Big Brothers, Big Sisters
May 26, 2004 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Was your toddler present at the birth of his or her sibling(s)?

I have been asked to participate in the birth of my best friends’ second child by taking care of their toddler (2.5 years old) during labor, and, if all goes well, being his caretaker during the birth itself, for which they want him present. The fact that I might be there for the birth scares the living shit out of me quite enough, but I am completely wigged out at the prospect of this little cutie seeing birth in action. I am keeping my damn mouth shut around them about my personal opinions, but I’m wondering if any of you have had this experience and can relate the good, bad or the ugly about a little one’s reaction to seeing mom screaming, bleeding, and having her vagina ripped open. I fear for his psyche.
posted by tristeza to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Which hospital allows this, or this at home?
posted by thomcatspike at 3:32 PM on May 26, 2004

I fear for his psyche.
Kids on a farm would have seen similar things. But if you force him, could see trouble.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:34 PM on May 26, 2004

Response by poster: It is at a hospital - Swedish in Seattle. There's a chance that it might not happen, of course, if there are complications with a vaginal birth (she had a C-sec before), so who knows, but it's the dream of the parents that he's there.
posted by tristeza at 3:41 PM on May 26, 2004

I would imagine that the reaction of a 2.5 year-old to seeing that process would be one of terror and confusion, rather than the warm glow that I guess the parents are expecting. This sounds like a bad idea.
posted by dg at 3:58 PM on May 26, 2004

Do they allow tykes in? Think they should find out about the hospitals policies first before having a dream. Video won't count? When I was 12, I was not allowed visiting my mom in the maturnity ward. Honestly could see the two year old falling asleep.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:01 PM on May 26, 2004

Well, she wasn't strictly a "toddler", but my daughter was 4 at the time and was present for the birth of her brother. She found the whole thing fascinating, but did need attention and distraction mainly because the process takes a while.

The hospital never mentioned having a restriction on which family members could be present, only a cap on the number of people in the room for safety reasons, and a request that if children were present that someone other than the mother be there to care for them. Well, duh!

Frankly, I'd have been alarmed if they tried to tell me who we could and could not have in the room, and would have asked to have a word with the department's management.
posted by majick at 4:49 PM on May 26, 2004

Most hospitals let you have anyone you want in the room (with the exceptions that majick listed). Age of the child won't matter, but you should probably talk about what to do when the 2.5 year old starts freaking when mommy makes sounds of pain. The kid will pick up on that, if not the visuals associated with birth, and might get upset. Make sure it's clearly stated where the line for them is when it comes to their need to have the kid in the room versus them realizing the kid is upset by seeing mom upset and they might want you to step outside with the kid for a second. This should be part of their birth plan if they are serious about having their other child in the room.

I'm having a similiar deal with my 9 year old and since I know she can't even uncover her eyes watcing baby stories on television I've decided she can stay until it's time for the big push and then she can wait in the hallway and come right back in once the baby is out. I still have a responsible adult there specifically for her support.
posted by nramsey at 5:01 PM on May 26, 2004

My 6-year-old big brother was not present at the hospital when I was born. When my parents walked back into the house with me swaddled in blankets and said "here's your new brother," he reportedly looked over from the TV show he was watching for 2 seconds and said "cool," before going back to it.

Was he traumatized? Obviously.
posted by scarabic at 5:17 PM on May 26, 2004

. . .as long as the parents have realistic expectations about how their child may feel, and are fine with the possibility of sib needing to be elsewhere.

Even though this is taking place in a hospital, it's still an emotional/primal event and children are extremely sensitive to undercurrents. That you've been selected as the person to support the child, and are scared and wigged at the notion of being present at the birth with a child, makes me wonder how clued in they are about other people's state (no offense to you). If you're not comfortable with this, the child is likely to pick up on those feelings.

To the parents I suggest the book, Welcome Home by Overend and Vivas. In addition to the hospital tour, which I presume they'll being the child, I think it might be helpful to practice with the child the sounds mommy is likely to make. Show that in lifting a heavy object or exerting strenuously how the parents grunt or yell. Get the child familiar with these noises, have him participate, and drive the association of hard work versus pain.
posted by Feisty at 7:05 PM on May 26, 2004

I was present for the births of two of my brothers, the first when I was two and a half and the second when I was almost six. It was not traumatizing at all. I mean, if no one had told me anything it might have been, but I knew what was going on so it was fine.
posted by Nothing at 11:48 PM on May 26, 2004

I agree that kids on farms see this kind of thing all the time, but this isn't a goat in a shed, this well be a parent apparently in a vast ammount of pain.

