Google+ Authentic Parenting: Separating Families for Birth - The Modern Way of Birthing (rerun)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Separating Families for Birth - The Modern Way of Birthing (rerun)

Originally published at SQUAT! Birth Journal

As we are planning a homebirth this time around, I got to thinking how I would have done if I were to birth in the hospital. With my daughter being our first child, childcare during labor obviously wasn’t an issue, but now, if I had chosen that route, it would have been.
How would we have managed? Would we have been able to find someone who was ready at any time - day or night - to take care of our daughter?
And it got me thinking about something else... Sibling jealousy and the medical system’s separation of families during childbirth.

Before hospital birth was common, there would always be children around the birthing woman. They might be tactfully guided to the neighbor or a female relative, but not everywhere. Having children around and aware - to some degree - of what was going on, was normal and natural.
Yet nowadays, hospital birth and it’s separation of families has become such a normal, integrative part of our culture that we don’t think about this anymore. More so, having children around the birth space is considered odd at the least and detrimental to the child at the worst. Even when discussing homebirth, the question will inevitably be:
- “What will you do with the older child”.
When I went to visit with my midwives, they asked that exact question. At that time, we didn’t have any means of childcare, beside ourselves, so I said that she’d be fine assisting the birth, and she would be free to go or come as she chooses. She’s very much interested in birth and claims to want to catch the baby.
- “But what if she doesn’t want to be there?” was the next question.
Now personally, I don’t have any issue with my daughter coming and going as she chooses and at three and half, she can manage herself in the house, so that was just a non-issue for me. But their policy was to have someone else around for the child at worst, or to drop off the child with a relative at best.
When I uttered that my husband was perfectly capable of taking care of our daughter if need be, and that it didn’t bother me to labor alone - I might actually prefer it - they looked at me cross-eyed.

So here are some of the things I would like to address on this topic:

Image: Oana Hogrefe Photography 
  • I think it is normal and natural and even healthy for children to witness birth. This way they see that birth is just a part of life and might learn to fear it less than those generations who where kept from it (there’s always a certain mystique to the unseen)
  • I think the modern system of separating families is detrimental to the relationship between siblings. Older siblings get dropped off, because it’s the babies time, only to get picked up again, after long hours, for a short hospital visit, where mommy obviously has fallen in love with this tiny new creature. The older child can’t help but wonder if (s)he is still to be a part of the family, as they went off to have this baby on their own, and mommy and daddy seem to be too distracted to take care of their needs. Of course, this is an extreme, but it is often what happens, and with a hospital birth, the father is often overwhelmed by the responsibilities and running around he has to do, and the mother is stuck at the hospital with the new baby. The older siblings are somewhat left adrift, even in the best of situations.

There is nothing more natural then birth, and having the older siblings around (obviously with the freedom of choice to leave the room if possible, and perhaps a caretaker around to help them out a little if it’s all too overwhelming) is only natural, healthy, and good for family relationships. Birth should not be a time of separation and discontinuity, it should be a celebration of a growing family, where nobody is left out of the marvel and wonder of the event.



  1. I agree! One reason I really didn't want a hospital birth was so I wouldn't have to be away from my husband and son. Yes, a friend offered to watch my son if needed, but I went into labour around midnight and gave birth just after 4.00am. My son awoke and so my husband went up to comfort him while I laboured, and it was fine. I liked labouring alone, to be honest. My husband brought down my son once our daughter was born, and later I nursed both of them together, which I think really helped with the jealousy.

  2. I got the same questions for our homebirth about our (at the time) 3-year-old son. People seemed very concerned that he would be worried at the sounds coming from his laboring Mama. My sister came over with food, candles and flowers and entertained him with a video while I labored. He was completely unconcerned, and after peeking at his new sister, went about his business.

    At least he won't be under the delusion that babies come from the hospital!

  3. We were in the same situation! Our midwives in Germany wanted us to have someone around for our son, even though we knew he'd much rather watch and be included, and I'd much rather labor without any friends present! In the end we had two friends on stand-by (knowing we wouldn't call them). My son ended up pouring water over me while I was in the bathtub and cheering me on, and guided my daughter to my breast as soon as she was born. She is now 9 weeks old, and he's never shown any signs of jealousy, just a lot of love. We'd spent a lot of time talking about birth before, and he'd seen a few videos on youtube. He wasn't scared/grossed out/scarred for a second, just very curious and interested. Here's a link to my birth story (long story, short labor):
    Succes met de bevalling!

  4. If and when I do have another child I would LOVE my daughter to be around, to be there when the new sibling enters the world, to be part of this magic moment! (of course with the freedom to walk in/out as she needs/wants)

  5. We are expecting our fourth child in September. This baby is a planned homebirth, as were his two older brothers. We did have caregivers arranged for our older children, got several reasons. The caregivers came to our home to care for the children, but they knew they were free to take the kids elsewhere if the chosen wanted this. But labor can be unpredictable and long. If my children needed food, help in the bathroom, or any of the other myriad things a child can need in the space of a few hours to a full day or more, we didn't want them to be put off or uncomfortable because I might need another adult's help at the same time. My daughter has been present for both births and my second child slept through his brother's birth but we woke him immediately afterwards. I've never regretted having the kids present, not having a caregiver present for them.


I love comments! Drop me a line