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Should our children watch us give birth?

Categories: Mommy Angst


In my fourth and final pregnancy I was determined to have a home birth. Not only was I living a crunchy lifestyle, eschewing store-bought snacks for homemade organic muffins and crackers and ferrying my older kids to Waldorf school, but I also felt that the whole birth thing was No Big Deal. This was Number Four, after all. I’d just pop him out like O-Lan did in The Good Earth, resting for a moment in the shade of a tree after a morning working in the fields, then strapping him on my back to continue the plowing. Or better yet, in my antique terra cotta tiled kitchen immersed waist-high in a kiddie pool filled with warm water while my older children gazed adoringly on, enthralled with the miracle of life they were witness to….


Children? Witnessing the miracle of birth, which we all know involves naked vaginas and blood and lots of OW OW OW OW?

When I read my friend Madeline Holler’s recent piece over at Slate, the whole thing came back to me. The desire to have a beautiful gentle birth, not just for my son, but for me. The freakish urge to make sure everyone in the family was taken care of down to the last detail. The even more freakish fear that the midwife and her assistant would see the piles of clutter in my house and judge me. The inner knowingness that my children — not quite 4 and 8 at the time — would be freaked out by the inevitable screaming and blood (maybe I was prescient, but when the new baby was several months old I fell down the stairs while carrying him and both older kids ran away and hid).

At the last minute I opted for a hospital birth.

I regret not having the home birth, a little. That picture is still burned in my brain of adoring children playing quietly in the next room with their homemade muffins while I gently (and quietly) squeezed their baby brother out of my body, the sound of Pachelbel’s Canon in D wafting quietly through the room. I don’t know why I thought this was likely, or even remotely possible.

I’m glad my kids were saved the possible anguish and emotional scarring of seeing me in the intense agony I ended up with, an IV drip of Pitocin stuck in my arm to jump start a stalled labor against the ticking clock that began when my water broke unnecessarily hours before. Not that I think that children should be kept from birth or from their parents’ very human moments. On the contrary, I believe children are healthier when they are a part of their parents’ entire lives — even some of the less pretty parts.

Just not MY children. Not at MY birth.

What about you? Were your kids present at the birth of their siblings? How was it — wonderful, awful, or no big deal? if you had to do it all over again, would you have your later birth the same way, or would you choose something different?

Photo: pjhunter, Flickr

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3 comments so far...

  • Well, let’s see . . . I just had my first ER experience as a mom, and I (being a single mom) would have had the un-injured kid (4yo) with me the whole time, had not some good friends come along to help. Which sounded OK to me, since I’d never watched stitches being done to a 3yo before. (And 4yo had been a fairly calm witness to the original accident, blood, and First Aid.) But need I say, after observing the trauma of just six stitches, I couldn’t believe I’d thought my 4yo would be OK with that. Holy crap. I’m getting light-headed just thinking about it. Now you ask me if I’d let my kids watch childbirth? Um . . . I’m thinking not.

    I have never experienced childbirth myself, but if I had, I would not have allowed young children to be present. Maybe a 12yo+ girl, if she wanted to and was well-prepared in advance.

    SKL  |  September 29th, 2010 at 1:41 pm

  • Reading the story was interesting. I think to me what happened was the mother let her own needs come before those of her child and that was where it went wrong. She had an ultra-sensitive kiddo, probably the type who cried whenever mommy cried, she shouldn’t have been subjected to that.
    Now my sister, who later decided to be a nurse, and could deal with blood, guts, the works from an early age? She would have be absolutely fascinated and probably not the least bit terrified.
    Ultimately, I think you make that decision based on your children’s desires and not your own.

    Mich  |  September 30th, 2010 at 7:56 am

  • Nope. The toddler wasn’t present (it was just me and my husby, with the staff being told that my MIL had “boundary issues” and to please keep her away). In hindsight, that was the correct decision (made clear several days later when the newborn did his best impression of turbo launching flying hershey syrup all over me on the changing table, and my freaked out toddler bawling hysterically because the baby pooped on Mommy!)

    CV  |  October 4th, 2010 at 9:12 am