I'm writing today to ask your advice. I'm hoping to gain some perspective from the writing itself and from your collective wisdom and experiences.
I had always assumed Mikko would be present at the birth of his sibling, due right around the time he turns 4 years old. We're planning a gentle home birth, after all, so why not?
Well, Mikko is telling us why not. He doesn't want to be at the birth, he says. He had a bad dream about the birth involving bubbles and a giant gash, and that was that. He wants the baby to stay inside. Barring that (since I've told him that's not an option), he wants to be nowhere near when it erupts.
I've asked and received recommendations for talking with kids about birth, and checked out books and videos on the subject of gentle birthing to help him prepare.1 He's alternately fascinated and repulsed – he'll ask to watch one video in particular multiple times (Birth Day, a beautiful and nearly silent water birth in Mexico, with two big brothers in attendance — one during and one shortly after) — but he protests every time the baby comes out and reiterates his stance that babies should stay inside and, no, they are not cute, and that was not beautiful, and why does the mama have a big hole?
I think the root of the problem is a sweet one: He loves me, and he hates the thought that the baby is going to hurt me. Our midwife actually said the same thing — that it's the most attached children who tend to have problems witnessing their mother give birth. I've tried to reassure him, using the same phrases I use on myself through my Hypnobabies training, that my body is made to give birth, that I will stretch stretch stretch open, but then close back up again quickly. That it's hard work, but it doesn't hurt me (in the sense of harming me). That I might make some noise or need to concentrate, just like he does when he's pooping, but that it all turns out all right.
Maybe I went too far with the pooping analogy, because he doesn't actually like pooping, either. Ah, well.
We still have several months to read and watch and talk and listen and see if he changes his mind, but if not, the question looms: What do we do instead?
The best option we can think of involves Sam's sister. I'll call her Natalie, for no particular reason.2
Mikko is very attached to us and protests being left even with his beloved aunt, but she's our best bet for being (a) wholly in love with him, (b) very familiar to him, (c) geographically nearby (she lives in a different neighborhood in our city), and (d) willing to help us out, particularly where a new baby is concerned. She loooves babies. (She's a nanny.)
We've told him that during the birth he can be with Natalie instead, and he accepts this as an acceptable alternative to witnessing the carnage he imagines the birth will be.
Here are my problems with how to arrange this:
- The first thing that comes to mind is that, despite Natalie's willingness to help out, she does work full time as a nanny. It's not like she can drop everything and run at any minute, because she has other responsibilities. It's not easy for a nanny to get a day off with last-minute notice, and I wouldn't expect her to. It's quite possible her families might give her some leeway to have Mikko come to work with her for a day, but at any rate, the timing of the birth will affect some of our other options below.
- One option would be for Sam or Natalie to take Mikko physically over to Natalie's place and leave him with her until after the birth. The problem with this plan:
- I wouldn't necessarily know when to have him go over. Ideally, he'd stay with us during early labor and leave only when things started getting too intense for him. But, then again, if Sam has to bring him over, that's about 40 minutes to an hour that Sam won't be with me, which worries me to think about. What if this labor goes so fast that Sam misses the birth for playing chauffeur?
- My birth with Mikko lasted 42 hours. I've heard second births tend to be faster (please let it be so), but there are no guarantees. I think Mikko would freak at being kept away from me for too long if I misjudge the timing.
- I was kind of hoping Mikko might change his mind at the last minute and want to see the birth after all. That would require keeping him close at hand.
- Which leads to option two: Mikko stays here, and Natalie comes over. Problems with this one:
- Natalie might be working, a la the first sticking point. It's unlikely she could bring her charges with her to our house for a birth.
- Natalie is loud. Bless her heart, I don't think she even knows how loud she is. When she's at our place during quiet hours, we have to keep shushing her — not unlike our interactions with Mikko, in fact. She plays boisterously with Mikko, which is great — except when I need things to be calm (like when I'm just about to put him to bed, but that's a whine for another day). As I've mentioned, I'm doing Hypnobabies childbirth hypnosis techniques again. Hypnobabies doesn't require quiet, but it helps. A lot. I want to be calm and focused, and if I hear Natalie whooping it up, even in another room, I will continually be distracted and annoyed. If we do invite her over, we'll have to lay down the ground rules about playing quietly with Mikko, but can we trust her to understand our wishes and agree to them?
