Having Children Present at Birth

“Should I have my other children at my birth?”

It’s a common question within families who are expecting again. This is generally common amongst home birthing families, but The Atlanta Birth Center has reopened to allow siblings. With this renewed opportunity for siblings to attend births, I’m sure more families will be having this conversation. I knew I wanted more information to pass along to my clients, so I asked multi-experienced experts.

Meet the experts:

Dr Mollie Innocent-Cupid is a family therapist and graciously agreed to let me pick her brain on having children present at births, including her own.

ABC Midwife Vanessa Treaster, CNM, DNP, not only has attended numerous births with children present, she chose to have her daughter witness the home birth of her second child.

Vanessa, have you seen anything crazy at ABC with siblings before?

ABC Midwife Vanessa Treaster, “Being a midwife at Atlanta Birth Center, I have had the honor of experiencing the pure joy that children experience in getting to be a part of the birth process and greeting their new sibling! I once had a preschooler who was preparing to cut the umbilical cord. When we handed her the sterile scissors she promptly asked for “kid scissors”. 

We encourage an adult just for the child, so that if they need to step out, they can have a support person. Overall, some of my favorite memories from births are those with children! To see the joy and elation is like nothing else. I also strongly believe including children in the process of childbirth helps to normalize this life event as a normal process rather than a medical event to be feared.”

I was so thrilled to attend this sibling birth with Dr Mollie as an Atlanta Birth Photographer and Videographer.

Dr Mollie, what is your professional opinion, as a therapist, on having children witness childbirth? 

I think that it depends on parents’ comfort and their parenting style. Although we are very much a home that reads fairytales and believes in the magic of the tooth fairy, my husband and I were very passionate about them experiencing the miracle of childbirth. I think it’s also important to gauge the children’s ability to be present in that space as well, and to have honest conversations with them about the experience, giving them the opportunity to ask questions and the autonomy to make their own decision. 

What made you decide to have your children present at the birth? 

Dr Mollie, “It was about highlighting how natural and beautiful childbirth can be as well as having a bonding experience as a family. My mother, her mother, and her mother’s mother had natural childbirth, and I knew I always wanted. It is also something I wanted my kids exposed to, a contrast from the medical model. For many children, especially in other countries, they witness the rawness of childbirth, whether it is an animal on the farm or the birth of their sibling. The concept of a stork magically dropping off a baby has always been bizarre to me, and a missed opportunity for a child to truly see the real magic of bringing a new life into the world. Since this baby is going to be the last (maybe?), it made it even more important for the children to witness the completion of the Cupid family.”

Midwife Vanessa,I felt strongly about having my daughter present for my home birth because it was an important event for our family. She was so curious about everything and so tender towards me. It was precious to experience.”

What were the ages of your children when present at your birth? 

Dr Mollie,7 and 4.”

Midwife Vanessa, “My child was 3 when my younger son was born and it was a perfect age.”

What is your historical experience around birth, personally? Had you witnessed birth early on in your life?  

Dr Mollie,I personally had never witnessed birth outside of Youtube videos and documentaries. My first two births were in the hospital and the birthing center was truly the first opportunity to have the entire family present.”

How did it feel when they wanted to be affectionate with you? 

Dr Mollie,It was sweet and completely unexpected. It was nice for me to focus on them in a very centering and grounding way.

Midwife Vanessa, “She sweetly held my hand for support and lovingly watched me and my midwives immediately commented what an amazing doula she was!”

Do you know anyone else who had children present? 

Dr Mollie,Nope! This was going to be an adventure for all of us. I was just following my intuition.”

Was your plan to wake up the children if they had fallen asleep? 

Dr Mollie,I actually hadn’t thought that far in the planning and assumed that they would be awake due to the excitement (and the noise) that comes with labor and childbirth. In hindsight, I likely would have asked them what they would prefer. Knowing my kids, they would have wanted to witness the birth of their sibling.

Midwife Vanessa, “I have generally been surprised at how well children do to be woken up in the middle of the night. But its also like the excitement of Christmas morning times 10! I would have woken up my daughter for my actual birth, but she naturally woke up around 7:30am and I was in active labor. I honestly expected her to wake with the sounds of labor and commotion of preparing, but she didn’t!

