The Case for Siblings at Birth


(Big brother feeding Mama as she nurses baby sister for the first time)

Have you ever taken your children to a funeral? Maybe it was for a family member or a close friend, and you felt like it was only right for your kids to join you in paying respects. You may have felt the need to sit them down and explain death to them for the first time, especially if they were fairly young. But you felt like they needed to be there, because they knew the person who passed, and death is an important topic for them to somewhat understand at some point.

Then what is it about birth? Why is our culture so afraid to include the new baby's big brothers and sisters in the experience? Yes, mama will be naked or pretty close to it, and there will be blood. But don't our children need to know how the human body works? Yes, she might yell and it could frighten them, but don't they need to understand the entire range of feelings we as people experience, including the magical awe that immediately falls over everyone at the sight of a newborn babe? And based on my experience, most children, even the youngest (like the toddler pictured above) somehow just get it and any momentary fear is quickly replaced by quiet respect. Birth is holy, the room feels sacred, even for children. My daughters both ended up in the room for yesterday's homebirth, too, and neither of them moved or made a sound.

And it was not Edie's first experience witnessing a birth. She was a key part in the story of bringing her sister here last summer, and she still talks about it every day.

So, I am a big believer in siblings at birth. Here's why:

1. They get to see Mama working hard.
Motherhood is quite a ride. Our kids see us at our best, most selfless and loving. They also see us at our worst, most touched out and over it. I really believe watching a Mama birth demands a special kind of respect and thankfulness children (especially boys who will never go on to give birth themselves) could go their entire lives without knowing. She did this for me; she must really love me. She did this for my new sibling; she must really love them, too.

2. They get to see Mom and Dad working together (hopefully).
Some of my most cherished memories of my husband are the words he said to me while I was laboring with our daughters. He was an extremely present, calming birth partner both times, and I am so happy Edie got to see her Dada holding her Mama's hand through the hardest work of her life the second time around. 

3. They are characters in the story.
At Reed's birth, Edie had a job that she confidently carried into her role as big sister in the year following. We didn't have to try to tell her about it later--she played an important part. We still talk about how she rubbed my back and told me, "Good job, Mama!" and then helped cut the umbilical cord. And yesterday, big brother was so engaged with the whole process--do you see his face in those photos? And afterward he was reminding everyone that his Mama needed more bites of watermelon to refuel. So, so sweet!

4. Body parts are normalized and not gross.
Edie has told multiple strangers that her "baby sister came out of Mama's gy-na." She says it excitedly, with zero embarrassment. She is proud of me and proud of herself for helping baby and me. Nothing about any of our bodies freaked her out or made her blush, and I hope she continues to feel that way about herself as she grows. The whole experience was better than anything any textbook could ever teach her.

5. They get to feel the holiness and celebrate new life with everyone involved.

Edie still talks about Reed's birth like it was the best day of her life. Most days she replays the story factually, but then ends it with something like, "Sister came out! And I love her!" She was there to witness that first explosion of feeling--something we would not have been able to explain in a meaningful way to a two year old. What a gift, and one I fully believe has so much to do with how positively Edie has felt about her sister from day one. Reed was never a stranger she had to meet and try to connect the dots--she saw her go from my womb out into the world, she felt how vulnerable she was in her first cry, and she happily shared me with her as we crawled into bed to snuggle and sleep.


My memories of Edie at her sister's birth are some of my most cherished, and I felt them all over again as I watched big brother take it all in yesterday afternoon.