How siblings can help during the home birth of a baby sister or brother

"We told them, 'You know, Mama will be making some really loud noises—that’s all just part of it, and it’s nothing to be scared of.'"

pregnant woman about to give birth at home
Photo: Shea Long, Coastal Lifestyles Photography.

My first baby, over 10 years ago, was born at home, and it was a wonderful birth experience. Originally, I’d wanted to have the baby in the hospital. I didn’t know anyone who had had a home birth, and my assumption was that a hospital birth was safer. But my midwife made everything seem very normal and natural, explaining that women have been doing this forever, which gave me the feeling I could do it.

I did some reading, and I started thinking about birth as less of a medical procedure. My midwife provided me with some information about the safety of home births and assured me that if anything went wrong, an ambulance would come to the house, and she’d call ahead to get a spot prepared for me at the hospital.

As I wrapped my head around the idea and tried to picture it, home birth became more appealing, especially the idea of being at home and being comfortable.

Obviously I was a little bit unsure, but I did feel confident in my midwife and in my husband. I wanted to really experience birth—like, “This is what it feels like to bring a person into this world.” I decided I was going to do it.

Even though my first labour was long—about 18 hours—I can say I actually loved birth. I felt very empowered as a woman, really encouraged and connected with the birth experience. I felt great about it. And my hunch is that if I’d been in the hospital, there would have been more of that need to just move on with it and do it quickly. But midwives can give you the extra time and care to let your body work it out.

After my daughter was born, I took a shower, and when I came back to my room, the midwives had changed my sheets—I got to crawl back into my own bed with my baby, which was the best thing ever. It was wonderful to be home, and it just felt right to be there with her. I truly loved it.

That’s why I felt confident about having a home birth again for my second and third babies, even though by the time I had my third, I was, technically, an older mom. (I was 31 when I had my first, 33 with my second and 41 with my third.) This last time it was great because I had our older two kids, then ages seven and nine, there with me.

Of course I talked with my midwives about my children being involved the birth: Is it a good thing for them? Is it appropriate? Would it be overwhelming? We started to talk about it pretty early on in my pregnancy. They’d heard us talk about the positive experiences we had with their home births, so it just felt natural to start that conversation with them. We’d say, “Oh, when the baby is born, she’s probably going to be born at home.” Or if they asked questions about it, we’d say, “Yup, that’s what we’re planning, unless we need to go to the hospital.” We said, “Would you guys want to be there for that? What do you think?” We talked about what it would be like, so it didn’t feel scary, just, “This is what birth is.”

Both kids said they wanted to be involved. They definitely wanted to be there as they welcomed their sister—there was no hesitation.

mom hold newborn by a window I was so judgmental about home births—until I had an unplanned home birth myselfMy husband and I focused on what a great experience it is to bring someone into the world, but we also prepared them for what was going to happen. We were very open about the things we’d need to get and about what our bodies do when we give birth to a baby, just so it normalized it. If you’re comfortable with something, then your kids are, too.

The kids were really involved in getting the supplies we needed for the home birth. We didn’t do a water birth or birth pool, but we did get a labour rope, which is still hanging, to this day, in the doorway of the kitchen. It was for me to hang on to and support myself through contractions, but now it’s like a pirate rope for the big kids.

They both came to the ultrasounds and midwife appointments, and heard the questions I was asking, so it also felt normal for them to be there when I had the baby.

We found some YouTube videos of births that seemed beautiful and weren’t overly graphic. We told them, “You know, Mama will be making some really loud noises—that’s all just part of it, and it’s nothing to be scared of.” I even made some of the noises I knew I’d make ahead of time, and told them that was how loud it would be.

The midwives had recommended that we think about ways we might want our kids to be involved, so they knew their roles when the baby arrived—they each had a specific job to do. We prepared for my son to put the hat on her head and for my daughter to cut the cord. (We actually practised cutting through some thick rope so she knew what it would feel like!)

My mom came for a few days before my due date. (It’s recommended to have another adult around, just in case it becomes too overwhelming or if the kids need a break.) But as it turned out, my labour was really fast the third time—just two and a half hours. My husband was actually at an evening choir concert with my daughter, and when they got home I was drawing a bath for her (she was a little sick and congested) when I started having contractions. My husband said, “I think Mama’s in labour—we’re not doing any more baths!”

This time I had tested positive for Group B strep beforehand, so I needed to have antibiotics during labour. When the midwife got to the house, she did a one-time injection of the antibiotic, and it was no big deal. The midwives also bring equipment in case the baby needs their lungs to be suctioned, and they just asked for a table surface to be clean, so they could set up some things there. The midwives do all the vitals and checks, and all the things they would do in the hospital. But otherwise, it was very minimal. I mean, it’s birth, so it is chaotic and a little messy, but I wasn’t made to feel like it was a giant mess. It’s no different than having a toddler at home and having a plate of spaghetti fall on the floor. Any cleanup was done so discretely and quickly, it was not on my mind at all. Plus, the midwives are so used to everything—blood, amniotic fluid, poop, everything. Nothing’s like, “Oh my gosh!” The focus was on the fact that I was home and in my own space.

The Stanley family: big brother Ronin (7), Jon, Julie, newborn Davey and big sister Caedence (9).

My husband used tennis balls to massage my lower back. He also did this thing called a double hip squeeze, where he would push on my hips during a contraction. I practised yoga and a lot of deep breathing and visualization. That’s what worked for me.

My kids were watching TV downstairs—for some reason, I remember it was that Ariana Grande show, Sam & Cat. My mom took a picture of them looking through the albums from when they were born. In the image, they’re sitting on the living room couch looking at their photos, while I’m upstairs in labour. They would come up and check in. My husband would say, “See, Mama’s having contractions; remember we talked about this?” They were so sweet, giving me hugs and kisses.

I think I was in labour for about an hour, and my midwife was about to check to see whether I had dilated more, when this huge gush of water splashed out onto the hallway floor, inching toward the Star Wars rug in my son’s room. (With my first two, the midwives had to break my water.)

My midwife said, “OK, I think you’re getting ready to have her.” She asked me, “Do you want to have the baby here in the hall? Do you think you want to go in your room? Wherever you want to be, she’s probably going to come quickly now.” And so we went back into the bedroom.

When it was time for me to push, my husband asked if I wanted the big kids there, and I said sure, let’s have them come back in. I actually found it very motivating.

My daughter filmed the birth on her iPad, which we hadn’t planned for, but it was really amazing: She got this beautiful video, from tasteful angles. We’ve watched it as a family many times since, and it’s so sweet. You can hear my son saying, “Mama, I see her! I see her head—she’s coming.”

The whole thing just felt so organic. It was so great to have them involved. They connected to her instantly and held her right away, and gave her little hugs and kisses. It was beautiful.

I always tell people she’s a total family baby, because we all brought her into the world together. Maybe it’s their age gap, but we’ve never had any jealousy issues. She’s 17 months now. Her birth was a whole family experience, and it’s been that way since: They adore her and she adores them.

Read more:
5 common home birth myths, debunked
14 things nobody tells you about giving birth

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