Two mums who let their kids see them give birth have shared their experience — and say it’s worth it.
Most mothers do not like the idea of inviting older children to watch them give birth. They say it’s not only frightening and confusing for children to see their mother in pain, but most women would also worry about being able to ‘let go’ and focus, knowing they had such an impressionable audience.
However, for UK mums Nancy Keen and Alexandra Shakespeare, inviting their children to see them give birth to their sibling is a rewarding experience.
Nancy, 39, had gone into labour at home, and she was waiting for her kids, Freja and Erin, then aged five and six, to return from school so they could join in the event. They wanted to watch their mum give birth to their brother, Torren, four years ago, and be right there, through every grunt, groan and contraction. And at the ‘business end’ of things, too.
Critics may oppose to it as it may cause “mental scars for children, witnessing something terrible that could last a lifetime.” However, Nancy says the experience of her kids watch her give birth to Torren has helped dismiss any fears and preconceptions the girls might have had about childbirth.
“In the end, it became a bit of a non-event. One of them summed it up afterwards: ‘We came home, Mum had the baby, then we had fish and chips and watched Strictly.’ It was about as dramatic as that. And that was exactly how it should be,” she said.
Nancy admitted she had always been terrified of childbirth after her own mother had nearly died giving birth to her, but after discovering hypnobirthing, which she now teaches, Nancy overcame her fears.
“As he was born, they chose to be at the business end, so they saw him coming out.
“I brought him to my chest and the girls came up to see him, so they were the first people he ever saw.
“It was an amazing experience and I hope it will mean they will never have a fear of childbirth like I had -it is something that just happens,” she said.
Indeed, four years on, Freja seems totally unfazed by seeing the birth of her little brother.
Meanwhile, Alexandra, 40, wanted her daughter, Florence, now seven, to stay with her maternal grandmother as she gives birth, but when her contractions began at 3 am on a May day in 2011, her mother didn’t hear the phone. Being new to the area, she and husband, Mark, didn’t have anyone else they could call on, so they decided to take Florence with them to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
She said that it actually gave her some comfort to know Florence was close by. She added that Florence was excited and happy at first to be there, but once the fun had stopped she became anxious. She said that Florence became scared of the bleeding and screaming, so Mark tried to “keep her away from the bottom end of the bed”, but when Florence became distressed, Alexandra asked Mark to take her out of the room.
Alexandra gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Gabriel, weighing 9lb 2oz. However, the experience made Florence squeamish afterwards, like she couldn’t bear the sight of blood, or even handle a splinter, and worse, she said she didn’t want to have a baby “because it would really hurt and was messy.”
Fortunately, those memories have faded and Alexandra says she’s glad Florence was there for Gabriel’s birth. Her only regret is that she wasn’t able to plan for it.
Following the latest trend was celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who revealed that his eldest daughters, Poppy, 14, and Daisy, 12, were invited when his wife Jools recently gave birth to their fifth child.
Jools tweeted: ‘So very proud of our two eldest daughters who cut the cord.’
With all the words of support and congratulations, there were also people on social media who opposed, with claims that children should not be exposed to childbirth, for risk of psychological damage.
Lee Wright, a practising midwife and senior lecturer in Women’s Health and Midwifery at Birmingham City University, points out that in many countries, births are often accompanied by extended gatherings.
“The idea that birth is a traumatic event is a very Western idea. In other cultures, birth is a real family thing and there are a lot of people in attendance.”
Michelle Lyne, a Professional Midwifery Advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, says there’s no reason to exclude children from birth. However, she suggested that a familiar environment in which to give birth must be carefully chosen.
“Birth is a normal life event and children are often involved in a pregnancy, so carrying this on into labour can be quite natural,” she said.