Siblings at Birth? No Thanks

In natural birth and Attachment Parenting circles, it seems to be de rigueur to have siblings at subsequent births.  This practice has become more than just a fad relegated to more alternative women. I hear women everywhere discussing issues around siblings at their upcoming births: support people whose function is solely to be there for the child, preparing activities for if labour is prolonged, and worries about how the siblings will bond and accept the new baby if they happen to miss the birth for whatever reason.

Don’t get me wrong – I wholeheartedly support women everywhere to have siblings at their births, but increasingly I feel like the odd one out. You see, I deliberately never planned to have siblings at the births of my subsequent children. The reason is simple – for me to birth smoothly  I need to fully surrender , in mind and body, to the forces operating in my body. I need to feel safe, to have space to go deep within. And I need to be the centre of attention of the caregivers and support people present.

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I know I could not achieve any of these things with my children present. I would be split in two – the birthing woman and mother, both jostling to be the dominant energy. I have felt that split before. My first two births took place in hospitals, and I remember all too well having to advocate for myself whilst in the throes of labor: the warrior competing with the laboring woman who wanted to retreat into a dark cave. Those births were slow, and pushed me to the limits in terms of pain and that struggle to surrender.

We are a family heavily influenced by Anthroposophy and the ideas of Rudolf Steiner. One of the key aspects is the preservation or protection of the innocent, imaginative space of childhood. A child is prepared for the world not by exposing them to its raw reality from the beginning, but by nurturing the spiritual and etheric forces which help the child grow into optimal health in mind, body and spirit. Allowing the child to remain in the dreamy, highly imaginative state that is natural for them in early childhood in turn strengthens their sense of self – the best preparation there is in facing a difficult, complex world.

These ideas resonate deeply with me. I have always been somewhat sensitive and if I imagine myself as a child, witnessing birth, I know it would have been overwhelming and confronting. Birth can be beautiful, natural, powerful and intense, but I just never felt it was right for my children to see it in graphic detail. They would have no context in which to place it.

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How does this work in practical terms? My firstborn went with my mother when I went into labour for the second time, as did my two boys when I was birthing my first daughter. My boys often went for sleepovers to my Mother’s house, so it was no unusual circumstance for them. For my fourth and fifth babies, which were home births, it was too hard to arrange sending the children to a close relative if the birth was to occur overnight, and in any case my mother was invited to witness these births.

So, we made a ‘daytime’ plan, where my mother-in-law would take the children, and our night time plan was to do nothing, trusting that the children would remain soundly asleep, and for both these last two births, which did occur overnight, this is exactly what happened. Even our light sleeper who stumbles into our bedroom numerous times a night remained asleep! There is however, one exception to this rule. During my fifth birth, the pool, filled with water, suddenly split apart and began deflating. This happened as I was in transition and just about ready to push that baby out! To avoid flooding our house we had to wake up my then 12 year old son to help bail out the water. In the end I gave birth on the lounge room rug, only a few feet away from my madly bailing son. The midwife assures me his eyes were fixed elsewhere, but I do remember worried thoughts flitting through my mind between those primal urges to push. My son, on the cusp on puberty, watching his mother give birth?

For a while afterward I felt deeply uncomfortable with this. It is one thing to not want my children present at birth because I feel they are too young to really understand. It is another, more confronting and complex situation to feel my child is too old to be present due to his impending puberty. Now however, nearly three years later, I have made peace with this unusual birth and my elder son’s role in it. It is simply our story now. Family history. But the memory of those worried thoughts during that birth has further confirmed my feelings about the subject of siblings at birth.

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Birthing at home with my children asleep in their own beds, or nearby with Grandma, feels just as special for me as what women who have their siblings present describe. Those first precious, tentative moments when a child meets their new sister or brother are unforgettable, no matter the circumstances. And I never, for one second, felt any lack of bonding between my children – every new baby has been both doted on and subject to a normal amount of sibling jealousy. My goal as a parent is to raise a tight-knit family where hopefully, my children will grow into adulthood knowing a strong connection with their siblings. This connection is not formed the one day their siblings were born, but is built day by day, moment by moment, memory by memory.

