a tearaway toddler who is going to be dismantling your fireplace or trying out the electronic gadgets while you are navigating transition, or is your child more likely to attach herself to Daddy’s lap trusting his confidence in your ability to make it seem like a walk in the park?
I remember when my third and lastborn child was born, my eldest son of almost 6 yrs wanted, albeit a bit nervously, to be ‘there’ when his brother was born, while the two and a half yr old was absolutely emphatic, he did not wish to be there, it was not his brother and he didn’t ask for him! Subsequently, he sat in the kitchen and modelled playdough with fierce concentration for about 3 hours, while I laboured and gave birth. We respected his decision and he and his new brother did eventually become the best of friends. The point I am making here is that even a two and a half year old can have a strong preference and act on it.
Another important point is that it is essential to arrange specific and known caretakers for the other children in the family when they wish to be present at a birth. The toddler who needs to ‘see’ the new baby come out may also need to pee and this can require some help from an adult, and it should NOT be the labouring mom!
Teano was eager to be present and to welcome his brother. He was well prepared and excited, and I think this is key to siblings at birth. Preparation is paramount and this leads us to the next question “How easy or difficult is it for you to speak to your children about sex, conception, pregnancy and birth?”. If it is hard, my suggestion is that you enlist the help of a close friend or even your midwife to enlighten your children. Someone who loves and understands children and can describe the concepts in an appropriate and friendly way.
Preparation is All
Use proper names when describing how Mom and Dad make a baby and show them pictures. For children, life is matter-of-fact and very simple. They are not shocked when they see farm animals mating or giving birth. As long as we do not impart our own embarrassment or value judgment, they will accept the facts of life without reserve.
Find opportunities to visit farmyards and show them mother, fathers and baby animals, such as ewes and lambs, or a cow, a bull and a calf. There are some wonderful pop-up books with pictures of the fertilization process, growth of the embryo and developing baby. Allow your child to change the subject so that they can arrange and integrate the information they have received. Always respond with honesty – it is the best policy. It is so much healthier for a young (and older) child to receive information from his parents about love, sex and procreation than to receive false information from peers or even teachers. My lastborn son requested to watch the video of his own birth when he was about seven years old. And after that, no-one could tell him any lies about sex, girls or birth. He ‘knew’ the facts!
Teano wanted to bath with Lorenzo as soon as he could after the birth and here he is with Mom Karen, protectively watching over them. Teano also slept with Lorenzo and behaved protectively towards him. For these two children procreation and birth is not a mystery or a secret, it is a normal part of life, part of the wonderful story of creation. It is part of their personal story of incarnation as human beings.
They will always have a sense of rootedness, they know where they came from and that secure feeling will enable them to fly in the future!