“What do I do with my kids during my home birth?”
It’s a question I hear a lot of. And there isn’t one right answer, but here are some thoughts.
It’s important to remember that children are uniquely primed to be good birth attendants. Why? Mostly because they haven’t yet witnessed decades of badly portrayed birth scenes on the media, nor have they hopefully had to listen to all the birth horror stories that you have endured hearing, either. They come into it neutrally.
So when it comes to preparing kids to witness birth, you needn’t put a whole lot of pressure on it, or even try very hard. Still, here are a few steps toward making it awesome:
Step 1: Know yourself. Know what conditions you need in order to get in the zone and effectively labor. Do you feel a little lost when your kids aren’t around? Or do you exhale with relief when they’re off at grandma’s house or at school? Do you love a noisy, busy household and find it comforting? Or do you require quiet in order to really focus? Will your kids’ needs distract you or are you able to take them in stride?
Some mamas KNOW that they really need some space during labor and birth. Others will find that they long to share the experience with their kids, the whole way through. And some may fall more in the middle, like me. I knew I needed space for the first while but that I really wanted the kids to witness the moment of birth and the immediate postpartum.
Step 2: Develop a plan to get your need (above) met. If you opt to have them gone the entire time, you may have to ask a grandparent to pick them up and whisk them off for some fun (or sleep) until you’re ready for them to come back.
If you want them around the entire time or part of the time, I recommend having what essentially amounts to a “kid doula.” Not a doula in a certified professional way, but simply a good friend who meets these criteria:
You wouldn’t be bothered if they are in the room when you are deep in labor, even if they see your vagina or hear you cuss. 😉
Your kids are very familiar with them and they are a safe person for your kids to go to with their needs, practical or emotional.
They’re available/willing to be on call for you.
They already are or can be made to be familiar with natural birth and can translate the experience to the kids as needed.
So the “kid doula” can keep your kids in other parts of the house, helping them stay busy with crafts, baking, outdoor play, games and more until you’re ready for the kids to be in your birth space with you. And then in the birth space, she can keep them close and reassure them periodically about what they are witnessing. She might hug them and comment on the loud noises mommy is making and how she’s doing that because she’s working so hard and doing such a great job. She can help them get you a drink or a cool washcloth, and in other ways sort of direc their energy as needed while also showing them with her body language and energy that there isn’t anything to be concerned about, it’s all normal.
Step 3: During your pregnancy, include them in your care. Take them to midwife appointments and let them listen to baby’s heart through the fetoscope or doppler. They may like to help measure your belly. They can also get you prenatal vitamins or talk to the baby in utero.
Step 4: Watch birth videos together! Get cuddled up on the couch and put on a few pre-screened videos of other women giving birth. Choose ones that have a similar set-up to what you’ll have in terms of birth location and attendants. Bonus points if the video shows older siblings present at the birth, too. Choose ones that DO include labor sounds and aren’t boutique films that sterilize the messy realities of birth. As you watch, make comments about what’s going on, explaining the process and normalizing the sounds and sights. If your child seems anxious, you can always turn it off and walk away, but I honestly doubt they will be anxious. Here’s a youtube playlist to get you started in your selection process:
Alternatively, I know some families who feel better about having their children watch youtube videos of animals giving birth. Think, cats, cows, dogs, sheep, etc. This is awesome because almost always animals have undisturbed births! Seeing animals just matter-of-factly having babies is pretty confidence-building for your kiddos AND you. Additionally, this means the kids won’t see the naked bodies of other women if that’s a concern for you.
Step 5: Read picture books about home birth. I’m pleased to report that there is a growing number of such books out there now! Pictured below are 5 of my favorites. You might like to pick a couple out and add them to your library. My own children asked me to read and re-read these a lot during my pregnancies.
Hello Baby by Jenni Overend – this one is my #1 favorite!
Step 6: Give them jobs to do at the birth. Do you have a child who is really affectionate? Assign him/her to back/shoulder rubs or hand-holding. Do you have an artistic child? Maybe he/she would like to draw what they are seeing or photograph it. A child who loves using your iPhone? Have him/her video-record the birth. Do you have a child who loves to be a helper? That child can bring in snacks or hand you your water bottle. Of course, it’s also okay for them to simply be present while coloring in a coloring book or holding a stuffed animal. 🙂 You will know what will work best for each of your children better than I do, but having a task that’s decided upon ahead of time may help them anchor themselves in the scene and know more of what to expect, which generally reduces anxiety if there’s any present.
I hope you have the most wonderful time experiencing pregnancy and birth with your children by your side. Because #birthbelongstofamilies!
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