19 thoughts on “Siblings at Birth? No Thanks”

  1. I actually witnessed my younger siblings births. I was 4 and 6 and each memory is deep and vivid. I do remember being a bit scared during some of it, but mostly I was amazed. It completely blew my mind what was occurring. I can tell you now, as adults and parents ourselves, it is so beautiful to be able to tell a different version of their birth story to them. My mother and father’s idea of how the day went is totally different than mine. I’ll never forget the day either of my siblings were born and I feel blessed that my parents gave me and my siblings this gift. However, I agree with you, I don’t think I could do it myself!

  2. I had my 5 y/o daughter at my second birth. It wasn’t planned that way, just happened. Luckily she took a nap before I started pushing. Overall it wasn’t a bad experience for anyone but I would get a more reliable sitter if I had to do it again.

  3. I agree that having children attending the birth would be very distracting for some. I considered it for a very short period and then imagined my girls jumping around and making lots of noise which would drive me mad. So I opted for a quiet birth with just my husband and midwife present.

    I would also have to agree that birth is a very sacred thing. It is beautiful and hidden, just like sex. I think it takes some degree of understanding and maturity to watch and attend a birth. I realize that many want to make it more open and transparent, but there is comfort, security, and calmness in keeping it more private. Perhaps some children do have the maturity to be present during their mother’s greatest point of vulnerability and to understand this transition of life. But my kids certainly don’t have that now.

  4. I felt the same way and thought I was strange. Like you, I knew that I would be torn between fully concentrating on birth and the needs of my older children. I made arrangements with family or close friends for each birth and brought my children in later. All births were at night so they were peacefully sleeping any way. Thank you for sharing because I have felt as if I were the only attachment parenting, breastfeeding, cloth diapering mother who thought this way and my kids are 24, 27, 29, 32,and 34!

  5. Thank you for this. I am 25 weeks and planning a home birth and figuring out where my 16 month old son (he will be 19 months) will be during my birth has been a huge priority. For both of our sakes, I have always planned not to have my son there and also sometimes feel like odd woman out.

  6. When I was 4 and 8yrs old, I witnessed the home births of my little brother and sister. The experiences were so simple, special and straight-forward that I grew up with a very positive attitude towards birthing. My own two labours were short and simple, partly due to my relaxed attitude towards the experience which I had carried with me since childhood. We chose to have our almost-3yr old at the birth of our second without any additional caregivers for her, and we really loved having her there to ‘help’. Our decision had nothing to do with goals of sibling bonding (I hadn’t even considered that before now in fact), and everything to do with welcoming ‘our’ new baby as a family, and I’m pretty sure we succeeded in helping her to grow up confident and fearless in her own approach to birthing, so goal achieved! Oh, and I should mention that my own parents were devout anthroposophists, and experiencing birth at a young age did nothing to spoil the magic and innocence of our childhoods. Birthing is such a powerful and unique experience for every woman that it makes sense to do whatever flows best with your own values and goals. Thanks for the article, I just thought I’d share a real experience on the same subject but with a very different perspective.

    1. I agree with you ktownmama.

      To the author of this post, I respect your decision and believe that women should birth in the environment that they are most comfortable with. So if having no siblings at your birth Creates the most peaceful birthing environment for you, then I fully support you! However I feel the need to share with you that those of us who have siblings present at our births, may still be in line with your philosophies and train of thought. I would never have my children encounter the harsh and ugly realities of this world sooner than they have to. That is why we do not a t.v. (I cannot imagine natural birth being worse than the things that are on t.v) and we homeschool our children. They are allowed to play/learn (because it is one in the same to us) all day long and stay in their imaginative and dreamy state for as long as possible. I myself was homeschooled and I still played dress-up and house with my siblings when I was a teenager! I look back on those year of preserved innocence with fondness. but, and a big “but” I was always TERRIFIED OF BIRTH because I only knew what the world told me. I only knew how doctors and the whole modern medical system tried to instill fear and powerlessness into a woman’s image of birth. I, like so many others, believed that “my body is not capable of birthing a baby without the help of medical staff and lots of scary interventions.” And as a young adult, I witnessed in movies and birthing shows, how “horrendous and terrifying birth was.” I wanted marriage and children but could not imagine how I could ever endure birth. It wasn’t until I met a friend in college who attended the homebirths of her 9 brothers and sisters, and who shared with me with a smile, and with child-like purity and innocence that is “completely fine and normal!” And then she enlightened me on details and guided me to more help which I will spare elaborating.