- I have this selfish desire to have our family be alone during the birth, with just the midwives in attendance. We're very private and quiet people, and that's what I feel most comfortable with, anyway. I love the idea of welcoming our new baby in peace and not having anyone else stepping in asking to hold the little one or interfering with our bonding and breastfeeding time. There is no way in heck we'd be able to keep Natalie from the room after the birth. She loves babies. Looooves them. Eats them up.
- Along the same lines, Natalie's not so good on recognizing social cues. Like, if you're at someone's house and they look at their watch and go, "Hoo boy, is it 11 p.m. already? I had no idea it was so late!" your response is (say it with me), "Wow, it is late. Thank you so much for having me over. I'd better get home!" Natalie's response? Blissful lack of awareness and staying put, chattering away, for another hour until Sam finally tells her point blank, You need to go now. So, yeah. Right after the birth? I'm going to want to rest and bask and glow and recover and be stitched up and watch the baby latch and listen to the midwife and all that jazz, and I don't want to have someone else hovering and refusing to leave, and I don't want to be the bad guy who says she has to, after she's just done us a favor and all. But I guarantee she will not leave until she's told to go.
- One last option, but I'm not sure how valid it is, would be to have no Natalie, but keep Mikko and me separated in different rooms. Sam could theoretically go back and forth to check on him and get activities going for him to do. I fear that would leave me unattended by Sam most of the time, since Mikko's not much of a play-alone type (at least at this age). Plus, there still could be a Mikko freak-out moment when he realizes he's in the same house as the birth. He might want me and be distressed at the condition I'm in, which is what we're trying to avoid in the first place. In this scenario, I might have to hire a doula to make sure I have the support I need while Sam concentrates on Mikko, but Sam was such a rock last time, I can't imagine going it without him.
To be fair, here are some other good things that could come of having Natalie attend the birth:
- She might be able to help us persuade Mikko it's not so bad after all and to come take a peek.
- If so, she might be able to take some pictures or video during the birth, considering we dropped the ball on that one last time. Thank goodness our midwives thought to capture the actual birth, but we have basically no documentation of the labor.
- She could be an extra set of hands and wheels if we needed supplies or food, during or after the birth.
- She'd be in place already in case of an unexpected hospital transfer, to take care of Mikko while we were gone.
What do you think? I'm really torn. Ideally, I'd have the white fluffy home birth of my dreams, where my firstborn looks on in angelic serenity, but so far he's putting his foot down that my dreams will not be so.
During my first birth, I was more adamant about being left alone during labor and the birth, and Natalie came to the hospital only when visiting hours started (first thing! first visitor! unasked!), several hours after the birth and after we'd been able to catch a few (very few) Zs.
But this time around, I have to acknowledge that the situation is different. This time, I'll have an almost-4-year-old I have to take care of as well, and if what he needs is Natalie, I'm going to have to bend and allow for that difference.
I'm not someone who thinks birth is all about my precious experience, but I do want to do all in my power to have a peaceful, gentle homebirth for this baby this time around — if it can be done. I don't want my intrusive frustrations with Natalie's presence (or Mikko's and/or Sam's absence) to derail things.
There's also the question of who could step in as a backup caregiver if Natalie's not available, and I don't have an answer to that. We have no other family in the area, and our parents aren't flying out till after the birth. We have no friends who can be imposed on the way we can impose on Natalie (she's family!) — and, frankly, none I'd feel comfortable showing all my business to.
So those are my thoughts so far. Here are my questions for you, if you'd be so kind as to share your impressions and experiences on one, some, or all:
- What did you do with your older kid(s) when you gave birth? What ages were they, and where did you give birth?
- Did any of you have a reluctant witness who came around, or did any of you have a child who had a complete meltdown at the birth?
- Did any of you have someone attend your birth you weren't welentirely comfortable with beforehand (friend, relative, professional)? How did that work out?
- Who was your backup care for your kids, if that was a factor?
- What would you do in my situation: (a) take Mikko to Natalie, (b) bring Natalie to our place, or (c) make do without her?
- Is there another option I'm not considering?
- I'm not the only one who cries at every birth video and picture, am I? Awww…
Thank you so much in advance for your help!
1 When I get my act together, I'd like to do a post listing the resources we've used and thanking the people who suggested them, as well as links to other posts on this subject of siblings attending births.↩
2 And Natalie doesn't read this blog. I hope.↩