Sibling Support: Navigating Birth with Children Present

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Welcome, this is Birth, Baby!

Your hosts are Ciarra Morgan and Samantha Kelly.

Ciarra is a birth doula, hypnobirthing educator, and pediatric sleep consultant.

Samantha is a birth doula, childbirth educator, and lactation counselor.

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As we promised, Leonora is back with us from Home Birth Honey to share her midwifery wisdom with us.

So we have her here today to talk about siblings in the birth space, which for out-of-hospital birth is a big topic for people that are not on their first baby.

So thank you so much for being back with us.

My pleasure.

We talk about this pretty much all the time.

And I would say the majority of our clients who are planning out-of-hospital births and have younger children feel like the idea of having their children in the room with them is horrible and insane.

And then we have others who really are looking forward to being able to share that with their children.

So for those people who really want their children to be there or even just be more prepared for a new sibling, what are your best tips for helping prepare kids for that?

So I don't usually say this, but YouTube is your friend.

This is the only time that will apply.

I think kids are really visual learners.

And obviously, most children don't live on a farm and you haven't seen animals giving birth.

So having a short list of curated videos that you can show your kid of birth, of animals giving birth, of humans giving birth is really helpful.

I think a huge aspect is talking to them about the sounds of birth because most kids have never heard their mom really raise her voice.

They might have heard your full name, all three names, if you're getting mad at them, but not the animalistic noises that we make when we're giving birth.

So making sure that they know what to expect visually, auditorily, and then the third thing that is probably the most important thing if you're birthing out of hospital is that one person at that birth be dedicated to the well-being of your child or children.

Somebody ideally that they trust and that they know and that does not have any skin in the game about watching you give birth.

Because let's say it's your mom.

You have a mom and she is a great grandma and the kids love her, but she will be heartbroken if she doesn't get to see you push out that baby.

There's a conflict of interest there.

And she's not going to be paying attention to the cues that your children are putting out there about whether or not they're comfortable.

And so the idea of avoiding trauma in this situation, if your kid is scared and uncomfortable and your mom is like, oh, it's fine, we're just gonna stay here, then that's not a good fit.

We need somebody who is totally fine taking them out of the room if need be.

That's funny that you said YouTube because I didn't even think about this when preparing for this episode.

My daughter from age three, maybe three and a half, would ask to watch videos of animals giving birth.

She wanted to watch elephants and dogs and cats and a giraffe.

Giraffes have a long way to follow you guys.

I watched all those videos.

And she was in the room when I had my son when she was seven.

And I think one of the biggest things that I prepared her for was there's going to be blood and that's okay.

Because seeing your mama bleed can be a really scary thing if you don't already know, which I'm so glad I did because I hemorrhaged significantly.

She didn't tell her how much and I'm glad because that was too much.

But I think that people don't always realize how like, first of all, your child may, you may think you want your kid there, but then you may be worrying about them too much, even if somebody else is taking care of them.

It could be the mom struggling or the person giving birth, struggling with, I'm having a hard time turning off my brain to take care of this child to be able to be fully present for my own birth.

And then also your child may think that they want to be there and then they kind of like, I'm scared or like what's wrong with mommy or whatever.

So that can be difficult.

I've been doing this for about 16 years.

And so I've seen teenage siblings, 10 year olds, 8 year olds, 7 year olds, 6 year olds, and all the way down to toddlers, babies at births.

I find that it is a rare mama that can really let go and get into that labor space with small children around.

I think that even with older children, it can be really hard to just let go and let that mama brain go somewhere else so that you can get into your primal self.

Some women do, though.

Some women absolutely do, and that totally works for them.

But I'm going to tell a little anecdote.

When I was a student and I was doing home birth, I was with a mom who was having her, I believe, fifth child.

So for those of you who are not birth workers, we expect a fifth child.

You know, mom's water breaks and she sneezes and the baby falls out.

I almost made an hot shoe noise because I was going to say sneeze.

I love that.

Yeah, it's like, you know, I mean, you still have to have a labor, but it is a different birth when you are having your fifth child versus your first.

So we were just like, OK, you know, she's bedtime and she's having strong regular contractions.

We'll cruise on over there.

