I am often asked whether or not young children should attend the home births of their siblings, and if so, what kind of preparation should be done to support them? While I think preparation can be good if you feel your child is of an age and comprehension stage to benefit from it, it really highlights how far we have removed birth from our everyday lives. I’m not suggesting we refrain from preparing but I think we owe ourselves, and our children, some time to think about why we feel it’s necessary. To me, it underscores how birth is no longer just a part of the lifecycle for most of us.
When our greatgrandmothers were having babies, which happened at home as a matter of course and was just called “birth”, did people prepare children? I doubt it. Everyone would have heard birthing women as a matter of course. When we took birth out of our homes and put it in a medical setting, we made it an extraordinary event requiring supervision by professionals. The need to prepare wouldn’t exist if we lived alongside birth and it was a part of our normal lives.
Given that few of us live in communities where birth is normal, what can we do to prepare our children to be present? There are many books, dvds, websites and even a downloadable colouring book on the net! I still hesitate though to say we must throw ourselves into preparation for this somehow extraordinary event. The rest of life is just as good as anything for helping children learn about birth since birth is just a part of life. Some things in life are scary for children and I don’t necessarily see that as bad. It’s how we support them to deal with those emotions that matters, I think. My son is freaked out by the washing machine jiggling it’s way across our tiny laundry and I’ve never thought to have a day of videos and books to help him fathom it. When it happens, as it does from time to time, we hold him close, and talk about how sometimes the machine doesn’t work very well and it makes those LOUD noises and I understand that he finds that scary.
My labour was very long and hard and yet being at home also helped both of us as I was able to still be present for him in some ways until things were really intense. He was distressed by some of it at times but he was supported to work through it as he is with other challenging events. I think it’s healthy for him to see that life contains things which can overwhelm or frighten us but we can recover and still flourish. He’s storing up experiences of resilience. I’d like to think that we can see birth as a part of life and yet still see more birth around us. Perhaps it will take a while but it’s a good dream.