The decision to have our second son at home, assisted by a licensed nurse midwife, turned into one of the most incredible, moving and profound experiences of my life.
Having our almost 3-year-old son witness it from his highchair was equally powerful.
During my pregnancy, Miles seemed pleased enough that my belly was growing, but he was not very verbal yet and he had no sentences that he could utter, so we used a lot of simple phrases to let him know I was carrying a tiny baby that would soon come out and be his brother. In addition, we did not believe in talking too much about the baby, since his expectations would probably in no way match reality.
This worked great, save for one small issue: how was I to prepare Miles for Mama in labor?
Including Miles in the Mix
Our pediatrician supported both our decision to have a homebirth and our innate desire to have our son be present. He emphasized that we should give Miles the choice of being there both before and during the birth process. If he wanted to leave, my husband should take care of him in another room while our midwife and doula (labor coach) tended to me.
With Miles, labor was intense and difficult and extended from my water breaking on a Friday to him being born the next Monday at 10 pm. Throughout the entire weekend that I was in labor, I took no drugs and used self-hypnosis to manage the surges of muscles contracting and stretching my body open. I vocalized deeply and quite loudly, but I never cried, screamed, or cursed. I hoped that my second labor would mirror this one in that respect, if only for the benefit of my son who we assumed would be watching.
But what if I wasn’t so serene? What if I screamed and shrieked and cursed? Would that damage him? Scare him? Turn him off to becoming a father when he reached adulthood?
Our midwife had a 15 minute video showing real women having real homebirths which she lent to us. She herself was one of the midwives shown assisting with labor, and a skilled and well-known childbirth educator was also featured in the video, describing labor and birth to a group of real toddlers.
A Boy’s First TV Experience
Now, my son had never watched television nor had he ever seen a video when we dragged a 9-inch television from the closet which had a built-in VHS player. I explained to Miles (who was almost 3 at this point) that we had a movie to show him about what would happen when “his” baby was ready to come out. My husband and I had pre-screened the movie (very smart), so we knew what would happen. Our midwife suggested that we watch the video with Miles first on mute, explaining to him in our words what was happening. Only after we watched it with no sound should we turn the sound on.
Well, two things happened with this little experiment. First, this was one of the first times Miles had ever seen television. It was all so novel. And he was so mesmerized by the lights, the patterns, and the remote control that he hardly seemed to notice that there was a baby coming out of a vagina.
Because television itself was so novel–so astounding–it took a few viewings just to get him to focus on the issues at hand. And second, once Miles got over the excitement of watching television, he watched intently and passionately as three families were followed from the start of labor right up to the umbilical cord being cut and the baby nursing for the first time.
He loved seeing the toddlers listening to the educator, demonstrating with a cloth doll what delivery of a baby and then the placenta would look like. I watched Miles’ face carefully as the mothers in labor made what the video called “working sounds,” vocalizing and using their entire bodies to birth their babies as fathers and older siblings watched from a distance. I held onto the remote’s STOP button when the baby’s heads crowned in each birth, waiting for him to freak out in some way. But he didn’t. He had no notion of it being “weird,” “gross,” or “inappropriate.” His innocence was sobering.
Miles’ experience of watching the birth video was pleasantly uneventful in its stoicism and elegance. His was a simple understanding because it was presented as such: this is what birth looks like. This is what mamas do to get the baby out.
The Big Event
My own labor started at 5.30 am on a stormy Friday. At 6.30 am, my husband woke up with Miles and they watched me pacing, breathing heavily, and rocking on my hands and knees until our doula, midwife, and her assistant reached our home.
To my astonishment, by the time the assistant arrived first, I was ready to push. It was 8 am.
Miles was by then seated in his highchair in our living room, calmly eating a bowl of granola as my husband stood next to him, both of them watching me silently and intently as I was helped to a comfortable pushing position (the birth canal directed away from Miles, thank you very much).
Three pushes later, Frederick slithered out, and Miles was carried out of his highchair to cut the cord. A small spurt of blood startled him, and he promptly asked my husband to finish the job. Miles then sat down on the floor, and minutes later was handed a bundled up wide-eyed baby brother. He clung to that baby for enough minutes that the midwife had to separate them; she told us that she had never seen a toddler so entranced by holding a baby in her decades of experience.
I wish I could tell you that Miles’ initial love for his brother has been sustained for the past 2 years; that he loves his brother more than his fire trucks. But that would be a lie. Having Miles see his brother born in our living room was no solution to sibling rivalry, nor would I say it is the right thing for everyone. But for us, it was a beautiful and organic extension of our parenting philosophy: to let our children experience the world as it is, without being ruled by the fear of “What if?”
After we showed Miles the homebirth video, our previously mellow and gentle child started yelling for “more more more video video video.” And while the drug-like desire for television was not something we wanted to deal with yet, that video helped prepare all of us for what it would look like the moment Miles’ life changed forever; the moment he was no longer our one and only beloved son; the moment he became the protector of a cuddly chubby doppelganger; the moment his playmate and confidante entered the world as he watched from above; and the moment he clung so dearly to that bundle of flesh that had previously just been “baby” and was now “Miles’ baby.”