And my goodness, if we didn't spend all night and all morning with her having strong regular contractions and at 730 a.m., her kids got on the school bus and at 736, her baby was born.

And I was like, my goodness, if I had known that, I would have made a different suggestion.

And I have seen that play out in real time so many times for moms who were convinced that they wanted their kids at the birth.

There have been so many times that I have been dialing for dollars for child care in the Austin area.

For somebody that this person, their kids have never met, but they just didn't have anything lined up because they were convinced that their kids would be awesome support at the birth and that they would enjoy that experience.

Alternatively, I was at a birth once where the teenage sibling was sort of the support person for the eight-year-old sibling.

Then they wanted to be part of the delivery process.

I kind of helped the sisters catch the baby.

That was so incredibly moving for everyone, and that was great.

But I think it's really, really important to make sure that there is just one human adult who is dedicated to your kids and who can read their cues and know.

Because sometimes I look and I see a kid in the room, and I'm like, oh, that kid does not want to be in this room right now.

They're not comfortable.

And have a backup plan, too.

I think that's what we talk about with our clients a lot is, I hear your plan, but kids are going to do what kids are going to do.

So let's have a backup plan just in case.

You know, you just never know what's going to happen.

We want somewhere for this baby to go.

If the one who's trying to come out needs their sibling gone right now.

Yeah, I had a lot of people in my room, which I don't recommend.

It worked great for me, but not for everybody.

But my daughter was in there, seven and a half, and I joked that my mom was her doula.

I had my doula, my husband was there for me, my mom was her doula.

And then she also could go out into the waiting room area, and my stepdad was out there.

He's eating lunch, and she would go and kind of get bites and come back and forth.

And it was her little way of being able to step away for a second, but come back in her own terms.

But I had a family who I've served them for two of their births.

She had her first when she was a lot younger.

So her daughter was 15 when she was giving birth to the first child I was with, which was her second baby.

And we were in a hospital setting, and it was on a weeknight, and she had schoolwork to do.

And she's there, and grandma's also there.

But the mom later told me I was worrying about my 15-year-old so much because I knew I was making a lot of noise that I didn't anticipate making while finding myself worrying about her.

Her labor went along fine.

We didn't have any real, like, gaps where we were like, okay, move things along here.

It went great.

But I found myself, even though grandma could have, I found myself dueling the 15-year-old.

And she was kind of cuddled up to me on a chair.

Like, I was leaning over to mom and she was kind of leaning on me.

And at one point she looked at me and she was, because this was an unmedicated birth, she looked at me and she was, I'm just going to get C-sections.

Because this was really, she ended up going under a chair at one point, putting her headphones in and doing homework on her little phone.

We did not want to be, she was really worried about her mama.

And people don't anticipate that, I think.

And I think a lot of big conversations need to be had no matter the age.

Because it's similar to if you have your own mother in the room, you are her baby.

So it's a little bit hard for them to just let you be in your own space because they're worrying about you.

So I think that those conversations are huge.

They think of it as a huge benefit to their child.

If their child sees that birth is natural and healthy and normal, that it will affect them for their whole life.

And I absolutely believe that that is true.

But I also think that they can get the same benefit from being on the other side of the door.

My older boys, who are my stepsons, were eight and nine when my baby was born at home.

And I didn't have any plan to have them in the room with me while I was laboring or while I was birthing.

Unbeknownst to me, my mom had them on the other side of the door when I was pushing.

So they heard when Hank cried for the first time.

But I think personally that they got all the benefits of understanding on a molecular level that birth is safe and normal and just can happen at home without any of the visceral memories of seeing my vagina or the placenta, although they've seen a lot of placentas, or blood loss or whatever.

And then they just came in right after he was born and it was really beautiful and there was just no gap in their understanding of each other.

So I think that you really can get those benefits without having your kid in the room with you.

But that said, if it feels like a good fit, it can be a good fit.

It's just more of the exception to the rule that mom is really able to kind of let go and get into that labor state with child in the room.


Pivoting a little bit, do you have any tips for families who are preparing siblings for their older children for a new sibling if they're not planning on being at the birth, just overall sibling tips?

