Back in August last year, Jamie Oliver announced on Instagram the birth of his first child, a baby boy. In that announcement Jamie Oliver makes a reference about the fact that his oldest daughters, 14 and 12, were present during the latest stages of an “unbelievably composed” labour and birth and were the ones to cut their little brother’s umbilical cord.
Except, that the whole internet was up in arms. “Should you let your children watch you giving birth”? According to an article that appeared in The Guardian back in August, the question was even asked to Jacque Gerard, the Royal College of Midwives’ director for England, who stated that “if [birth] happens in a prepared, loving, and supportive environment […] it’s really positive and healthy”. And apparently, she continued to say women requesting for their children to be present while they give birth is on the increase in the UK, and “given that we are trying to improve choice, if having children present is part of that choice, we should be supporting women. Birth is a family event, and it affects everyone. With the right support and preparation, why shouldn’t they be involved?”That’s right – why shouldn’t they be involved?
As you know, here at The Natal Family, we are inclusive of all members of the family and firmly believe in choice and in supporting families through these choices. So we can only congratulate and applaud the Olivers on making a choice and having their choices supported and respected. Of course their story was a bit hit in the media, but are they alone in making this choice?
We took a look closer to home and interviewed 4 of our lovely Natal teachers, who chose to have their older children present (or just in the house) during the labour and / or birth of their younger babies.
So let’s hear from them how their experiences panned out.
Laura, Mel, Suzy and Natasha tell us how their older children were with them during labour but not during the birth of their siblings.
Laura, our BabyNatal teacher from Romford and Thurrock, says:
“My then-2-year-old daughter was with me for some of my labour when my second daughter was born. I mainly laboured at home with her and was very conscious of her presence – I was very aware that I didn’t want her to see me in pain or didn’t want her associating that pain with the arrival of her new baby sister, as I didn’t want this to leave lasting resentment towards the baby. She snuck up on me a few times and asked what was wrong, and I just said I had a tummy ache, and she rubbed my back. She wasn’t present at her sister’s birth, but we’ve since talked about it, and, now 4, she’s very interested in it. I’ve always made it a positive thing for her, and that’s important to me, because I want her to have a healthy mental image of birth and not perceive it as something painful”.
Mel, our BabyNatal teacher from Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, says:
“My son was 6 and a half when his little sister was born. We were at home, and I laboured around the house. I can remember him blearily using the bathroom and me breathing through contractions as calmly as I could in front of him, leaning over the bath and saying: “It seems like your little sister or brother will be with us today!” And him saying in his young, innocent way: “Oh this is bad. This is really bad”, and I needed to keep up the positivity for him and me, so I said: “No it’s fine, it’s all fine“. He was then brilliant – at one point I was kneeling on the bed, and he came in and stroke my head and said “You’re hot, I need to fan you down” and went off and got a totally inappropriate (huge!) book to fan me down with! But it’s one of the sweetest memories I have of the birth. We hadn’t really planned for him to be present during labour, as we were intending to go into hospital, but I was very open to him seeing me labouring and having an insight into birth.
Once I realised I would be giving birth at home (I didn’t want to move, and it was all happening smoothly and beautifully) I assumed that Sam would be with us as his sister was born. But at the very last stage when I was wanting to push, it was time for school, and I realised I was being distracted by him being around, so it became very important to me that he got off to school. His Granny took him, and within a few minutes of him going Eve was born.
Thinking back about this, I regret that he wasn’t with us at the crucial moment but, equally, I know I needed him taken care of so I could totally give in to the birth and let her be born. He talks about the birth with very fond memories, and a couple of days after the birth he said: “Your super power, Mummy, is shooting out babies”. I won’t be having any more children, but I would be 100% happy to have siblings there.”
“When I gave birth at home to my second son, Niall, my first, Harrison (then 12 months) was fast asleep in his bed. I had planned for him to go to my mum’s for the birth, but Niall’s birth ended up being in the middle of the night and very fast, so we just left him in bed!
When I gave birth to their younger brother, Jaxon, both Harrison (3) and Niall (2) were present while I was in labour, although they were not there for his birth. While I was in labour I didn’t say anything, and they didn’t even notice – they were just playing and watching a film. They just noticed that their dad was home when he’d usually be at work.
At some point I asked my mum to come and collect them for a bit, because I just wanted to ‘nest’ and potter about in peace! I didn’t want them to be present for the birth – I just didn’t want the distraction. We are not planning any more children, but I think I’d do the same again – plan for them to be elsewhere for the birth, but carry on ‘as normal’ for the early stages of labour.”
“All 3 of my births were home births, so my first daughter was there when her sister was born, and both girls were there when their brother was born.
When I had my second daughter, my eldest had just turned 3. My mum had come to stay with us in case of hospital transfer, and we had prepared our eldest for everything, with lots of age-appropriate books about birth in general and home births in particular.
I was having contractions the evening before our daughter was born, and I remember my eldest rubbing my back and saying: “You’re doing really well mummy”. I laboured overnight, and my eldest came down in the morning with my mum, who had kept out the way upstairs all evening and night, at around 7.30am, and she ran straight into the living room, where we were. At that point we were starting to get to the point where our baby was actually going to be born.
As I started pushing, I had no worries about her being there if she wanted to be, but my mum panicked a bit. We probably hadn’t discussed it thoroughly enough with my mum in advance to stress that we were fine with our daughter watching it all, so she ushered our eldest out the room and into the kitchen to have her breakfast. Once our second little girl was born, and my mum was sure that everything was well and calm, she brought our eldest to meet her sister. She didn’t seem phased by anything, and I think my mum had done a good job of making it all seem normal.
When my son was born, my eldest was about to turn 8, and my second daughter was a couple of months off turning 5. This time we didn’t bother arranging for my mum to stay for the birth. We partly just assumed that everything would be fine and partly felt we had a bit of a better support network locally that we could call on if necessary.
I started having contractions through the late afternoon and early evening. Whilst the girls were getting ready for bed, it was obvious to Craig and I that things were definitely happening, although we had no idea how long it would all take. He put them to bed, but we had agreed that we would let them know what was happening, and let them make decisions about their involvement. My son was born at about 11.30pm, so when it was obvious it was about to happen, someone went to wake the girls up. They came down and came into the kitchen, where I was in the birth pool. They stayed briefly, but then asked if it was OK if they went into the living room. We said yes, of course, so they did. They came back through to the kitchen as soon as he’d been born.
In the next room, there’s no way they didn’t hear everything, so I’m not sure how much more ‘sheltered’ they were from it, so to speak. I have slight concerns that it wasn’t the calm peaceful environment I’d wanted and the beautiful moment of birth that I had envisaged, and I do wonder if they went into the other room because they were a bit scared. I panicked a bit going into transition/the actual birth, because of the growth scan predictions that my son was huge, and because of the fact that I’d torn and needed to be stitched back up with both previous births. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the chilled “MummyNatal” birth I’d wanted the girls to witness, but they both seemed fine when they came to meet him.
Neither of them have ever asked any questions about anything to do with labour/childbirth! They’ve never really mentioned much about their brother’s birth.”
Isn’t this all fantastic? And isn’t it so reassuring to know that so many mums choose to have their little one around them when in labour or when giving birth at home?
In our next post, we will be giving you the perspective of our very own founder Steph Beaumont! Steph, together with husband Dean, is the founder of The Natal Family and of the BabyNatal and MummyNatal programmes, as well as co-author of “The His and Hers Guide to Pregnancy and Birth”.
So, were your older children present when you were in labour with their younger sibling(s)? Were they present at the birth? Would you be happy for your older children to be present during childbirth?