IMHO anyone who suggests this is a good idea is looking forward to huge psych bills in a about six years time.
posted by twine42 at 2:05 AM on May 27, 2004

I'd say 2.5 is too young for this... depends on the child, but that's just the wrong side of understanding in a rational way how the world works. I think the big problem would come if there were any complications, besides the shouting and screaming of normal labour. It's going to get stressful and worrisome for any relative in there at some point, and at those points young children want their parents, particularly their mother. And she's not going to want to be hugged at that point.

If the kid really understands what will happen and what will take place and they're fine with that and pretty sorted anyway, then maybe. But I'd say it was a big thing to ask a friend to be involved in; relatives, maybe. How happy is the child with you? Do you take him out on your own ever?
posted by humuhumu at 2:32 AM on May 27, 2004

I had a friend who was present at his little brother's birth when he was very little, and all he remembers is hating his brother for years and years because of how badly 'baby hurt mommy'.
posted by Jairus at 4:31 AM on May 27, 2004

ok tristeza, this is one of those questions where people should have kept their fucking mouths shut if they didn't have an answer. their opinions aren't helping.

but I knew what was going on so it was fine.

exactly. my daughter was 2.5 in january when her baby sister was born. she was present. it's not too young. yes, somebody needs to be there to help with the kid, and answer the questions that come up. it wasn't me, cause i'm divorced and her mom lives 1000 miles away, so it was her grandmother.

frankly, i feel childbirth is too intimate to have anybody besides immediate family there, so if you can't have the father there with the kid then i think the kid shouldn't really partake...and the fact that they're wanting YOU to be present is just weird. but i digress.

KIDS CAN DO THIS, EVEN AT TODDLER AGE. and they're going to need the most help through transition and into active labor. in fact, keep them at home until transition, or at a park or something nearby. once transition occurs, get to the mother within 15-20 minutes and you shouldn't have to be there that long.
posted by taumeson at 4:36 AM on May 27, 2004

This page is actually about having siblings present at a homebirth, but I'm sure much of the information would apply to an in-hospital birth as well.

This link Warning! Very graphic home-birth photos is of a home-birth, but I link it here because one of the people present is a small child - a girl of about three named Clara. I think you'll find Clara's reactions to the birth both interesting and a bit funny.

Best of luck to you and the family!
posted by anastasiav at 8:36 AM on May 27, 2004

taumeson, that's a little overdramatic, don't you think? Just because your daughter was fine with it (as far as you know) doesn't mean every kid would be, or that everyone but you should keep their fucking mouths shut ('cause only you have THE ANSWER, everybody else just has opinions).

I must say, this is yet another thread (like the farting-in-bed one) that makes me realize what a different world I've wound up living in. It would never occur to me to want a child in a delivery room. Not saying that's right, just that things used to be very different.
posted by languagehat at 9:01 AM on May 27, 2004

Kids can handle this stuff a lot better than many adults I know--they don't have the preconceived notions about blood and gore that we do, and most don't have shame about sex organs or seeing someone naked. Our 4-year-old was present for his brother's birth, and we have friends who's 2-year-old daughter was present for her sister's birth. Both kids really liked it.

It's important to prepare them for what they're going to see--we took our son on a tour of the hospital, showed him a couple of birthing videos, and tried to simulate some of the noises mommy might make when she was in pain.

It's essential for them to have a good, calm, dedicated companion during the process. Since mom will probably need her partner, it's usually best to find someone else to hang out with the child. We were extremely fortunate to have a friend studying to be an MD who had also been present for several births during her work for the Peace Corps in Chad.

tristeza, no offense, but you seem too squeamish for the job. Your attitude of panic could do much more to harm the child than anything she'll see in that delivery room. If you continue to feel this way, it may be best for you to bow out of the commitment.
posted by whatnot at 9:36 AM on May 27, 2004

tristeza: I don't have any kids of my own, but I was present for the births of six of my siblings, so I can tell you what I remember of the experience. I was about four when my sister Julia was born, and I don't remember any particular stress or fright. I remember that there was kind of an exciting and momentous feeling in the air, people coming and going. I don't remember being shocked by any of the "gory details", or being worried about my mother.

My prediction is that the kid will be puzzled and intermittently curious about what they see, and that they will mostly interpret it by picking up the moods and feelings of the people around them. The kid will be fine as long as you are fine.

I actually had a much harder time with the experience as I got older and better understood what was going on.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2004

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