Yeah, I think that if you are able to take a little solo time with each child during the pregnancy, and it's not like you have to go to an amusement park or anything.

It doesn't have to be anything crazy.

It can really be as simple as going out for a meal or just you have to run errands.

If you have a larger family and you take one kid with you to do that, it's going to feel special to them that you're taking that time to connect with them.

And I think really as much as is possible with your schedule, taking those moments during the pregnancy to get that solo time in with your kid.

And just to make sure that they really understand that while your family is growing, their place in the family is not changing.

It's only changing in that there's more people to love.

I know a lot of people with younger kids will get a little present for that child, and then it's like the present from the baby, which can be super cute.

But I think also most children instinctively feel that the baby is a gift, that it's of benefit to them that they're going to have this extra special little friend in the family.

I think that it's just a lot about how you talk about it to them and just make sure that they feel really special in their relationship with you and with the new baby.

I love that you said that about the instinctively feel like it's a gift, because I just had my first three-timer.

So my first time where I was at her first, second and third birth, which is so cool.

I have another one coming up in November.

But what a gift.

And her kids are four and one is about to turn four, and all of them are under that.

And she was really worried.

She was like, my older child, he is just not, this is not his jam.

He's like mad at me that I'm leaving to go to the birthing center right now.

The middle one just really didn't understand very much.

She's almost two.

Well, she came home and I got a text last night.

It's one week since they had the baby.

I was like, I can't believe it's been a week.

And she goes, well, look at this day with brother.

And the new baby was a boy.

And her older son, who's almost four, will not leave him alone.

Doesn't want to sit around with him.

Wants to walk around with him all day.

And the little, the middle one, the now middle one, the little girl who's almost two, she wants to hold them all the time too.

And now the older boy said, we need another one, mama, a girl.

Yeah, it's like, hey, we both need one of these, you know, like we're having a trade off holding this thing.

We gotta each have one of these.

And I love that.

And one of the recommendations, which I don't even know if this is a good thing that I recommend, what I do is if you have just like one kid and they're under four, let's say, or five, getting them a baby doll and teaching them things when you're pregnant of how to take care of a baby.

And then when the new baby comes saying, hey, will you change this baby's diaper?

I don't say your baby and my baby because I don't want them to think, oh, well, this is my baby now.

I'm big on the terminology there.

But will you change this baby's diaper while I change this baby's diaper?

So that they're not feeling like they're always waiting around on you to do things with this baby, that they have a job too, I think can be helpful psychologically for them feeling like they're still part of the deal.

But don't take it to heart when your two or three-year-old throws baby doll across the room.

I've seen parents actually get really upset by that.

They're like, oh, no, our newborn is going to be in danger because he just throws baby across the room all the time.

I mean, kids are going to be kids.

Toddlers are going to toddler.

My mom tells the story all the time about me taking care of my sweet little baby doll in the OB-GYN office when she was pregnant with my brother.

And everybody was just like, oh, she's so precious.

And then I picked up the baby and smacked it, sat on a chair a few times.

It was real horrifying.

I've never smacked my child's head on a chair on purpose.


It's so funny.

Oh, my God, the idea of taking to heart anything a toddler does is so funny.

Please don't.

Psycho, you know, the most insane thing.

The idea of being like, oh, no, don't hurt yourself.

It's like, you're fine.

It's crazy to see what is taken to heart.

But I get it.

We're all looking out for our kids.

I've also found, too, that having like, you talked about the one-on-one attention during pregnancy.

I've also found that it's really helpful to have one-on-one attention after baby's home, too, both with mom and dad, but then also if you have people that are coming to meet your new baby, make sure they are also talking to your older kids.

Maybe have some plans, like friends that want to come help out, they can go take your older kid to the park for a little bit and have some one-on-one time.

My son, when my daughter was born, could have cared less about anything that was happening because grandpa was there, and grandpa was taking him to, I don't even know what they did for those three days.

They were off just gallivanting around Austin, and he lived his very best life in that time.

And then was totally great with my daughter because he was so well adjusted in that period of having lots of attention, and he was still getting lots of attention afterwards.

So I think that can also be really helpful.

That's really sweet.

It was good.

It was good.

Okay, I have a last kind of question, or maybe observation.