      Having my children present at their siblings’ birth has been incredibly beautiful for all of use. But that is not the point you and I differ on. You may find it more beautiful to be in your own space without them and I support that! 🙂 but I’m writing to say that just because I have my children present at the birth, it is not because I want them to encounter the “raw realities of this world” and loose their spiritual and innocent state, as your wrote, …but on the contrary, I want them to see and know that birth fits into the spiritual, natural, pure and innocent realms!

      After reading and viewing natural birth books and videos and several of my own home births, I now view birth as the most natural event that can occur to a woman’s body. I believe it is also one of the most–if not thee most–spiritual events in our humanity. Which is why, my choice to have siblings present at my children’s birth can fall exactly in line with your reason not to…
      ” by nurturing the spiritual And etheric forces which help the child grow in optimal health of mind, body and soul.” You see, I feel the need and responsibility to show my children that birth is a sacred, spiritual and ABOVE ALL perfectly natural event. I want my daughters most of all to know that it is NORMAL and not to fear their own future births. I want my sons to know that is NORMAL and that they can be the best support for however their future wives need them. And I want all my children to be advocates for the truth and support all women who choose to birth naturally, in hospitals, birth centers, or at home. You may want these outcomes, too, if I am reading you correctly (and please tell me if I am not) but we may just differ on how we guide our children to this outcome. That is fine and again, I respect and support you. I only write this to clarify that we women with kids are our births may be more like you than you think. 😉

      1. Thanks Jess for your moving account. I agree with everything you say, that what we are trying to do for our children is the same.

  7. Women need to have the right to choose who is present for their births in the same way that they need to have the right to choose the location.

    For me, having my children present meant one thing less to worry about. I knew where they were and knew my husband was available if they needed him. By the time I had #4, #1 asked to catch her sister and I was proud to have her by the midwife’s side to do exactly that.

  8. I understand not wanting little ones running around who want/need attention while all of ones energy needs to be focused on the enormous job of labor. I do have to say,though,that all of my older children were present (to different degrees) for all of the births of their younger siblings and it was an amazing, sacred thing for them,as they describe it. I had friends who were there to attend to the needs of older babies & toddlers. When my forth baby was born,my midwife,my Mom and my Step-Mom had all left (to go to dance class,the store,etc,)because it didn’t seem that birth was immenant. As soon as everyone left,the baby decided to come.My 12 year old daughter and I caught her baby sister together while my 8 & 9 yr old children jumped on the trampoline, more concerned with playing than being present for the birth. I remember my daughter pulling off her shoes to get in the water with me,and me telling her “get it under the armpits on the next one” (contraction) That was so amazing and empowering for us, and the subject of a great school essay. Eighteen months later when my last baby was born,my son who was by now 10, held my hand through the intense transition part of labor,and so did my husband. They both wanted to help take the pain away or try to minimize it by sending me energy,and trying to absorb mine. While my husband looked like he was suffering,my son had such a calm,assured expression, certain he was helping,and not at all worried about my ability to do what I had to do.That was amazing,they are amazing for that. I am lucky to have had one ‘pretty ok’hospital birth and four beautiful homebirths. I decided to share this because I want people to know that it can pretty friggin awesome to have your kids with you when you give birth,too.

  9. My daughter was present for my second daughter but only because she was 10years old and I wanted her to witness the birth of her sister. I felt she was mature enough and I wanted her to see what it was about so she knew its serious business being she was going to be a teen in a few years. I’m now pregnant with my 3rd child and my 2cnd child is 12 but she is less mature than my first. My oldest is 21now so she may be present if she wants to be but my 12 year old will be in the waiting room. I don’t think she can handle seeing me in distress. So I really think it has a lot to do with the mother and the child and how mature you think they are. This birth will be a water birth medication free if all goes as planned. I don’t even know myself how it will go and I don’t want my focus to be on worrying about how she is handling everything.

  10. In my 4 home births I made sure I had options, because Who knows what I’d want when actually IN labour? They slept thru one, participated in one, woke up to the sound of my delighted squeals in one, and in the other I couldn’t stand having them in the house.

    I saw a birth video a few days ago in which the mom shrieked and cried, and a toddler was also crying, frightened by her screams, poor thing. Must’ve been distracting for mom. I think it would be better for both of them if the child wasn’t there.

    At one birth I attended, the toddler was scared by the sound of mom pushing. I spent the next 20 minutes pushing an invisible elephant through the doorway to demonstrate pushing and send us both into giggles.

