At age five, our first child Noah attended our second child’s birth. Since then, several people have asked (often in open bafflement): why?
I realize that most families send any older children to spend the birthing time at a relative or friend’s house (something we simply didn’t have locally available anyway!). I also know that some families having homebirths with children in the house hope any older siblings will happen to sleep through the event. So it strikes some folks as odd that we went out of our way to have Noah around, actually waking him in the middle of the night to witness Simon’s appearance on the scene.
The short answer? Noah really, really wanted to be there. It was important to him. The only fear or concern he ever voiced about the birth was that he might miss it. He’s been fascinated by childbirth since age three, he knew a lot about it before I was even pregnant, and he felt that the birth was a significant family event that–as a family member–he should participate in. After all, he thinks of Simon as “our baby,” our family’s baby.
The other side of Noah’s presence at the birth is that I wanted him there, too. While I was pregnant, I felt sad to the point of teary when I was reading birth stories and got to the part where older siblings head to Grandpa’s house or whatever. At a gut level, it felt strange and wrong to imagine such an intimate and dramatic family change happening with Noah outside our circle, to imagine sending him away. (And, again, on a practical level: where on Earth would we have sent him?)
Of course, there were lots of little factors as well. When Simon was born, Noah was nearly six years old. I don’t know what I would have wanted if he’d been significantly younger–even if he had wanted to be there. A five-year-old can understand how labor works and that you’re busy or need space or quiet; a two-year-old might need more or not understand as much. (Or maybe not. Maybe it depends on the child, too.) Another issue is that Noah reacts well in ordinary life when I’m stressed out, in pain, or … how shall I say this? … losing my shit for whatever reason. He’s definitely used to me cursing! So ‘honoring Noah’s wishes’ didn’t seem super-likely to equal ‘exposing him to a high-stress situation’ or ‘letting him get in over his head.’ It also mattered that we were planning a home birth. It would have been harder on me to have Noah around and harder to help him have a good experience if I’d needed or preferred to birth in a hospital, since he wouldn’t have had all his stuff, his bed, room to play freely, our refrigerator, etc.
But I only articulated any of this after people started asking. The reality is that we never talked or thought about whether Noah was invited to the birth: it was obvious to all three of us that he’d likely be there. Of course we emphasized that it would be absolutely fine for him to leave if he wanted, and we made sure he had a dedicated caregiver who could go with whatever he wanted and needed in the moment. Still, the default image in all our minds was of everybody together at the birth. Instead of will Noah be around?, the central sibling-at-birth question for our family was: how can we get Noah good support for this experience?