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Through a Child’s Eyes

Written by Susan Bartell, PsyD   
Tuesday, 01 December 2009 00:00
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It’s a very important moment in the life of your family: You’re adding a new member! In growing families, a new son or daughter is often also a new brother or sister. Many families face the question: Should my child be present to greet her new sibling on arrival?

Different people will have very different reactions to this idea. Some will think it’s terrific—a really wonderful shared experience for parents and child, not to mention a powerful bonding moment for the child and her new sibling. Other people will be shocked that a parent would even consider exposing a child to what they perceive as a traumatic experience. One mom told me that she didn’t think she would be able to concentrate and that she might even be embarrassed for her daughter to see her in labor and giving birth. Still others will be on the fence, unsure of which is the right decision for their family. It’s important to examine the pros and cons of this issue in order to decide which choice is right for you. And if you do decide to have your child present at the birth of your next baby, we have some suggestions about how to make the experience as positive as possible.

Experts Don’t Agree

The experts who favor having a child present at a birth say that it can be a powerful and positive experience that contributes to a feeling of family closeness. Since parents include the child in many phases of the pregnancy as it develops, having the sibling at the birth is an extension and natural conclusion of this. Many midwives, who tend to be more accepting of children at births than traditional obstetricians, report that most children are thrilled to be there, and that they bond with their new sister or brother immediately. Other supporters suggest that the child’s presence at the birth might reduce sibling rivalry later on.

Even among the supporters, however, there is disagreement regarding the ideal age at which children can benefit from the experience. Many feel that a child must be adequately prepared before attending a labor and delivery, and must be able to understand verbal explanations quite well. Among these experts there is a general consensus that about three years old is the youngest age that a child can adequately comprehend what is being explained, and ask questions, if necessary.

Other proponents feel that, depending upon the child and the birth, a child of any age should be able to attend. “The really young ones seemed almost oblivious, as long as they were being held by a trusted adult—usually a best friend of Mom, or a granny,” says a seasoned midwife, who has attended dozens of births at which siblings of various ages were present. “They haven’t learned as much fear yet, in my opinion.”

On the other hand, some people believe it can be too difficult for a child of any age to view his mother in labor and giving birth. Their concern is that the sight of blood, coupled with seeing their mother in pain, can be very traumatic for a child, and that viewing the actual birth could be overwhelming. Furthermore, they suggest that the child’s presence might be distracting or difficult for the mother, who already has a large enough burden in laboring and giving birth. Some obstetricians worry that the child will get in the way. Others warn that you never know when a crisis might arise during labor and delivery, which you probably won’t want your child to observe.


Temperament and Age

Regardless of what the experts say, you know your child best. Use your good sense to make the final decision. You might have a very sensitive child who gets scared easily or has nightmares, and choose not to have him at a birth. What’s more, you can’t assume that an older child will not be scared. There are tough 6-year-olds, and 14-year-olds who are very sensitive. Sometimes younger children are more open to the idea, but become uncomfortable with seeing their mother in this way as they get older. This is particularly true of adolescent boys, who can be extremely opposed to witnessing their mother give birth.