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.
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.
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.
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.