I just received that from a sweet little girl, we were together at the home waterbirth of her baby sister. Can you see in the picture the girl, her mom in the pool, and me taking photos? Oh, this made me smile!
Having children attend a birth is going to depend on a lot of variables, and ultimately is up to the comfort level of the parents and the children. Important issues to discuss with your partner include your children's ability to understand the situation (and mom's unavailability through the labor process), if you will have a caretaker there for your children (which I HIGHLY recommend), where you are birthing (home, birth center, hospital?) and any policies that location may have, your care provider's opinion on whether children should be present, a back up plan in case your birth circumstances change (if you need to transport from home/birth center to hospital, if a cesarean birth becomes necessary?)
If you and your partner are both in agreement that you would like an older sibling there then find out if your child is interested. Little ones may be blissfully unaware, or they may be very anxious witnessing mom's focus and vocalizations. Older children may be eagerly involved, or they may be scared and worried. Children of any age may be alarmed by the sights and sounds of birth, such as blood or mom's loud voice. You know your child best, and in the middle of birth your child may surprise you by wanting to be more - or less - involved. This is why a caretaker is so important, to be aware of how your child is reacting and to talk them through the experience, or to remove them to another location if the child desires. There may be a waiting room or family room at the hospital or birth center where your child can withdraw to if they would rather not be in the birth room. If family members are also attending your birth then speak with them about what their role is, as they may want to be present for the birth and not recognize your child wants to leave the room. If it's important to you to have someone in attendance at your birth then choose a different adult to be your child's caregiver, and be sure this person is comfortable being in the room for the birth OR being in another room and potentially missing the birth. You don't want a babysitter in attendance if they are not personally prepared for what a birth is like! 🙂
Some children want to be close when their mother is laboring, but would rather come in after the baby is out. Other children never want to leave their mom's side, which can be great if that's not an issue for mom. An enthusiastic older child may be a source of distraction and stress for a mom, however, which a caretaker will need to be assessing. Some moms may find their labor stalling while their little one is present, as they are focusing on mothering their older child. Having a caretaker bring the child elsewhere may give mom the chance to focus on the work of labor. At other times a mom may feel more relaxed and able to birth if her child is there - this will vary from mom to mom, and even from one birth to the next! While I did not want my oldest child present at the birth of my second, I was overjoyed to have my children all in attendance (by their choice) at the birth of our sixth. Do what feels best for YOUR family. If an older child wants to attend a birth then it can be an incredibly bonding experiencing for them to witness their new sibling arrive:
You can help prepare children to attend a birth by reading books that show actual births, and watching videos online (though always pre-screen before showing your child!) Here are links to some books we found to be helpful in preparing our children. It's important to talk with children about the sounds their mom may make, which you can compare to the loud exertions or yells of an athlete! You can give a brief anatomy lesson to let children know about the placenta and the blood they may see, and how it's not from the baby being hurt. For children feeling anxious about what is happening you can provide headphones and an iPod with songs they enjoy, giving them a chance to witness while protecting them from noises. An older child can be given a camera to photograph what they see, providing them a bit of distance through the lens. (Though be sure to screen those photos, too, as they may not be the most flattering for the laboring mom!) Children may enjoy having a labor project to help pass the time, such as baking cupcakes for the new siblings Birth Day celebration, decorating onesies, or drawing a Welcome Home banner. Here is a post with some crafty ideas for projects to prepare siblings during pregnancy.
Whether your children are present for the actual birth, or come soon after to meet their new sibling, it will be a memorable and beautiful occasion! Just be warned, sometimes those big siblings do NOT want to hand that baby back after their turn holding. 🙂