Birth – A Family Affair
By Ann McLeod Taylor,
Birth has always been a family tradition. Partners make love to conceive a child, the mother carries, nurtures and births the baby and brings them up with the help of the family. It was the accepted practice that the elder males acted as protectors, while the elder women supported, comforted and encouraged the birthing mother. Young family members were just there, playing, watching and learning. No need to worry about the children or to find baby sitters. Birth was no big issue it is just a small part of life. What were a few hours to a day out of the whole of your life? Only a very small part.
Our society has changed through the ages. Due to the breakdown of the family unit, a loss of the extended village family and the apparent increased need for privacy, we have created a need for an authority to teach and make decisions for us. I find it bizarre and somewhat sad to think that we have survived since Adam and Eve with the support of family, but in the last few hundred years we have forgotten what is basically a natural event. Men were designed to get us pregnant and we were designed to carry a pregnancy. At the right time we will birth our baby, feed it and nurture it with the help of family. Modern medicine is of great value if things do not go right.
The beauty of birth has become a silent, fearful, dreaded and very lonely event. We handed over our innate knowledge and power to others to manage our lives, because we have lost the trust in our own wisdom and bodies. These days our birthing is a frightening time with only our partner as our one familiar face. Our place of birth is a room with many frightening and unknown “gizmos”. So is it then any wonder we grab on to our specialised service providers as a lifeline. At least we may have known them for 8 months but in reality, we may only have seen them for 2-3 hours. How can we form a close and trusting bond in so short a time?
How much nicer would it be to be able to have a supportive family around you at this very special time. A mother to stroke your hair as she did when you were a child – to tell you how wonderful you are and get you drinks and hot packs. A partner who knows his load of responsibility is eased can see what settles you and how he can help. A father around to calm the male nerves and be someone your partner can talk to. Remember your parents looked after you as a baby and your body holds no secrets from them.
How wonderful it would be for your child or children to be around playing with toys or patting you on the bottom and asking if you were ok? Chances are you would be so busy worrying about not making noises that might petrify your child that you would sail through you labour. If however, you did make noise, it would be easy enough to explain to your child that you were singing a special song to your new baby and ask your child to not say anything while you were singing. Most children would be happy enough to accept your explanation.
If you have made your pregnancy a normal part of life and discussed it with your other children, having them in the birthing room with you would not seem strange to them. It has been well documented that when a family are together at, or just after the birth, they have a much closer bond and exhibit much less sibling rivalry.
Lets’ be honest – most of our children have seen us in bed, on the loo and in the shower. They have seen us dressed up to the nines and at our “daggiest” worst – hot, sweaty and bad tempered. So what is new?
Will they watch you, to see what you are doing during labour? Of course they will – don’t they watch you at home doing new things? Will they get bored and move on to other things? You bet. What is new? Will they get anxious with new people wandering in and out – especially if those people fail to acknowledge them? Sure they would, same as they would at home. Again what is new? At home when you try to do things behind children’s backs, don’t they always find out and want to see what you are up to? However if you brazenly do it in front of them without any fuss or hassle they totally ignore what is going on. The same can be said of labour and birth.
A few toys, some one familiar to play a game or two with and some food and drinks, will usually keep little ones happy. A quiet computer game, T.V. or books, usually keeps the older ones happy. No different to being at home.
The actual birth in itself only lasts a few minutes, and really the children are only excited because every one else is. They also only get frightened when we do. We need to realise that while we as adults, class our breasts and genitalia as “our private bits”, a child (who has no sexual awareness) sees them as just parts of a body and not sacred at all.
Do many women bring their children to labour ward? Sadly not many. Often only if labour progresses swiftly and baby sitters do not make it in time. However in Birthing Centres and homebirths it is more common for siblings to be present and are welcome in the birthing scene.
Mothers are great teachers, constantly showing on a daily basis how things are or should be done. Having your child or children with you in labour or at your birthing is a wonderful bonding experience for the whole family. It is a great way to demonstrate that birth is a wonderful and natural process for a girl. It is the most incredible gift we can give our family. It is also a way of helping to normalise birth. Happy birthing with family support.
Ann McLeod Taylor is a daughter, wife, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother. She is also a RN, midwife, Child Birth Educator, Lactation Consultant, Hypnotherapist, Natural Therapist and occasional Doula. She runs her own practice in Tarragindi, Brisbane. You can phone Ann on (07) 33927517 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ideas to Prepare Your Child for the Birth of a Sibling
Make your pregnancy a family affair. Have all the family talk to baby and touch your tummy, from when it is very small right up to the birth. Show pictures of baby’s development, and explain what is happening.
Have the family accompany you for the prenatal visits and scans.
Involve the family in preparing your home for baby’s arrival. Even the smallest family member likes to feel important by being given a “job” appropriate to their age.
Have the siblings choose or make a present for the new baby.
Have something from the new baby to them, packed away for the day.
Constantly explain how the new baby will fit into the family. Talk about how the baby will need lots of extra attention in the early weeks and how the siblings can assist to make baby feel welcome.
Talk about labour and what may happen. Who will be there and what they may do.
Visit friends who have new babies. Show them animals and their offspring so they can get the connections.
Read stories about birth. There are many available. A really lovely one that I have is “Hello Baby” by Jenny Overend.
Watch appropriate videos of birth with your children and explain what is happening to them. This is particularly helpful in familiarising children with the natural noises of a birthing mother.
On “B” Day explain, explain and explain. Calm and comfort the siblings including your partner, and make sure you have someone whom the children know and trust with you who can look after them while you and your partner are working through your labour.
Don’t forget their familiar toys, books games, and nourishment.
Always give children the option to be present at the birth or not. Respect their choices and value them as part of the process whether they attend or prefer to meet their sibling later.