Childbirth was a family affair as boys, ages 9 and 6, watched delivery of brother

January 05, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Instead of storks and cabbage patches, Tricia and Larry Stokes opted to show their children the truth about where babies come from.

So they arranged for the youngsters to witness the birth of their baby brother, Gregory, in August at Howard County General Hospital.

The Columbia family became the first to enroll in the hospital's sibling preparation for childbirth class. Individual families take the course, which is free and available by request.

Children and their parents are shown videotapes of childbirth, a model of a vaginal canal and a doll with umbilical cord and placenta. A tour of the nursery and Post-Partum Unit culminates the class.

The Stokes said they wanted the children to attend the birth of their baby brother to develop closer family ties, foster discussion about sex, and erase misconceptions about childbirth.

"I thought of it as a sex educational tool for my 9-year-old," said Mrs. Stokes.

"I think it was a good bonding experience," said her husband, who is the stepfather of 9-year-old Jeffrey and 6-year-old Thomas. Four-month-old Gregory is Tricia and Larry's first child.

The experiment worked, they said.

"They don't come into the house from playing without checking on [Gregory] first," Tricia said of the two boys.

Gregory, a chubby baby who weighed nine pounds, three ounces when he was born Aug. 13, has won the hearts of his older brothers.

Grabbing a picture of a beaming Gregory, Thomas said he likes his little brother's smile best of all.

Children who are at least 4 years old have always been able to witness childbirth at Howard County General Hospital, but it is only since May that the hospital has provided a class to prepare children for the event, said Sarah Sherman, education specialist and registered nurse at Howard County General Hospital.

The class evolved from a school project last year by former Howard High School student Nicole Ketterer, 19, of Columbia. Ms. Ketterer wrote a pamphlet called, "This is How My Baby Brother or Baby Sister is Born." The 12-page booklet describes in easy-to-understand terms childbirth and the first few days of an infant's life outside of the womb.

Donna Dowis, childbirth instructor and registered nurse, said the class is important because it prepares children for what they will see during childbirth and how their mother will behave.

"They're going to see mom in a different way," Ms. Dowis said. "She may just be ignoring the kids, she may tune things out, her face might be squeezed up."

To prepare the children, Ms. Dowis showed them two videotapes of childbirth. One is designed for youngsters up to 10 years old and features a chicken hatching from an egg and brief footage of a woman giving birth. The second videotape targets older children and shows a man coaching his wife through labor until she gives birth.

A 10-centimeter-wide metal pipe is also used to re-create a birth canal. A doll is pushed through the pipe to show children how babies are born. Lastly, the children toured the nursery and Post-Partum Unit.

Ms. Dowis said she also tries to prepare children for the unexpected. She briefly described a Caesarean section to Jeffrey and Thomas in case their mother failed to have a vaginal delivery.

"I could just see these little kids potentially set up for disappointment," Ms. Dowis said. Despite all the preparation, Jeffrey and Thomas were still surprised by what they saw in the delivery room.

"His head came out first. I thought his feet would come out first," Thomas said, drawing both arms back to demonstrate pulling a pair of legs.

"I didn't expect so much blood," Jeffrey said. "I expected him to come out by himself."

Ms. Dowis, said the decision to expose children to childbirth depends on the child's maturity and interest level.

"We don't know at what point this will cause trauma," said Ms. Dowis, who instructed the Stokes in the sibling preparation for childbirth class. "Sometimes this seems more in the interest of the parents than the child."

Tricia and Larry said they wanted the boys present during the childbirth but first asked them if they were interested.

"We asked the kids whether they wanted to be there when their baby brother was born," said Mrs. Stokes, 33. "We definitely wanted them to know what childbirth was like."

The Stokes said they had no misgivings about the boys witnessing the birth.

"Not a one," said Mr. Stokes, 34.

"It was my third child and I knew I wasn't going to totally freak out and scream," said Mrs. Stokes.

Hospital officials said if children are not ready to witness childbirth, they may become resentful toward infants who appear to cause their mothers physical pain.

"You need to assess if the experience will make a child more frightened and more resentful," said Ms. Sherman.

In addition to the childbirth class, Jeffrey and Thomas participated in the sibling preparation class, which prepares youngsters, ages three to 12, for the arrival of a new baby brother or sister.

Offered three times a month, the 1 1/2 -hour class features a 20-minute film, and tour of the hospital nursery and maternity unit. Children learn how to feed, diaper and hold babies by using anatomically correct dolls. They also discuss emotions such as jealousy and sadness they may experience once needy infants begin demanding their parents' attention.

Although childbirth surprised him the first time around, Jeffrey said he would willingly undergo the experience again.

"Now I would know what to expect," he said.

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