I’ve had three babies.
All of my extended family lives out-of-state, all over the country. When I went into labor with the first, I didn’t have to worry about childcare for any other children. The second time, I had to think about arrangements for a spur of the moment call for help, or to fly in a loving relative in advance, hoping that baby #2 would decide to make his appearance within the allotted visiting timeframe.
For baby #3, we hired a sibling doula.
My older children were 7 and 6, and in order for my husband to be fully present with me during the birth and hours after, we felt that they needed a nurturing adult, trained in the birth process and in emotional support, to help them understand each piece of the story and what was happening to mommy and baby along the way.
We moms, when we know our children are OK, when we know they’re safe, we are OK. This is what I needed when I was emotionally preparing for birth. When I knew I wouldn’t be able to be present with them because I was deeply concentrating on my body, I needed to know that someone had my children safe in hand. That they were calm and happy and attended to.
Our sibling doula came to our house once before the big day to meet and play with the kids. She did some prep work about how Mommy might look or sound or act when in labor, the kinds of things that they could expect, and what things they could do to participate or be helpful. They talked about where they could go if they needed to rest, eat, or if they were overwhelmed by all the activity and change. They talked about what they thought the baby would look like, smell like, sound like.
While I went into labor and delivered so fast that we had a daddy-catch birth at home, our children’s doula was the first to arrive on the scene, and she received the children when they arrived a few minutes later, gently guiding them through the steps of meeting their new brother. Josh was able to fully attend to my labor and postpartum needs, and the kids had a birth-trained caregiver to help them through the day of enormous adjustments.
Our sibling doula wasn’t just a babysitter. This woman walked into my home when I was bleeding from my lady-parts, holding a squalling 1-minute-old newborn: she was calm, and she’d seen this before. She took a matter-of-fact, “yes, this is how birth happens” tone with my children, and her secure, nonchalant, even tone put them at ease. They explored all the new things with curiosity and no hesitancy – even got a science lesson from the midwife about the placenta! They watched the dehydration process in the kitchen, and they eagerly asked how they could help the midwife, birth assistant and their doula.
All the while, I was able to relax because I knew that my children were emotionally and physically safe. Someone was watching their cues, taking care to notice when they flinched or looked intrigued.
She took pictures. The most beautiful pictures.
And my favorite: she helped them summarize their experiences by making books about their own sibling birth story. You can hear my daughter reading hers here:
You can find a local sibling doula, or a doula willing to work with children, by checking with the birth/postpartum doulas in the area.