When siblings witness childbirth, blessed event is truly a family affair A Special Delivery

July 26, 1994|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Sun Staff Writer

When 7-year-old Brianna asked to be present during the birth of her sibling, her mother, Trudye Weisberg, thought it over long and hard. "I was very reluctant to do it," Mrs. Weisberg says. "I did have concerns."

But after serious considerations and discussions with health professionals, the Weisbergs decided that giving birth should be a family event.

Some parents, like the Weisbergs, say having their children present when the mother gives birth provides a bonding experience that strengthens family relationships. Others, however, think it would be too upsetting for children to view the highly emotional and physically traumatic delivery process.

Some area hospitals, while not advocating either position officially, are at least providing parents and children the choice of sibling-witnessed births.

Allowing children into hospital birth rooms is a natural progression from the days when people had children at home, says Susan Will, a clinical nurse. Ms. Will, who works at Sinai Hospital, holds classes for children who want to be present when their moms give birth.

Other Baltimore-area hospitals allow children in the birth room and have guidelines governing their inclusion, but Sinai is one of the few that require that children attend a class before witnessing the event.

At Sinai, children must be at least 4 years old to participate in the individualized classes. Ms. Will emphasizes that giving birth is hard work, and she uses graphic pictures and a "pregnant" doll that leave nothing to the imagination.

"We talk about grunting, groaning and sweating. We talk about how this is a work process," she says, adding that she uses the analogy of a weightlifter who strains under pressure to explain that part of the birth procedure. And Ms. Will sticks two fingers in her mouth, stretching it, explaining how the skin might split if stretched too far. Children learn that after the baby's birth, the placenta comes out. And Ms. Will warns children: "You will not see the Gerber baby come out."

Ms. Will also recommends the family watch a birth video together.

In addition to the class, Sinai insists children and parents meet other requirements before birth time: a "support person" for every child present must be in the room, and the family is requested to do library research on its own. The child must accompany the mother on an appointment to meet the doctor and tour the ward and the room where the baby will be delivered.

Also, the mother must be comfortable with having her other children in the room, and the child can opt out of the experience at any time. If there are any birthing complications, the children must leave the room. "Sometimes if the child seems too naive or too dependent on mother, I will suggest that the child should not go through it," says Ms. Will. "But ultimately, I will leave it up to the parent," Ms. Will says.

Parental decision

Although the ultimate decision is left up to the parents, Ms. Will says, "the child really should initiate this."

"Some parents are surprised that we talk over the whole process. But you have to show them everything and tell them everything," she says. "You do not want them to be surprised."

During the birth, children react in different ways. Some children hang in a corner of the room and kind of peek at the process, "while others are right up in front with their eyes wide open," Ms. Will says.

Most parents who request having their other children present during birth do express reservations about it. And they should, Ms. Will says. "I tell them there should be some ambivalence and some concern. If not, I would think something is wrong," she says.

Andi Winkle is a nurse who's expecting any day now. Her two children will witness the birth of their sibling. "We are doing this so they would feel more included," Mrs. Winkle says. "Especially because this is a second marriage for me. We didn't want them to feel left out."

However, she is worried about how the children, Stephanie, 11, and Michael, 6, will react. "Yes, it's a concern," she says. "So we are not exactly sure if they will stay through the whole thing. We'll play it by ear."

Both children share their mothers' apprehension about seeing the birth of their sibling. "I'm not sure I will be there the whole time," says Stephanie, who knows it could be a rough emotional ride. "This is a part of us," she adds, explaining why she wants to be included.

Mrs. Weisberg, the mother whose oldest child already saw her sister's birth, understands the ambivalent feelings.

She worried about how Brianna would react to seeing her in pain and bleeding. "But she really wanted to be a part of it," Mrs. Weisberg says. For help in making the decision, the mother turned to her pediatrician, who thought it would be fine. But her obstetrician wasn't so sure. "He suggested that I call Susan Will," Mrs. Weisberg says.

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