The birth of my first child was anything but glamorous. I had no idea what was about to go down, and it wasn't the best experience for me. Fast forward 3.5 years, and for the birth of my second, I wanted to take more control over what was happening. I decided that the right move for me was to have a home birth — but that left one question: what would we do with our son?
For us, it didn't feel right to send him away for such a huge occasion, so we decided he could stay and watch. It might not be right for everyone, but it was the best decision for our family, though I knew that meant we needed a plan in place for our chatty toddler. Of course, if he decided he didn't want to be there, that was OK, too. But with the possibility of him watching, we knew we had to prepare him ahead of time. Otherwise, he'd have a million questions the day of, and I didn't think I'd be in a place to answer them when I was in the birthing pool.
First, we continued our age-appropriate talks about how babies get in bellies, what was happening inside my body, and how eventually, the baby would come out. "Will you throw the baby up out of your mouth?" he asked. No, not quite like that. I wanted to use this time to normalize birth, so we visited the birth center where we found our midwives. It was a good way for him to hear babies, learn what labor might sound like, and see all kinds of pregnant people. Even better, a midwife was on hand to answer all his questions.
It was also important to us that he feel like part of the team. He was 3 at the time, so we talked to him about how he could get me cups of ice, or dip a washcloth into a bowl full of cold water to hand to me. We also promised him that he would get a special gift at the end for being such a big help, and we let him pick out a present to give to his new sibling. Bringing a baby home is a big change, and he was anxious, so we tried to ease his fears as much as possible. We talked lots about how he wouldn't stop being our baby and all the ways that life would still be the same when his sister arrived.
We also prepared him for what might happen if I needed him to leave with Daddy. If things didn't go according to plan (though thank goodness, they did for us), we wanted him to know where he would go if I needed to be alone with the midwives. We decided that he would go with Dad to a different part of the house if he got overwhelmed. Since I had a team of three midwives to assist me, I knew I wouldn't need the extra hands. Besides, we knew being with Dad would be the most comforting for him.
We also made sure he understood that I wouldn't be able to comfort him during active labor because my brain would be focused on the work that my body was doing to push the baby out. He seemed OK with that, and while he was still unsure of what was happening, I could tell he felt the anticipation in the air all the same.
But the big test was to see if he could handle actually watching the birth. We didn't want to freak him out but felt that it would be the right move for us to show him a preview of what might happen. We carefully selected some home birth videos for him to watch that felt age-appropriate and healthy but also a little noisy. I wanted to choose a few where the mom-to-be let out some loud grunts and roars, since I knew I would likely do the same. We worried about what he would think, but surprisingly, he thought it looked like fun. "Can I come swim, too?" he asked. Maybe next time, buddy.
Luckily, the birth went quickly and smoothly (four hours exactly!), and he actually slept through a large portion of the laboring before he couldn't ignore my loud noises. When he toddled downstairs into the commotion, he looked disoriented and scared, and my mom instincts kicked in. In the midst of active labor, I surprised myself and found the strength to comfort him, hold his hands, and get him excited about what was happening. When I told him the noises helped my body work, his fear melted away. He watched quietly and intently, giving me an occasional smile, absorbing what was going on. And before we knew it, he was a big brother to a soon-to-be feisty little girl and still gets excited when he tells people about his sister being born in our house.