I'm not entirely decided, but I'm inclined *not* to have them there (they'll be 4.5 and 2.75 in August). I think it's a fine choice to make, but I've attended a handful of home births with children present in the last year-or-so that I've been apprenticing, and here's what I've noticed:
First of all, and the biggest thing (for me), is that kids just often couldn't care less--especially at that age. In my (admittedly limited) experience, 2-year-olds are not particularly frightened by mom making noises, et cetera (although they are occasionally a little apprehensive, I think, of the fact that there is clearly *something* going on, and maybe some new people, et cetera. But they don't tend to appreciate the "miracle of life" like we might like to imagine they will.
In fact, I feel like I've been at lots of births where mom and dad are like, "Look, honey--it's your little brother/sister!" And the kid just wants to play with the midwife's flashlight or doppler. I haven't seen a two-year-old yet who really seemed to care.
Secondly, it *can* be frightening for some kids. From what I've seen, it's usually the slightly older kids who are frightened--I've seen a couple 4-year-old siblings, and a 6-ish year old niece at a birth, and they were frightened. They are old enough to know moaning and crying means pain, and that pain can mean danger. I know that I've heard my 4-year-old say something about "if you bleed and bleed and bleed and don't stop, you'll die" to my daughter (regarding a papercut, I'll add
). Even minor-to-moderate bleeding looks like an awful lot--especially if you're having a water birth. In those moments after birth, often no one is thinking of explaining things to the toddler/young child in the room (who may or may not understand, anyway)--even if everything is going perfectly, the midwife is likely assessing the baby (even if just visually and from a reasonable distance), watching the mother for excessive bleeding, preparing for the birth of the placenta...whatever. Mom and dad are probably sort of wrapped up in seeing their new baby. I think it has the potential to be scary to an older child or a particularly emotionally in-tune toddler.
And, thirdly, sometimes kids can sort of cause stress to the mother or be a distraction/"get in the way" (for lack of a better word). I was at a birth recently where the almost-3-year-old kept taking off out the back door and running out into the (unfenced) yard. It was a nice, but chilly, March day, and he wanted to play outside. It was just me, my preceptor, and mom and dad there. The baby was born easily, but mom suffered a postpartum hemorrhage that eventually required transport. So as mom is bleeding in the living room and the midwife and I are trying to handle *that,* dad is outside in the chilly air with the 30-minute-old baby, chasing down the toddler. When mom wants to get up to go to the bathroom, her husband and the midwife are helping her and I'm holding the newborn--and the toddler is back out in the backyard. They eventually called someone to come be with their toddler (but only as we were calling an ambulance to take mom to the hospital). We really, at that time, all needed to be focussed on the mother and baby, and we couldn't because the toddler was putting himself in danger.
So while I totally, totally *GET* the feeling that you want your whole family together at that time (and, perhaps, the fear that it will be confusing/traumatic for your toddler to come home and the baby just "be there" when it wasn't there when he/she left), I am personally leaning towards having my kids leave the house with family when I'm in labor, and calling them to bring them back as soon as the baby is born and I'm sort of settled. But I totally get why people might choose to have them there, and I think that's a fine choice.
HOWEVER, I would really strongly advise you to find, if you can, someone to be at the birth *just* for your child/children. It alleviates a LOT (all, really) of the problems I mentioned, I think. If your child is afraid (or just disinterested) there is someone there who can take her out of the room and do something different with her. If he is running out the back door, or getting into something in the next room, there is someone there whose JOB it is to handle the situation and keep him safe. And in the unlikely event that your birth or postpartum becomes complicated in one way or another, you're not scrambling to find care for her so you can get the care you need.
That will be $.02, please!