I would love to know your observations.

If you have somebody that's already had a child, and they have their younger child home with them or whatever, do you notice a difference in when labor starts?

Is this just us as doulas?

Or do you notice a difference in when labor starts for these second, third, fourth time parents?

It is almost entirely as soon as they put their baby to bed.

It's just, I think it's just the way that our bodies work.

It is like, okay, that child is safe and slumber, and now I can release.

Often, I'll get a call from a woman, it's like 8 p.m., her water's broke.

It's just like your body just literally lets go.

Doesn't mean baby's going to be born that night necessarily.

It might be that they take a Benadryl, go to bed, get intermittent sleep for a few hours, and then labor kicks over at 2 in the morning or whatever.

But yeah, I always encourage moms with small children if they can to try to nap in the afternoon because you never know when labor is going to kick in and most likely it's going to be bedtime.

And they're so much better at listening the second time around.

The first time moms when I'm like, go take a nap, they're like, yeah, right.

Second time moms, I'm like, go take a nap.

Like, absolutely, I hear you.

Let's go.

My labor started at 5.30 in the morning and I was like, oh no, you don't.

I still have an hour and a half of sleep.

I feel like I see two different patterns.

It's always triggered by when the older kids go to bed.

It's either labor starts when the older kid goes to bed or labor kicks over when the older kid goes to bed.

We'll see people kind of like, maybe a couple of waves here and there throughout the day, definitely feeling like something could be happening.

Those are the ones that I'm always taking a nap in the afternoon and have my bag by the front door because I know as soon as 7.30 hits and it's bedtime, we're going to be in full active labor and have a baby by midnight.

I tend to see those two patterns, and it definitely is triggered by when the older kids are going to bed, which is so interesting.

We should do an episode about early labor.

Yes, we're in.

We are in for whatever you want to do episodes about.

We love this.

We geek out about this.

I'm just glad that we have the same thought process there, that it's not just us that is seeing this as a pattern.

I even teach it in birth classes.

You buckle up for when your kid goes to bed at night.

I love the midday nap idea.

I will say, sometimes I do have a second or third time mom who is like, I am manifesting a day birth, and they will have a day birth.

I think that our intentions are powerful, not the first time around as much.

You kind of get what you get the first time around.

But for subsequent births, I've seen moms for whom they really want a day birth, and they get that day birth.

It's because they relax enough.

They're not going to relax until they're in the space where they wanted to have the baby.

My last one that I just had the third birth with her, every single day that she's gone into labor with all three of them, she has a grocery shopping trip and fills her gas tank.

Those are the last things she has to do.

And that morning sure was she was picking up her HEB curbside order and filling her gas tank.

Queen, love it.

Love it.

Well, this has been fun.

I love it.

I love a mini episode that just like slams some information at people.

So I think that all of our moms that have already had babies before are really going to love all of this insight from you.

Happy to do it.

It's been, you know, ever since COVID, I think moms who have children at home have really come to home birth or to birthing out of hospital because it's like, oh, yeah, I can't bring my babies to the hospital.

So what am I going to do?

I think what we talked about in that last episode about just the care of midwifery, especially with second babies, it really feels so powerful because we give so much of ourselves to our children and then to have to be on this conveyor belt of hospital birth and then to be able to be home with midwives who are just loving on you, just spending your time loving on these people who are giving all of themselves to their children and their families.

I think it's so powerful.

I love to see it and I can't ever overstate how amazing it is that we have providers like you who are loving on our mamas here in Austin.

Yeah, any midwife who says she's in it for the babies, I don't trust it.

We're in it for the moms.

Same as a doula.

Well, postpartum doulas also love the babies and the mamas, but as a birth doula, it's all about the mama.

I leave an hour or two after.

You're like, your baby is real cute, but I was in it for you.

I don't even hold the babies most of the time.

I don't remember the last time I held a newborn.

I know.

I always get in a squeeze when I weigh them, but that's it.

Well, thank you so much, Leonora, and we will have you back soon.

Sounds good.

Thanks, guys.

Thank you for joining us on Birth, Baby!

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You can look him up on Spotify.

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See you next week.

Sibling Support: Navigating Birth with Children Present
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