  11. To use an old espression, ‘”you are making a mountain out of a molehill”. I homebirthed my subsequent babies, and th siblings, well, thats where they eat and sleep. Thats their home too. So Grandma was there to take care of them. Most of the labor was at night anyway, and the kids were asleep.

    I recall Grandma getting bowls of cheerios for siblings as baby 3 was crowning. The fact that i was vaguely aware that they were eating cheerios, didnt interfere with the labor for me. Maybe it would have for you.

    It really depends on your support network, and certainly having a homebirth makes the siblings’ presence a non brainer. At a hospital, thats another matter.

    I agree with the first post-im so glad i coudl offer them the opportunity to witness a real birth. That is something to know about!

  12. To use an old espression, ‘”you are making a mountain out of a molehill”. I homebirthed my subsequent babies, and th siblings, well, thats where they eat and sleep. Thats their home too. So Grandma was there to take care of them. Most of the labor was at night anyway, and the kids were asleep.

    I recall Grandma getting bowls of cheerios for siblings as baby 3 was crowning. The fact that i was vaguely aware that they were eating cheerios, didnt interfere with the labor for me. Maybe it would have for you.

    It really depends on your support network, and certainly having a homebirth makes the siblings’ presence a non brainer. At a hospital, thats another matter.

    I agree with the first post-im so glad i could offer them the opportunity to witness a real birth. That is something to know about!

    1. I agree completely. It’s part of life. I’d rather they see a real birth and lessen their fear rather than subject them to the aweful hearsay out there.

  13. I am a L&D nurse with two boys, 11 and 7. I had my first at home and second in hospital as that was the best option for the situation. My mother who is a pediatrician was present. She raised me to be very relaxed with the physical body, discussed topics in age appropriate ways as I matured, and gave me very fond and enriching memories of my brothers birth. That was the “culture” of my family as I decided to have my then 4y old attend the tail end of labor and pushing with his brother. We had had Youtube evenings with carefully selected videos and many conversations- the noises, the blood, my unavailability, my “good” pain, and that I was so happy just like when he came into the world. We talked about hard work and Nature’s perfection as well as obstacles.
    As my best friend / midwife danced the birth with me, and my husband gave his love, I felt stronger with him there, knowing he was in good hands.
    It depends on the mother, the child, and the family. I believe stongly that there is no “right” way, and what is “right” for one family is not always “right” for another nor for the same family at a different time. We all should honor and respect each other that we are doing the best possible.

  14. I really appreciate the authors perspective. My daughter, age 7 attended her brothers birth. She now is a doula, so I think it did really impact her. My son, her younger brother was present when she herself gave birth. As with all things regarding birthing, women should feel free to do what makes them comfortable. I know it is difficult to project how you will feel in a situation, but the more prepared, the better choices you will make for yourself.

  15. I completely appreciate this perspecitve. I know sometimes things will happen, but its definately preferable to me to have my kids gone. Preferably out of the house actually. Its good that people make it known that all kinds of quirky birth preferences are acceptable, normal even. One moment does not define your entire relationship with your kids, just like bringing books into your house doesn’t make for good young readers. Its the intention, the ongoing relationship.

    I think it also depends on how you labor. I labor wanting privacy and wanting to focus. Once I hit transistion, I get crabby with people I love, and I get snappy (do this! don’t do that!). I dont want my kids to remember me snapping at them, yelling at them. In fact I really don’t like the idea of sharing birth memories with my kids in that sense at all, its a very raw, painful, unpleasant moment. Adults get it and are quite forgiving afterwards. Kids want to hear the fun parts of labor, the baby afterwards, the adventures in getting the tub set up.

  16. I actually was there to see each of my mother’s children being born – they were both home births. For the first, I was only 2, so I don’t remember it. My mother’s friend was watching me in the other room. For the second birth, I was 7 (almost 8), and my first sibling was 5. My mother’s labour was extremely short – less than an hour from start to finish, bless her! She was pretty loud during contractions, and I was so frightened – I’d never heard her sound like that before – but my brother thought it was hilarious! I remember him dragging me to the bathroom, giggling all the way, and me holding back, because I was so scared. But then, I finally came in just as my new brother was crowning. I remember the doula saying, “That’s the head.” And thinking, “That doesn’t look like a head to me!” But it was so special watching him come out. I’ll never forget it. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

    That being said, I’m not sure if I’d do the same thing. If I were to give birth, I’d definitely want to do it at home, but I think I’d be more comfortable knowing that my other children were safely out of the way, so that I could focus on labour.

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