Planning a homebirth? Today, Tracy shares tips that proved useful in preparing her sons for the homebirth of their third child:
“As we anticipated and planned the homebirth of our 3rd child, my husband and I quickly realized that aside from preparing ourselves, our gear, and our hearts for the arrival of a new baby, we had two boys to prepare as well.
As homebirthing parents and advocates, we were aware that there was an extra pile of issues to cover aside from the usual answers to physiological questions (“How does the baby get out, Mama?”), and the somewhat trite reassurances about what life with a new sibling will be like (“Don’t forget, we’ll still love you guys, too.”). Things like: what labor sounds like, caregivers for the boys, meals/snacks, keeping busy, etc. Everything happens at home, so there needed to be good plans in place, with 2 or 3 reliable backups for each. Here’s what we felt was necessary to prepare for and with the boys leading up to their little sister’s birth.
Meet the team. We took our sons (7 and 4 years old) to almost every midwife appointment, so they could meet most of the midwives and be reasonably familiar with the women who would help us birth our baby. The boys were active participants in these visits; they got to ask questions if they had them, helped listen to the baby’s heartbeat, measure my belly, etc.
Books. In addition to getting them used to the concepts of midwifery care, we also talked (a lot) about what happens to a mother’s body as a baby grows, and as the baby is being born. We read several books that were helpful in introducing homebirth to the boys. Our two favorites were Welcome With Love and Runa's Birth.
Videos. We watched videos showing (sometimes graphically) actual homebirths. We used two from our midwives: I Watched My Brother Being Born and the Homebirth of Psalm and Zoya. The first explains birth from an older siblings perspective, which resonated with our 7-year-old, as the “helper.” And the second allowed the boys to see very clearly what it looks like when a baby leaves its mother’s body. I also watched several videos with the boys on YouTube. All of this I believe prepared them for what they would see happening in and around the birthing room when the time came.
Prepare for sound. Despite the above preparations, what was missing was a way to prepare the boys for the sounds. If you think about it, a woman is probably less likely to make and distribute a video of herself birthing if she is, like me, a very “loud coper.” Most of these videos showed mothers who could be calm during the stormiest of contractions, something I am unable to do. I needed to know that my noises, shouts and, yes, even screams, wouldn’t terrify the boys. So, we started talking about “hard work noises.” We began practicing grunts, me starting and the boys imitating. Then we moved up to yells, loud moans, and the crescendo of them through contractions. The boys mostly thought this was hilarious, and would check in with my husband to make sure I actually sounded like that. I always made sure to explain what these noises were for, in the context of what a birthing mother is experiencing. I also explained to the boys that sometimes moms are overwhelmed because what is happening to their bodies is such a big thing. Birthing babies is hard work and sometimes we feel like we’re too tired to do it anymore. I took care to reassure them that we had lots of helpers to make sure everything was going well, and that usually, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
Make it optional. Despite the fact that the boys would likely be home when I gave birth, I also always made it clear that being in the room was optional. Gabriel was at first very hesitant, but eventually, he decided he wanted to be there and that he was comfortable with it. Caius, at 4, really only wanted to feed me bananas, an idea he got from one of the videos we watched.
Enlist a variety of caregivers. Given that being present was optional, I needed to make sure that there was someone around to help entertain, feed, and supervise the boys. We lined up my mother-in-law to come and help with that task. We also had my sister in town; she could be present if needed (and if she wasn’t helping another mom…she’s a midwife). Last resort was a family friend who could be called in to pinch hit. Make sure these are trusted, well-known individuals. You may need to arrange some “get to know you” time if there isn’t a particular someone that immediately springs to mind.
Kits for the kids. As I assembled my home birth supplies, I came up with the idea to assemble a kit for the boys as well. Included were: new games, crafts and activities, changes of clothes, and disposable cameras so they could take pictures of the event (try to find inexpensive digital cameras if possible; my 4-year-old burned through his disposable camera on pictures of the stairs and radiator cover). Give the bags to the caregiver with instructions to dole out slowly, in the event of a long labor. I also included a cake mix so the boys could be busy making a birthday cake for the baby.
Stock the fridge and freezer. I packed the freezer with food, and easy-cook meals for our family. Due to Gabriel’s food allergies, I needed to know that those caring for him could prepare a meal without worrying about reading ingredient lists. Labor can take a while so be sure to have food stocked for your “team.”
Think about family needs, and be prepared for adjustment. My last piece of advice is to really think about what is likely to be needed for your family. Talk about it (exhaustively, if need be) with your prenatal care provider(s). Chances are, they’ve got lots of good ideas and helpful tips from their own experience attending births with older siblings present. Don’t forget to think about what you’ll need, as well. As the person with the main role in the homebirthing process, mamas need to know where their “weak spots” are, too. I realized that my usual preference is to have my husband with me every moment during active labor. When it occurred to me that the boys might need him more than I did, I mentally prepared myself to use the rest of my support team to do the things I would have wanted him to do. I also made sure to give him explicit permission to tend to the boys if they needed more reassurance than the other caregivers could give them. That way, he wouldn’t feel torn, and could also be confident making that call if I was unable to participate in a discussion about it at the time.
Follow your instinct. Obviously, it’s okay not to have your kids present, too. In that case, I think all of the above still applies, it just gets moved off site, so to speak. If you’re unsure how you feel about what they’ll see and hear, and how they’ll react, or how you’ll react (some mamas feel unable to “give in” to labor for fear of scaring their kiddos) to having them there, the decision is yours. Again, talk about it with all those involved, and come up with a plan that works for your family. In the end, what you really want to plan for is the birth scenario that will allow you to feel empowered to birth in your home.
How it worked out for us. Ironically, the boys were asleep when the baby was born, but we woke them up soon after, and they helped Dad cut the cord. One of the first things our baby heard was her older brother singing ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’ to her. That was worth every bit of preparation!”