Were you and your hubby always in agreement to have them present? 

Dr Mollie,Yes! Though, with our son, we wanted to talk through it with him and gauge how he would feel about being there.” 

Midwife Vanessa, “My husband was on board with having her present. We had discussed different scenarios of ways things might go and general game plan for day vs night labor, etc.”

How did you prep them leading up to the birth? 

Dr Mollie,Maegan gave a really great tip to prep our son by comparing the sounds of pushing to the sounds made when a person is using all of their strength, like lifting something super heavy. He understood it pretty quickly and was assured that this would not be something that would be scary and not to be alarmed.

Midwife Vanessa adds, “I tried to prepare my daughter by talking about what she might see, like blood. Or talking about the power of contractions to bring baby here. Using words like power, strong, work hard, etc. But avoiding words like pain and fear. I practiced moaning and various positions. We talked about roaring like a lion because I’m fierce bringing my baby earth side. She really liked this and understood it. When I was moaning loudly it didn’t phase her at all!”

If something scary was to happen at the birth, did you have a back up plan? 

Dr Mollie,Thankfully I’ve had very straightforward births, but of course we never know what’s going to happen. In case there were any complications, my husband would be there to tend to the kids. My darling husband, Andersen Cupid, is a great father and husband. There was an alternate back up to have his sister come and pick up the kids.

Midwife Vanessa, “If something scary were to happen, either her Gigi or my husband would step in to help explain things. With my midwives also being some of my best friends, I asked them to be on the lookout for how to frame things for her if she was needing it, and they were very open to this. So we had lots of plans for support.”

What are some things that the children have said to you, prior to the birth? 

Dr Mollie,We talked mostly about the baby developing in my belly. I prepped them with birthing videos that were mostly PG just so that they would be exposed to the looks and sounds of childbirth, especially that the baby may come out with vernix or blood. They asked curious questions, but overall were very excited about the birth, knowing that it was going to be somewhat of an unpredictable experience.

Midwife Vanessa, “She came in to our bathroom while I was laboring in the tub to tell me that she heard monsters roaring overnight. I softly held her hand through the next wave. I asked her if the moaning through that contraction was what she heard overnight. Was that what she was referring to? To which she promptly told me ‘YES!’ It’s one of my favorite memories from my son’s birth.”

What are some things that the children have said to you about the birth, after the birth? 

Dr Mollie,My son told me that it was the best day of his life. He expressed being “in awe” of being able to witness the birth of his sibling. He was completely overwhelmed with emotion and had tears of joy. My daughter was also overwhelmed with emotion. She was mostly in awe of how cute the baby was. She wanted to know if she was still considered cute, which we of course assured her.

How did you feel going through contractions with your children present? 

Dr Mollie,Funny enough, I was very alert in between contractions. At one point my 4 year old went to the bathroom and as I waited for my next contraction, I remember listening to hear if she washed her hands afterwards.”

Midwife Vanessa, “I felt fine going through contractions with my daughter present except I was about to start moaning F*** repeatedly like I did at the end of her labor lol.”

Dr Mollie, did your extended family or friends have an opinion? 

Not really! 

Looking back, what are your thoughts?

Dr Mollie,Honestly, I was so happy with everything I wouldn’t change a thing.

Midwife Vanessa, “During my 2nd pregnancy we didn’t know the sex of the baby. One of my favorite memories was my 3 year old daughter announcing after the birth, ‘Its a penis!'”

Dr Mollie, I noticed the kids were matching and I loved it. How did they feel about it? 

They loved it. They already knew they had matching outfits and matching pajamas and knew that it was saved for the special day so it gave them something to look forward to.

Did you bring anything else to the birth just for them?

Dr Mollie,I had made sure that the kids had headphones so that they could self regulate and determine how present or removed they wanted to be during labor.

Midwife Vanessa, “I love the memory of her checking him out with her Dr kit and helping with the newborn exam! She felt SO important!”


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